Inflation rises slightly but still within target range
JOHANNESBURG - CHANCES of an interest rates change took a dive yesterday as Statistics South Africa (StatsSA) said that the country’s annual consumer price index (CPI) ticked up slightly in January to 3.2 percent on the impact of fuel price hikes on household consumption.
StatsSA said its data showed that the CPI rose marginally from 3.1 percent in December, leaving the South African Reserve Bank (SARB) with an option to keep the rates on hold at its monetary policy meeting next month.
The statistics body said the main contributors to the 3.2 percent annual inflation rate were food and non-alcoholic beverages, housing and utilities, and miscellaneous goods and services.
Meat prices rose 1.5 percent between December and January, while fuel prices went up 3.2 percent, the first monthly increase since August 2020, though year-on-year fuel prices were 8.6 percent lower.
The rise was in line with market expectations and close to the SARB’s lower target range of 3-6 percent.
PricewaterhouseCooper’s (PwC’s) chief economist Lullu Krugel said the rate of inflation was expected to increase in the near term as base effects and rising electricity tariffs were real risk factors.
“Nonetheless, PwC believes it is unlikely that the SARB will raise interest rates in the short term,” Krugel said. “SARB Governor Lesetja Kganyago said early in February that the central bank has scope to respond with further support should a third wave of Covid-19 infections hit South Africa this year.”
StatsSA said public transport, however, experienced very large monthly decreases as car rental rates, air fares, and long-distance bus fares declined during the festive season.
Investec economist Kamilla Kaplan said the January fuel price increases of 40 cents per litre for petrol and 54 cents per litre for diesel saw the annual rate of contraction in the fuel price decelerating.
“This, alongside increased rates of annual inflation in other running costs and public transport translated to a lower negative contribution of -0.1 percent of the transport component compared to -0.2 percent in December,” Kaplan said.
On a monthly basis, StatsSA said consumer prices went up 0.3 percent in January following a 0.2 percent rise in December.
PPS Investments portfolio manager Luigi Marinus said SARB could decide to keep interest rates unchanged in spite of rising electricity and fuel prices.
The rate of electricity tariffs will increase by 15.63 percent from April 1, while the petrol price is likely to rise by around 50 to 55 cents a litre, while diesel could go up by 45c.
The SARB’s Monetary Policy Committee last month left interest rates unchanged at 3.5 percent as inflation fell to a 16-year low in 2020. “Although inflation has remained subdued, a 15 percent increase in electricity prices has been approved, and petrol prices are expected to rise by around 50c per litre, even though the rand strengthened relative to the dollar over the past few months,” Marinus said.
“With some evidence of forthcoming increases to certain subsets of the inflation basket, the MPC seems content to maintain interest rates at these levels.”