Asia central bank doves flutter wings as US Fed Reserve hold rate rise

SINGAPORE (REUTERS) - By dallying over raising interest rates, the United States Federal Reserve made it easier this week for central banks in the Asia Pacific to stay dovish, with Indonesia lowering rates on Thursday and Australia and New Zealand saying they could cut later.

Signalling slower and fewer rate increases at its policy meeting on Wednesday, the Fed left investors feeling that any tightening would be glacial at best.

Nowhere has a more ultra-easy monetary policy than Japan, where the central bank said on Wednesday it would persist with its massive asset-buying and negative rates, while at the same time shifting its policy framework to one more suited to a long battle against deflation.

The stances taken by the Fed and the BoJ have renewed global demand for longer-tenor bonds. "This is supportive of rates in core emerging markets, and lowers the hurdle for emerging market central banks to ease policy," Citi analysts said in a note.

Bank Indonesia made its fifth rate cut this year, trimming its policy rate by 25 basis points to 5.00 per cent to nudge economic growth higher, with inflation running below its 3-5 per cent target.

The rupiah's gain of more than 5 per cent against the dollar this year was another good reason for BI to cut, economists say.

Most of Asia has room to maintain an easing bias. Growth rates are mostly on the low side of reasonable, official rates are above zero and inflation is running below targets.

Moreover, heavy reliance on exports renders Asian nations'economies vulnerable to weak demand from China and Europe, even if the United States is buying more.

And while none - except for Singapore - run monetary policies that actually target exchange rates, low interest rates do help them keep their currencies competitive.

Earlier on Thursday, the Reserve Bank of New Zealand held steady, having already cut twice this year, lowering its policy rate to a record low of 2.0 per cent.

But a high New Zealand dollar and tepid inflation - running at just 0.4 per cent versus a target of 1 percent to 3 percent - gave the RBNZ reason to predict more easing to come. "Our current projections and assumptions indicate that further policy easing will be required to ensure that future inflation settles near the middle of the target range," RBNZ Governor Graeme Wheeler said in a statement. "A decline in the exchange rate is needed," he said.

In some ways, what is happening in New Zealand reflects trends elsewhere.

"Activity in the labour market and the broader economy has been solid, but wages and inflation continue to undershoot their target and they are worried about it feeding into inflation expectations," Su-lin Ong, senior economist at RBC Capital Markets in Sydney. "That's very much a global theme right now." NOT A NUTTER Australia's new central bank governor, Philip Lowe, also held open the possibility of further cuts in rates, already at record lows, while adding that the lower rates get the less effective cuts become, in terms of boosting the economy. "Looking forward, we expect the economy to continue to be supported by low interest rates and the depreciation of the exchange rate since early 2013," Lowe told a parliamentary economics committee.

An encouraging uptick in non-mining investment and better than expected economic growth of 3.3 percent in the year to June, however, could mean the Reserve Bank of Australia will be in no rush to lower rates as it adopts a flexible approach to attain its inflation target of 2 percent to 3 percent. "We have not seen our job as always keeping inflation tightly in a narrow range," Lowe said. "We have not been what some have called 'inflation nutters'." And while the Philippines central bank held its benchmark rate steady on Thursday, it is an odd man out in the region.

The Philippines' next rate move, possibly early next year, is expected to be up, as inflation is seen rising into the central bank's target range of 2 percent to 4 percent.

(Writing by Simon Cameron-Moore; Editing by Kim Coghill and Clarence Fernandez) Reuters 2016-09-22T08:48:01.000Z(VersionCreatedDate) 2016-09-22T084801Z-1256491466-L8N1BY13N-RTRMADT-0-ASIA-ECONOMY-RATES-WRAPUP-2-GRAPHIC-PIX.txt nnnn