By Ciaran Ryan -22 September 2022
Inflation has stalled below 8%. Image: Shutterstock
The Reserve Bank’s Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) cranked up the benchmark repo rate by 75 basis points to 6.25% on Thursday to rein in consumer inflation which, prior to August, appeared to be hurtling towards 8%.
Three MPC members preferred a 75bp increase, while two preferred a 100bp rise.
Weighing the threat of higher inflation brought on by higher energy costs against the corrosive effects of load shedding on economic growth, the MPC opted to prioritise the inflation threat.
Sarb sees SA’s GDP growing by 1.9% in 2022 (from 2% before), 0.4% in Q3 and 0.3% in Q4; 1.4 in 2023 and 1.7% in 2024, above previous estimations.
With oil prices currently at around US$91 per barrel – Sarb sees them averaging $105 for 2022; $92 in 2023 and $85 in 2024.
The easing of global oil prices has contributed to a less aggressive rise in fuel price inflation for this year, at 33.7% (down from 38.8%). Further moderation in fuel price inflation is expected in 2023, averaging 1.7% (down from 5.7%).
Local food price inflation is seen averaging 8.1% in 2022 (up from 7.4%); 5.6% in 2023; and 4.2% in 2024.
Core inflation is seen averaging 4.3% for 2022 (unchanged); 5.4% (down from 5.6%) in 2023; and 4.8% (down from 4.9%) in 2024.
Headline inflation is seen averaging 6.5% in 2022 (unchanged); 5.3% (down from 5.7%) in 2023; and 4.6% in 2024.
The rand depreciated by about 3% against the US dollar since the July MPC meeting.
Inflation hit a 13-year high of 7.8% in July before easing to 7.6% in August. That modest reduction did little to mollify the MPC, which opted for an aggressive jump in the repo rate to bring consumer inflation within its 3% to 6% target range.
The graph below explains the problem the MPC must solve. Consumer inflation (the blue line) breached the upper target range of 6% in the second quarter of 2022, and is likely to remain outside the range until the middle of 2023, when food and fuel inflation is
expected to moderate. The primary tool used to cool inflation is the repo rate (in green), and it’s been a losing battle as consumer price increases veered dangerously close to 8%.
Inflation vs repo rate
The latest increase in the repo rate follows another 75-basis point increase in July, which took the rate to 5.5%, when energy prices shot up in response to the war in Ukraine, while local electricity and other administered price increases were perceived to present short- to medium-term risks.
In a note to clients this week, Capital Economics warned that the recent re-intensification of load shedding and soaring cost of living will weigh on the economy over the coming months.
“…austerity is likely to remain order of the day, further adding to headwinds facing domestic demand. At the same time, external tailwinds will probably fade as the global economy slows. Our forecast for GDP to expand by just 1.8% in 2022 is below the consensus.”
Also weighing on the MPC’s decision was the trajectory of the rand, which traded at R17.60 on Thursday, and appeared poised to challenge its all-time low around R19 to the US dollar, a level reached in May 2020.
Rand vs US dollar
The increase in rates is expected to cause pain across the economy.
The prime lending rate is likely to bump from 9% to 9.75%, with mortgage and credit rates squeezing already-beleaguered consumers. That should start to throttle demand for credit, which has already shown signs of plateauing over the last three months, according to Reserve Bank data.
The latest increase in interest rates returns SA to pre-Covid levels, but this time with galloping inflation and countrywide load shedding. Inflation bottomed at 2.1% in June 2020 due to the sharp decline in oil prices and lowering of interest rates to 3.5%, its lowest in decades.
Jacques Celliers, FNB CEO, says, “We are witnessing a concerted effort by the South African Reserve Bank and numerous other central banks around the world to mitigate the effects of higher inflation.
“Although the effects of these actions may appear to be negative for consumers, the effects of escalating inflation are significantly more severe. This is an ideal time for consumers and businesses to take advantage of higher investment rates and minimise consumption-driven credit usage,” says Celliers.
“The recent FNB/BER Consumer Confidence Index revealed a slight increase in consumer confidence in South Africa, and consumers have also experienced some relief due to decreases in fuel prices.
“However, South Africa must act swiftly to address issues such as the intermittent power supply, which continues to derail the country’s economic growth prospects,” he adds.
Mamello Matikinca-Ngwenya, FNB Chief Economist, says, “We expect the Reserve Bank to increase the repo rate by 50bps at the November MPC meeting, pushing it to 6.75%, the level where we think the policy rate will peak before falling in early 2024.”
EY Africa chief economist Angelika Goliger says although inflation has come off the boil slightly, dropping to 7.6% in August, it remains high. “It will likely be elevated for some time as firms try to make up in margins, and recover the difference between consumer and producer prices (which reached 18.0% in July). The depreciation in the rand over the past few days was more about a move towards the dollar than shedding the rand per se. However, a weaker currency adds to the likelihood of inflation remaining stubbornly higher with the cost of imports rising.
“The Sarb, along with the rest of the world, will be watching the US Fed closely, whose most recent dot plot shows aggressive tightening for the remainder of the year, pricing in 125 bps increase by December 2022. So we can expect further rate increases at the last two MPC meetings for the year, perhaps at a similar pace of the US Fed, if inflation does not cool markedly. This will add further pressure on consumers in the near term while it takes time for the higher interest rates to temper inflation.”
Carmen Nel, economist and macro strategist at Matrix Fund Managers, notes that the MPC expectations for inflation are dovish heading into 2023, suggesting the Reserve Bank has been successful in ensuring its inflation-fighting credibility.
“Given the downside risks to domestic growth and margin improvement in the inflation outlook, today’s policy decision seems to be driven largely by the numerous risk factors facing the SA economy and financial markets. Hence, we cannot ignore the key role developed market central banks are playing in the domestic policy setting. So far this week, the Riksbank surprised with a 100bp hike, the Fed delivered a hawkish 75bp increase, Norges Bank and BOE hiked by 50bp, while the central banks in the Philippines and Indonesia also tightened by 50bp.
Carl Coetzee, CEO of BetterBond, comments that while Thursday’s repo rate increase means pain for mortgage owners, the current prime lending rate at 9.75% is still lower than the double digits it was in 2019. “It’s probably realistic to expect a period now where we will see lower transaction volumes and dipping house prices. We also anticipate a bit of a segmentation in the market, between the lower end which is dependent upon housing finance, and the upper end where housing equity and wealth play a greater role,” he adds.
Terence Hove, senior analyst at Exness, says higher interest rates will likely contribute to lower valuations for stocks. “Hence the increased interest rates tend not to favour stocks in general. However, if the interest rate increase reduces the spread, or risk factor, for emerging market bonds, we could see a rally in bonds and the rand, which is essentially a play on interest rate differentials.”
Dr Andrew Golding, chief executive of the Pam Golding Property group, says the MPC is particularly concerned about anchoring inflation expectations to avoid external price shocks – such as recent food and energy prices – from becoming entrenched and filtering through to price setting in the broader economy.
“Once it is clear that price pressures are subsiding again, it will be possible for the Bank to shift gear to a slower pace of interest rate hikes. The SA Reserve Bank has hiked rates by 275 bps since November last year (2021) and it is hoped that we may only see two further smaller rate increases, bringing the prime rate to 10.5% and an end the current tightening cycle.
“Despite the rising trend in interest rates since late-2021, activity in the housing market has remained remarkably resilient thus far – with recent data from Lightstone showing that while unit sales during the first half of 2022 were marginally below those recorded during the same period last year, the value of those sales was higher.”
Regional Director and CEO of RE/MAX of Southern Africa, Adrian Goslett says that the impact of these interest rate hikes might only be felt next year, especially if interest rates continue to climb at the next few announcements.
“Property market activity is still unusually high even after the last interest rate hike; so much so that many parts of the country are experiencing a seller’s market where demand far outweighs supply. This is possibly because interest rates are still lower than pre-pandemic levels of around 10%. It is possible that the effects of these interest rate hikes might only be felt after homeowners have had a few months of paying the higher debt instalments,” he notes.
Rhys Dyer, CEO of ooba Group argues that rate increases such as these are to be expected following the historically low interest rates offered during the COVID-19 pandemic period. “Rates are simply returning to ‘normal levels’, but the good news is that strong competition between banks for home loans means that prospective homeowners will still benefit from attractive interest rate discounts when shopping around for a home loan.
Interestingly, ooba’s trend analysis shows that first-time homebuyers are responding to the rising interest rates by opting for a longer term home loan to improve their affordability. “There’s a sharp uptick in 30-year mortgages by first-time homebuyers – now at 26% of all home loans processed by ooba in Q2 ‘22 versus 16% in Q2 ’21, indicating the resilience of this market segment.”
Samuel Seeff, chairman of the Seeff Property Group, says while the hike was largely expected, stability is now vital for the economy and market. “The economy needs a kickstart and a favourable interest rate is vital for this. Interest rates need to be kept as low as possible for as long as possible.”
In terms of the impact of the hiking cycle on the property market, Seeff says we are beginning to see a two-paced market emerge. “While demand is still high on the one side, buyer hesitancy is increasing with deals taking much longer on the other side.”
Besides spiking interest rate, Seeff says power outages, poor economic data and macro events including the Ukraine crisis could be compounding buyer hesitancy.
‘Disclaimer - The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the BEE CHAMBER’