SARB interest rate decision: Not quite there, yet

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Carmen Nel, Economist and Macro Strategist, Matrix Fund Managers

24 November, 2022: The South African Reserve Bank (SARB) Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) opted to hike the repurchase rate by 75 basis points (bp) to 7.00% today. While the tone of the statement and the post-meeting Q&A was hawkish, the voting breakdown shifted towards the dovish (or rather less hawkish) side with the voting split 3:2 for 75bp versus 50bp. In the September MPC meeting, two members would have preferred a rather aggressive 100bp increment.

Heading into the meeting, the market’s pricing was split between a 50bp and a 75bp outcome, so the reaction from the rand and rates was minimal following the announcement. The forward rate agreements (FRA) curve flattened marginally, while the yield and swap curves were steady. The rand was also unaffected by the outcome, but has been trading slightly weak relative to the level on the US Dollar Index (DXY).

Relative to the SARB’s Quarterly Projection Model (QPM), the November rate hike was another front-loaded move. According to the QPM, the projected repo rate for the fourth quarter of 2022 was 6.30% compared to the 7.00% outcome from today’s decision. This reflects the committee’s views that upside inflation risks outweigh the weaker growth outlook. All else assumed equal, this front-loading should contribute to a stronger recovery in the exchange rate, weaker growth, and a lower inflation profile than projected by the QPM.

At 7.00%, the repo rate is in line with the steady state in nominal terms. However, with inflation running well-above target, the real policy rate is deemed accommodative. The MPC views the current monetary policy stance as being supportive of the economy and credit growth.

Given elevated uncertainty on the global and local inflation outlooks with concern focused on broadening pressures and the risk of inflation persistence, the SARB seems willing to take the policy stance into restrictive territory. As such, a further interest rate increase at the January meeting should be the base case.

The size of that increase will depend on how quickly inflation rolls over from the upside surprise in the October release, the details of the BER’s Q4 inflation expectations survey results, and the tone of the Federal Open Market Committee’s (FOMC’s) statement and press conference in December. Given the voting breakdown and the cumulative policy action implemented so far, a 50bp hike will be the most likely outcome. However, we cannot rule out a smaller hike of 25bp or even a pause, should it become clear that global growth strain and more rapid disinflation are set to ease local price pressures.

The market is currently pricing in a cumulative 50bp in hikes by March next year, which reflects the risk for a 25bp hike rather than a 50bp hike in January.

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Caption: Carmen Nel, Economist and Macro Strategist, Matrix Fund Managers