Bank Negara raises key interest rate

PETALING JAYA: Bank Negara raised the overnight policy rate (OPR) by 25 basis points to 3% and increased the statutory reserve requirement (SRR) by 1 percentage point to 3%, a move that took most by surprise.

The OPR, the benchmark interest rate commercial banks use to calculate their base lending rates for loans, was last raised in July last year.

The central bank hiked the SRR by 100 basis points to 3% effective May 16 as a pre-emptive measure following the build-up of liquidity in the financial system.

“With the economy firmly on a steady growth path, the monetary policy committee decided to adjust the degree of monetary accommodation,” said the central bank in a statement yesterday.

“At the current OPR level, the stance of monetary policy remains supportive of growth. The future stance of monetary policy will depend on the assessment of the risk to growth and inflation prospects.”

Bank Negara acknowledged inflation, which has increased globally on account of higher energy and food prices, has inched up too in Malaysia and has now hit 3% in March to average 2.8% for the first quarter of 2011.

“Global commodity and energy prices are projected to remain elevated during the year, with inflation in major trading partners also expected to rise further. There are also some signs that domestic demand factors could exert upward pressure on prices in the second half of the year,” the central bank said.

However, it noted that despite higher inflationary pressure, latest indicators pointed towards continued strengthening of private investment and sustained private consumption expenditure in the first quarter.

“Growth will be underpinned by the firm expansion of domestic demand. Sustained employment conditions and income growth is expected to provide support to private consumption, while private investment is projected to strengthen amid the improved investment environment,” it added.

In a separate statement, the central bank said the decision to raise the SRR was undertaken as a pre-emptive measure to manage the significant build-up of liquidity, which could result in financial imbalances and create risks to financial stability.

Economists, who were divided over whether the OPR would be raised, told StarBiz that the central bank was sending out a message that inflation was now the concern instead of growth.

AmResearch Sdn Bhd senior economist Manokaran Mottain said policymakers were sending out the message that they were vigilant.

“They’re acknowledging that inflation is putting pressure on the economy,” he said, adding that market consensus was for the OPR to remain unchanged with a Bloomberg survey showing that seven out of 16 economists expected the hike, with the rest expecting the OPR to remain the same.

Nevertheless, economists agreed with the central bank that the rate hikes were still supportive of growth with domestic demand now the focus.

CIMB Investment Bank Bhd head of economics Lee Heng Guie said there was likely to be another 25-basis point hike in the OPR in July but this, judging from the language of the Monetary Policy Committee statement, “will depend on risks to growth and inflationary prospects”.

Meanwhile Affin Investment Bank Bhd economist Alan Tan said the decision to raise the OPR was “a close call” as a lot of brokers expected interest rates to remain unchanged due to the strengthening ringgit.

“Going forward, the central bank is signalling that rising inflation will be of concern and that growth will come from domestic demand as external demand weakens,” he said.

Tan expects another 25-basis point hike before year-end as the central bank moved in tandem with regional peers in normalising interest rates and managing capital flows.

“The normalisation of the rates is important because the US Federal Reserve has indicated that there may be a hike in rates next year and if policymakers here keep rates low for a prolonged period, there’s a risk of a capital outflow,” he said.

For Bank Negara statements click here

Source: The Star

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