Rates hike loom as economy shrinks

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Daniel Mminele

Independent Newspapers

South African Reserve Bank Deputy Governor Daniel Mminele. Photo: Simphiwe Mbokazi.

Maputo - South Africa will consider increasing interest rates even as Africa’s second-largest economy risks falling into recession, Reserve Bank Deputy Governor Daniel Mminele said.

While growth has been hit by a four-month wage strike by more than 70,000 workers at the world’s three largest platinum producers, inflation accelerated last month to beyond the central bank’s 3 percent to 6 percent target band.

“There is no question that we are in a rate-hiking cycle,” Mminele, 49, said in an interview in the Mozambican capital, Maputo, yesterday where he attended a conference of the International Monetary Fund.

“Interest rates need to normalise over time, but it is not a preset course and will be data dependent.”

The central bank left its benchmark repurchase rate unchanged at 5.5 percent for a second consecutive meeting on May 22 as concerns about growth outweighed worries about inflation, which accelerated to 6.1 percent in April.

South Africa’s economy contracted by 0.6 percent in the three months through March, the first decline since a 2009 recession.

“While there is a risk that we could fall into what is termed a technical recession if we have another quarter of negative growth, it’s not a foregone conclusion,” Mminele said.

“The risk certainly exists given that the setting hasn’t improved much.”

 

Platinum Strike

 

The strike at the South African operations of Anglo American Platinum, Impala Platinum and Lonmin has led to a 24.7 percent slump in mining production in the three months through March, the biggest fall since the second quarter of 1967.

“The situation has not improved much in the sense that strikes in the platinum sector is obviously still upon us,” Mminele said.

Recent economic indicators “point to a second quarter that is likely to be very weak again,” he said.

Reserve Bank Governor Gill Marcus increased interest rates in January for the first time in more than five years as a drop in the rand’s exchange rate fuelled inflation expectations.

Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene said yesterday the central bank has a flexible mandate which allows it space to let inflation breach the bank’s target.

While the rand has gained 8.7 percent against the dollar since the rate rise, Mminele said the currency remains vulnerable and the biggest source of risk for the inflation outlook.

The rand’s direction is likely to be determined by the current-account deficit, Mminele said.

The gap on South Africa’s current account, the broadest measure of trade in goods and services, narrowed to 5.1 percent of GDP in the last quarter of 2013.

The deficit “is a source of vulnerability, it remains uncomfortably high,” Mminele said.

The rand lost 0.2 percent against the dollar and traded at 10.4413 as of 8:42 a.m. in Johannesburg. - Bloomberg News


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