Philippines is lone rate hike candidate in region
MANILA: With Indonesia and Vietnam cutting interest rates in the past two months and Thailand fending off pressure to do the same, the Philippines is emerging as the region’s lone candidate for a rate increase this year.
While all economists surveyed by Bloomberg predict Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas will hold its benchmark rate at a record-low of 3% on Thursday, a separate poll showed almost half forecast an increase by the fourth quarter. Morgan Stanley is predicting a rate of 3.5% by the end of the year.
Asia’s worst-performing currency this year and surging credit growth may give the Philippine central bank reason to tighten policy. So far, officials have held off since there’s little sign that an economic boom is fuelling price pressures.
Here’s what to watch for in today’s rate decision:
Consumer prices rose 3.1% in August from a year ago, up from 2.8% in July, well within the central bank’s target band of 2% to 4%. Governor Nestor Espenilla said last month inflation may quicken next year to 3.7%.
“It’s a difficult balancing act,” said Eugenia Victorino, an economist at Australia & New Zealand Banking Group Ltd in Singapore. “While the fundamentals call for tightening, inflation and inflation expectations are still very much within the target. If they don’t raise rates, they could use other tools to address risks in specific sectors.”
Commercial bank loans have risen quickly this year, with mortgages surging more than 20%. Bangko Sentral adopted measures in the past to cool the property sector, including capping the value of real estate that can be used as loan collateral.
The economy is headed for a sixth year of growth exceeding 6%, among the world’s fastest.
Faster growth has fuelled demand for imports, causing the trade balance to deteriorate, and in turn, contributed to the currency’s weakness. The peso is among the few Asian currencies to have fallen this year, dropping 2.5% against the dollar.
Mr Espenilla said in August the central bank is prepared to raise rates if it sees signs the economy is growing too fast, while it’s tolerating a weaker currency for now.
“The currency has weakened, the economy is growing pretty quickly and you’d expect inflation pressure to start coming through,” said Alice Fulwood, an economist at UBS AG in Singapore. “Stronger inflation pressure next year is one of the reasons they’ll be raising rates.”