Marcus says inflation and growth risks limit options

Reserve Bank governor Gill Marcus has told the Bureau for Economic Research that there is limited room to adjust interest rates. (Madelene Cronje, M&G)

Reserve Bank governor Gill Marcus has told the Bureau for Economic Research that there is limited room to adjust interest rates. (Madelene Cronje, M&G)

“We have limited room for maneuver,” Marcus said in a speech in Johannesburg on Thursdau at a conference hosted by the Bureau for Economic Research. While inflation is close to the top of the 3% to 6% target band, “our tolerance of this uncomfortable position, however, is recognition of the weak state of the economy.”

The Reserve Bank has kept its benchmark interest rate at 5% since a reduction in July. Inflation is forecast by the bank to breach the target this year, while the economy grew at its slowest pace since a 2009 recession in the first quarter.
The bank said on June 4 the unchanged interest rate is helping maintain “price stability and support the economic recovery.”


“There are significant upside risks to the inflation outlook coming from the exchange rate and possibly from wage settlements in excess of inflation and productivity increases,” Marcus said. “While monetary policy remains tolerant of inflation at the upper end of the target range or of temporary breaches, the increasingly risky outlook for inflation, and its possible impact on inflation expectations, does constrain further accommodation.”


The rand’s 15% slump against the dollar this year, the worst of 16 major currencies tracked by Bloomberg, is adding to pressure on inflation, which at 5.9% was unchanged for a third month in April. The bank forecasts inflation will peak at an average of 6.1% in the third quarter.


“The current stance of monetary policy is accommodative,” Marcus said.


The central bank estimates that a 10% depreciation in the rand results in a 2 percentage-point increase in the inflation rate, though it’s effect is delayed and depends on how prolonged the weakness is, Marcus said.


“To date, the pass-through from the exchange rate to inflation has been relatively constrained,” she said. “This is probably due to low growth and relative lack of pricing power in a number of sectors of the economy. Also, it could be that the recent sharp moves in the exchange rate are seen to be excessive and a sign of overshooting.”


The rand extended its gains after Marcus’ comments. It traded at R9.9215 to the US dollar at 12:13 pm in Johannesburg, up from R10.0073 late on Wednesday.


Marcus warned that South Africa has to finance its current- account deficit at a time when uncertainty over global capital flows is heightened and the nation faces a “real threat of further downgrades by credit rating companies.”

– Bloomberg

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