Malaysia central bank to hold key rate on Jul 6, may not resume tightening: poll

MALAYSIA’S central bank will leave its key interest rate unchanged at 3.00 per cent on Thursday (Jul 6) and keep it there for the rest of the year, marking the end of its modest tightening cycle as inflation has shown signs of cooling, a Reuters poll found.

While headline inflation eased to its lowest in a year in May at 2.8 per cent, core inflation – which excludes volatile items – moderated only a bit to 3.5 per cent, suggesting the central bank will hold its key rate higher for longer.

All but three of 25 economists polled between Jun 27 and Jul 3 forecast Bank Negara Malaysia (BNM) will hold the policy rate steady at 3.00 per cent – its pre-Covid pandemic level – at the end of the Jul 6 meeting, following a surprise hike in May.

Those three expect another 25 basis-point hike to 3.25 per cent.

“The 25 bp surprise hike in May marked the end of the tightening cycle… a slower trajectory of growth and retreating inflation will likely prompt BNM to stand pat for the remainder of 2023,” noted Khoon Goh, head of Asia research at ANZ.

Median forecasts showed rates will remain unchanged at 3.00 per cent until end-2023, with no one predicting a cut this year.

This puts BNM in line with its regional peers, who have already ended their tightening cycles.

With the US Federal Reserve, the European Central Bank and the Bank of England still intent on raising rates to control inflation, the ringgit has lost nearly 6 per cent against the dollar this year, declining more than its South-east Asia peers.

A weaker currency and resulting higher inflation feeding through expensive imports may restrict BNM from cutting rates any time soon.

Gareth Leather, senior Asia economist at Capital Economics, noted that while most central banks in the region were expected to cut rates over the coming year, “the BNM will remain on the sidelines”. REUTERS