BSP fires fifth straight rate hike as growth slows

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Nov 15 2018 04:07 PM | Updated as of Nov 15 2018 04:32 PM

The Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas main office in Manila. File/Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News

MANILA -- The Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas raised interest rates for the fifth straight policy meeting on Thursday, as economic growth slowed and inflation held at its fastest in nearly a decade.

The 25 basis point adjustment brought the overnight borrowing rate, which is used by banks to price loans, to 4.75 percent. 

It was the first time for the BSP to hike rates 5 times in a year since it adopted an inflation-targeting regime. It implemented back-to-back hikes of 50 basis points in August and September

Analysts polled by Reuters were nearly evenly split on whether the BSP would raise rates on Thursday. Seven out of 13 economists expected a 25-basis point hike while 6 others expected it to pause.

"A degree of prudence is required before the BSP tightens monetary policy settings further," said HSBC economist Noelan Arbis, who called for a pause in rate hikes.

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Gross domestic product expanded 6.1 percent in the July-September period, weaker than the previous quarter's 6.2 percent growth, as higher borrowing costs and soaring consumer prices dampened domestic demand.

Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia said on Thursday the slower-than-expected growth in the third quarter would make it harder for the Philippines to meet its downwardly revised growth target of 6.5 to 6.9 for 2018. 

Analysts arguing for a quarter-point rate increase next week said a fifth hike this year was necessary to head off second-round effects, as surging prices have already translated into higher wages and transport fares. 

Standard Chartered economist Chidu Narayanan forecast inflation to quicken to 7.4 in December. Annual inflation steadied at 6.7 percent in October, the highest rate in almost a decade.

Policymakers said non-monetary measures, such as removing import restrictions on certain food items including rice, should help temper price pressures and bring inflation back to within the 2 to 4 percent target band in 2019.

Higher infrastructure spending and an expected increase in consumer spending in the run up to the holiday season should underpin economic growth in the fourth quarter, they said.