South African Reserve Bank. Picture: MARTIN RHODES
South African Reserve Bank. Picture: MARTIN RHODES

The Reserve Bank will likely err on the side of caution this week even as arguments for another interest rate cut mount.

On Thursday the Bank’s monetary policy committee (MPC) will announce the repo rate. The latest inflation print was below the midpoint of the Bank’s 3%-6% target band, which it prefers to anchor inflation at while major central banks have also adopted easier monetary policy stances.

But the Bank could wait until the medium-term budget policy statement is delivered and Moody’s Investors Service’s and Fitch Ratings’s credit rating actions before making a move. The rand’s volatility in recent weeks will add to the uncertainty. These factors could see the MPC hold off on another interest rate cut until November — its last meeting for the year.

“The case for an easing at next week’s MPC meeting has improved, but we anticipate that the Reserve Bank will maintain its cautious stance and keep interest rates unchanged in the months ahead,” Nedbank economist Candice Reddy said.

Capital Economics, however, is anticipating a rate cut in light of the ailing economy, which is expected to grow just above 0.5% this year.

“With inflation now near the bottom of the target range, we think that there is a brief window for another rate cut. The arguments that justified a rate cut in July are even stronger now; inflation is below the target midpoint and the economy remains very weak,” said Capital Economics economist John Ashbourne.

At its last meeting, in July 2019, the committee cut interest rates by 25 basis points, effectively reversing a controversial interest rate hike in November 2018. The Bank cited lower growth and lower inflation expectations for the cut. While some analysts called for a cut of 50 basis points, the committee said it did not consider it.

The latest inflation print, which will be released on Wednesday by Stats SA, is likely to come in below 4.5%. Economists polled by Bloomberg expect inflation to quicken from 4% in July to 4.2% in August.

The marginal uptick will be largely on the back of anticipated acceleration in food inflation. However, headline inflation is still expected to register below the midpoint of the target band in the near term, FNB chief economist Mamello Matikinca-Ngwenya said.

Wednesday will also see the release of the retail trade sales figures for July. The sector has registered growth in excess of 2% in the last three prints and is expected to keep this momentum.

The retail sector is an important indicator of consumer spending — it drives growth in the economy as it accounts for just more than 60% of GDP. This will be a crucial data release to determine whether the rebound in the second quarter of the year was sustained in the third quarter.

“The most recent 25 basis-point interest rate cut by the Bank, the drive towards interest-free lay-by sales and the well-contained inflation backdrop are among the main factors [driving retail sales],” Matikinca-Ngwenya said.

But Investec economist Lara Hodes said: “While retailers do expect conditions to improve modestly in the third quarter, consumers’ constrained position continues to hinder any meaningful acceleration in retail sales and overall consumer spending.”

Consumer spending will be curbed by a rise in administered prices higher fuel prices, as well as a deteriorating job market and diminishing wage prospects and low confidence levels that will knock households for the remainder of the year, NKC economist Elize Kruger said.

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