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Philippine Central Bank Stays Steady Amid Inflation Surge and Peso Devaluation


Leo Gonzalez

April 7, 2024 - 21:16 pm


Philippine Central Bank Holds Rates as Inflation and Currency Pressures Align

Amid the unyielding rise in the cost of living, the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) has chosen to maintain its benchmark interest rate at 6.5%. In a unanimous decision anticipated by economists, the central bank's move follows the trend of rice inflation reaching unprecedented levels not seen in the last decade and a half, coupled with the Philippine peso's downturn to a significant five-month low.

Inflation Trends Drive Economic Policies

The BSP's determination to hold the interest rate constant was supported by data indicating inflation had quickened for a second month in a row. The price of rice—a vital staple in the Philippine diet—has witnessed another sharp increase. Concurrently, the peso hasn't been spared from a new wave of erosion in value, in line with trends observed in other regional currencies.

Caution Against Premature Rate Cuts

As the Philippine central bank deliberates its next steps, the notion of resuming rate hikes is off the table. However, the BSP is conveying a message of restraint against any early rate reductions. Instead, a more thorough confirmation of a downward inflationary trend is preferred. The central bank's latest inflation forecast has taken on a less positive tone, projecting that inflation may overshoot its 2%-4% target, extending into the third quarter, while initially it was expected to exceed the threshold only in the second quarter.

Global Influences and Domestic Decisions

Global events and their resultant uncertainties—ranging from environmental to geopolitical disturbances—are exerting influence on inflation predictions. The El Niño weather phenomenon, infamous for its disruptive impact on agricultural output, along with worldwide political frictions inflating oil prices, are contributing factors. Meanwhile, the United States' monetary policymakers have suggested patience, aspiring for a clearer picture of slowing inflation prior to acting. This stance impacts emerging market currencies as well, with the potential to drive up the costs of imports. The Philippines, being highly reliant on imported fuel and as one of the global leaders in rice consumption, is particularly sensitive to such price fluctuations.

BSP's Strategy Amidst External Forces

Governor Eli Remolona expressed last month that while further tightening by the central bank seems improbable, the timing of policy easing isn't imminent either. The BSP is assessing domestic pressures, such as inflation and economic growth forecasts, while remaining vigilant of the actions of the Federal Reserve. Barclays Plc regional economist Shreya Sodhani emphasizes that any easing of the monetary policy this quarter is unlikely.

Key Indicators and Economic Prospects

In Manila, during the 3 p.m. briefing, several pivotal issues will be in the spotlight. Inflation has been propelled by escalating rice and meat costs, alongside rising domestic oil prices and electricity rates. El Niño's exacerbation of drought may result in diminished crop yields, thereby pushing food expenses higher.

According to Sodhani, the BSP's adjusted inflation forecast incorporates risk and is now the bank's focal point for determining whether rate cuts can be initiated. She mentioned that if the bank's metric falls below 4%, it may signal the start of rate reductions. Growth considerations are also gaining prominence in the BSP's deliberations.

Barclays' forecast posits that the Philippines might commence policy rate cuts as early as the next quarter. Furthermore, Australia & New Zealand Banking Group Ltd. projects a probable half-point reduction towards the end of the year.

Analysis from Bloomberg Economics

Tamara Mast Henderson, an Asean economist for Bloomberg Economics, notes that since its previous meeting in February, the peso has been susceptible to selling pressures. Premature rate cuts, preceding the Fed's actions, could exacerbate the peso's weakness. Additionally, with inflation being susceptible to breaching the central bank's target due to higher food costs, there's an inherent wariness about increased rice prices potentially escalating inflation expectations for a broader range of products.

You can find the full analytical note by Bloomberg Economics here.

Peso in the Current Market

December has witnessed the peso’s value dip by roughly half a percent against the dollar, positioning it towards the lower rung of regional currencies.

Growth Forecasts and Fiscal Policies

In a recent adjustment to its economic outlook, the Philippines has revised its growth forecasts down for this year and next. Yet, in an effort to bolster spending, the country has simultaneously broadened its fiscal deficit estimates. Despite these alterations, the economic management led by President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. projects that the Philippines will continue to be among the fastest-growing economies in its region. This perspective strengthens their resolve to counter inflation head-on.

President Marcos articulated to Bloomberg Television that, even with these recent adjustments, the nation's primary concern remains inflation. When prompted about the possibility of lessening borrowing costs—which have hit their peak since May 2007—he signified that the country has not yet reached a juncture where such measures could be taken.

Conclusion and International Support

The convergence of high rice inflation and the peso's depreciation signifies an intricate economic situation for the Philippine central bank. The institution's steadfast approach echoes global monetary cautiousness amid inflationary pressures and currency vulnerabilities. With assistance from Tomoko Sato and coverage by Bloomberg L.P., the financial community closely watches the BSP's policy direction in this climate of heightened economic vigilance.


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