BSP keeps rates steady but sends hawkish signal

September 21, 2023 - 5:03 PM
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(Photo from BusinessWorld)

MANILA The Philippine central bank kept its key interest rate steady at 6.25% on Thursday, as expected, but signaled its readiness to tighten monetary policy at its next meeting in November if inflation pressures persist.

“A rate hike is on the table for November. How big it would be would depend on the data,” Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) Governor Eli Remolona told a press conference, during which he ruled out a rate reduction this year

“We’re ready to raise if the supply shocks are significant enough.”

The BSP’s decision to maintain benchmark rates, now called target reverse repurchase (RRP), for a fourth straight meeting comes after the U.S. Federal Reserve kept rates steady on Wednesday while sketching a stricter policy path moving forward.

All but two of the 25 economists in a Sept. 12-18 poll by Reuters had expected the central bank to leave its overnight borrowing rate unchanged. Two predicted a hike of 25 basis points.

The peso was down 0.4%, as of 0734 GMT, as the Fed’s hawkish signal on monetary policy boosted the U.S. dollar.

In its latest consumer price forecasts, the BSP sees inflation averaging 5.8% and 3.5% this year and the next, respectively, higher than earlier projections of 5.6% and 3.3%. The new projections factor in the potential impact of further adjustments in transport fares and electricity rates.

But the BSP said inflation was still likely to revert to the 2% to 4% target range by the last quarter of 2023 in the absence of further supply-side shocks. For 2025, the inflation forecast is unchanged at 3.4%.

The Philippine economy grew at its slowest pace in nearly 12 years in the second quarter as high inflation and a series of interest rates hikes hurt consumer demand.

Inflation unexpectedly accelerated to 5.3% in August, bringing the January-August average to 6.6%, well outside the central bank’s 2% to 4% target.

The BSP was expected to keep its key rates steady for the rest of the year, with the next move likely to be a cut possibly in the first quarter of 2024, based on the latest Reuters poll.

“Given the 2Q GDP stumble, the bar for additional hikes looks quite high. PHP (peso) is down but has yet to stray from regional pack vs the mighty USD,” ING economist Nicholas Mapa said in a post on X, formerly Twitter.

– Reporting by Neil Jerome Morales and Mikhail Flores; Editing by Martin Petty