/ 17 January 2012

SA’s December inflation expected to rise

South Africa’s consumer inflation is likely to have edged up to 6.2% year-on-year in December from 6.1% in November, a Reuters poll of 15 economists showed on Monday.

Statistics South Africa will release December’s consumer price index (CPI) data on Wednesday.

Consumer prices breached the Reserve Bank’s 3% to 6% target in November to hit a 20-month high but this was expected.

The Reserve Bank expects CPI to peak at 6.3% in the first quarter of this year and stay outside the target until late 2012.

The bank is expected to revise its inflation forecasts upwards when it announces its monetary policy decision on Thursday at 1pm GMT.

The bank said core inflation, which excludes food, petrol and electricity was also showing a rising trend but would peak at about 5.2% in 2013.

Analysts are not so optimistic.

“Underlying inflation is picking up and as such, we expect core inflation to end the year at 5.5%,” said Absa Capital in a note. “We expect CPI to remain above the 6% target ceiling until Q2 13,” it said.

Adding to inflationary pressures is a volatile and weaker rand currency and expectations that South Africa will import maize and push food inflation higher.

Price rises
The rand lost about 22% against the dollar in 2011 to hit a 2 and a half-year low of 8.61 in November. It was last trading at 8.11, after failing to break resistance at 8.00 on Friday after a ratings outlook downgrade by Fitch.

Due to its export commitments, South African producers have said they may need to import an estimated 700 000 tonnes of white and yellow maize to make up for expected shortfalls in the current year to end April.

Food prices have seen a rise from 3.1% in January 2011 to 10.7% in November and, together with petrol and electricity prices, are expected to remain the primary driver of inflation.

“If the recent rise in the domestic maize price is sustained, food inflation will peak at a higher rate than what seems to be embedded in the [South African Reserve Bank’s] forecast and will peak later, further delaying the re-entry of the target,” Carmen Nel at Rand Merchant Bank said in a research note.

On a month-on-month basis, inflation is seen unchanged at 0.3%.

With inflation edging higher, the Reserve Bank has little room to loosen monetary policy to try and stimulate a sluggish economy.

The central bank has said its primary focus remains on the 3% to 6% inflation target but it would be sensitive to growth concerns.

For this week, the Reserve Bank is seen leaving the repo rate at 5.5%, after reducing it by 650 basis points in the two years to end-2010. — Reuters