JOHANNESBURG, November 22 – South Africa’s central bank is likely to keep interest rates unchanged at its last policy meeting of the year this week despite a struggling economy, hamstrung by looming inflation pressures stemming from a weak rand currency.
The Reserve Bank’s monetary policy committee, which is chaired by Governor Lesetja Kganyago and sits six times a year to plot the direction of interest rates, started its final consultation for 2017 on Tuesday. Kganyago will announce its decision on Thursday afternoon.
The bank kept its repurchase rate, the benchmark for the market, at 6.75 percent in September, despite calls by beleaguered South Africans to lower borrowing costs and help boost an economy still limping after languishing in recession earlier this year.
The National Treasury expects growth of just 0.3 percent in 2017, far below the levels needed to bring in much needed jobs and slash unemployment of nearly 28 percent.
The central bank’s September interest rate decision followed a 0.25 percentage point reduction in July, which was the first time it had cut rates in five years.
But political uncertainty in South Africa, most notably around the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party’s December conference to elect a new leadership, have kept investors jittery about the outlook for the economy, putting pressure on the rand and likely inhibiting any further monetary policy easing.
“As things stand, political uncertainty is likely to delay further rate cuts for the foreseeable future and the economic situation is in somewhat of a ‘holding pattern’ until the ANC elective conference,” Andrew Golding, Chief Executive of the Pam Golding Property group, said in a recent presentation.
The ANC meeting comes against the backdrop of business confidence that is at its weakest in decades, due to corruption charges levied against senior government officials.
South Africa also faces the risk of further downgrades to its credit rating on Friday, when agencies S&P Global and Moody’s are due to issue their latest reviews.
S&P has already cut South Africa’s foreign debt to sub-investment grade, but Moody’s still rates the country above “junk” status for debt denominated in both foreign and local currency. Their peer, Fitch, ranks South Africa below investment grade for both.