South Africa’s Reserve Bank will leave interest rates unchanged at its Jan. 18 meeting, a Reuters poll showed on Thursday, despite a much firmer rand suggesting further easing could come from the bank.
The rand, currently around 12.43 per dollar, has gained almost 8 percent in the last six months – with most made after South Africa’s Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa was voted leader of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) in December.
Ramaphosa is viewed as more business-friendly than incumbent President Jacob Zuma.
However, the rand moves are not enough to prompt economists to pencil in a rate cut from the current 6.75 percent just yet, 17 of the 20 economists polled said. The other three expected a 25 basis points cut.
“We now think that the (bank) will wait until after the February national budget in order to assess whether the Treasury has done enough to appease Moody‘s,” said Jeffrey Schultz, economist at BNP Paribas in Johannesburg.
S&P Global Ratings downgraded South Africa’s local currency debt to sub-investment grade in November and pushed the foreign currency debt deeper into “junk” territory, while Moody’s put the country on review for a downgrade.
South Africa’s central bank unexpectedly cut its benchmark lending rate for the first time in five years in July, citing weak growth and easing inflation.
The rise in consumer prices is expected to average 5.1 percent this year and 5.4 percent next, compared to 5.2 and 5.4 percent in the previous survey.
Christopher Shiells at Informa Global Markets said if the new ANC leadership helps avoid a credit rating downgrade and the rand remained steady, the bank may try and squeeze in one more rate cut if upside inflation risks are deemed to have fallen.
More ratings reviews are expected this year – starting with Moody’s later in March – which will hinge heavily on the February budget and South Africa’s potential to improve its growth
“Ramaphosa’s first decisions as ANC president will also be critical in the Reserve Bank’s assessment of the latter risk,” said Schultz.
The poll medians also show no change to the repo rate before 2021, the end of the forecast horizon.
Growth in Africa’s most industrialised nation is expected at 1.3 percent this year, nudged up from last month’s 1.2 percent forecast, and an unchanged 1.6 percent the following year.
Still, a separate Reuters poll last week suggested the rand is likely to weaken over 12 percent this year, hit by doubts about how much Ramaphosa, a promised reformer, can do for South Africa’s ailing economy.