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SA rate bets pared in policy meeting too close to call

Of the 26 economists surveyed, 16 predict the rate will stay unchanged, while the rest expect a quarter-point increase.
Lesetja Kganyago, Reserve Bank Governor

Investors pared bets that South Africa’s central bank will tighten monetary policy on Thursday in a decision that’s confounding traders and policy makers as they anticipate the U.S. Federal Reserve’s first rate increase in almost a decade.

Forward-rate agreements starting in one month, used to speculate on borrowing costs, show a less than 40% chance that the Reserve Bank will raise the benchmark rate by 25 basis points to 6.25%, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. That’s down from close to 70% probability on Nov. 13. Of the 26 economists surveyed by Bloomberg, 16 predict the rate will stay unchanged, while the rest expect a quarter-point increase.

“It’s very close,” Bart Stemmet, an economist at NKC African Economics, said by phone from Paarl, outside Cape Town. “They might just decide not to hike on Thursday, but then to do it in January.”

Governor Lesetja Kganyago and his team have been wary of tightening policy in the face of a weak economy, adopting a gradual approach that’s seen the benchmark rate raised three times since the beginning of last year. Higher interest rates in the U.S., which may come as early as next month, has the potential to drag the rand down further after it plunged to a record low against the dollar this week.

Inflation pressures are rising at the same time that low global demand, falling metal prices and an electricity shortage weigh on the economy. Gross domestic product contracted in the three months through June, while retail sales fell 1.9% in September from a month earlier, according to the statistics office.

The inflation rate, which rose to 4.7% in October, is forecast by the central bank to breach the 3% to 6% target next year. Core inflation, which excludes food, gasoline and energy costs, slowed to 5.2% in October, a two-year low, from 5.3% in the previous month, the statistics office said on Wednesday.

The rand gained 0.4% to 14.1146 per dollar by 7:27 a.m. in Johannesburg on Thursday, paring its decline this year to 18%.

“So far, there have not been a lot of second-round effects from the weaker rand, but they talk about it and I think they are worried that the Fed might be the last straw,” said Stemmet.

©2015 Bloomberg News

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