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After much speculation in the market regarding yet another interest rate cut, the SARB has decided to leave its benchmark lending rate unchanged at 5.5% for the fifth consecutive meeting. The Repo rate remains at a 30 year low and has been maintained to help support economic growth whilst curbing price pressures from a weakening Rand. The SARB has to perform a delicate balancing act taking into consideration both its concerns over slow economic growth along with the expected increases in inflation.
Over the past couple of weeks the Rand has plummeted against the Dollar to its lowest levels experienced in over 2 years. This has been driven by concerns of a continually weakening global economy, resulting in investors selling off their ‘riskier’ assets located in the emerging market economies. This depreciation of the Rand poses a potential threat to the economy’s inflationary outlook, increasing the costs of imports, specifically fuel and food. However once again the MPC still considers the upside risk of this type of inflationary pressure to be relatively moderate, with core inflation remaining somewhat benign if risk of this type of inflationary pressure to be relatively moderate, with core inflation remaining somewhat benign if you disregard the exogenous factors such as imports and administered prices. South Africa’s headline inflation came out at an expected 5.7% for September, but it is still predicted to trend higher throughout the remainder of this year, eventually breaching the upper target bracket of 6% near the end of the year.
The Reserve Bank also cut its annual growth forecast to 3.2% for 2011, down from the 3.7% previously anticipated. With 2012 expected to be no better at 3.6% and only a small rise to 4.4% for 2013. It is this fragility of the economy that appears to be the overriding concern of the SARB at the moment, with its extremely low growth rates and high levels of unemployment at center stage. Domestic GDP came in at a miserable 1.3% for the second quarter, down from the first quarter's 4.8%, and the global economic recovery seems to be running out of momentum.
Gill Marcus stated at the latest MPC meeting that it would have been “wholly inappropriate for us not to have discussed a rate cut”. She highlighted the vulnerability of the economy and left the possibility of a future rate cut on the cards, should there be a marked slowdown due to the external global financial crisis. The MPC is “concerned at the potential impact of the current global turmoil on domestic prospects and stands ready to act appropriately should the need arise,” the governor said.
Although the likelihood of a rate cut has increased and will continue to do so if the global and local economies weaken any further, we still expect interest rates to remain unchanged at 5.5% for the duration of the year. The big 4 commercial banks prediction of the first rate hike seems to be creeping further and further outwards (towards first rate hike only being in 2013). We believe that the SARB will only look to raise interest rates when there is some sign of stability in the global markets or if domestic consumer demand is renewed (resulting in core inflation starting to creep upwards) with a corresponding increase in GDP. As things currently stand, such economic scenarios seem a fair way off.
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