- Central bank raises rates by 75 bps points
- Aims to keep rate gap with U.S. from narrowing sharply
- Peso weakness could affect price expectations — Medalla
- Signals less aggressive tightening ahead
MANILA — The Philippine central bank raised its key policy rate by 75 basis points on Thursday and signalled more rate hikes ahead, worried by potential threats to the economy from a weakening peso and the prospect of entrenched inflation.
Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas Governor Felipe Medalla, who had already signalled early this month that he would vote to hike rates by three-quarters of a point, has stressed that a hefty rate hike was needed to head off currency declines.
“(If peso weakness) is allowed to continue, that depreciation… could also trigger disanchoring of price expectations,” Medalla told a news briefing after the rate announcement.
“We do not want inflation to get out of hand and be entrenched,” he said, hinting of more tightening ahead, albeit at a less aggressive pace.
The central bank’s latest forecasts indicate that inflation would not return to the 2%-4% target range until 2024, after averaging 5.8% this year and 4.3% next year.
Medalla said he was confident that the economy, which expanded at a faster-than-expected 7.6% rate in the third quarter, could withstand further rate hikes.
Thursday’s adjustment, the sixth this year, brought the rate on the central bank’s overnight reverse repurchase facility to 5.0%, the highest in nearly 14 years, and compares with the U.S. Federal Reserve’s 3.75%-4% policy rate.
Medalla reiterated that a move that big was needed to match the Fed’s action and prevent a sharp narrowing of the differential between U.S. and Philippine rates.
A shrinking rate gap has spurred an 11% decline in the peso against the dollar so far this year and raised the cost of fuel and other imported goods, driving inflation in the Philippines last month to its highest in nearly 14 years.
Medalla said the central bank would take a less aggressive stance in the future after Thursday’s move and an off-cycle 75 basis point rate increase in July.
“We will probably do less of the two recent, unusual, not run-of-the-mill actions,” he said.
With the Fed expected to continue hiking rates, however, economists believe the central bank will remain on its tightening path.
Emilio Neri, economist at the Bank of the Philippine Islands, said that if the Fed raises its policy rate to 5.25%, the Philippines’ overnight borrowing rate could exceed 6.0%.
— Reporting by Neil Jerome Morales and Enrico dela Cruz; Writing by Karen Lema; Editing by Edmund Klamann