Bank Negara sees growth holding up, keeps rate steady

Bank Negara maintained a growth forecast of between 4.3 per cent and 4.8 per cent for the year, but said this is subject to downside risks from trade tensions and uncertainties in the global and domestic environment.
Bank Negara maintained a growth forecast of between 4.3 per cent and 4.8 per cent for the year, but said this is subject to downside risks from trade tensions and uncertainties in the global and domestic environment.PHOTO: REUTERS

KUALA LUMPUR • Malaysia's central bank, counting on domestic demand to keep supporting growth while global expansion slows, held its key interest rate at 3 per cent yesterday as expected.

Bank Negara Malaysia (BNM) said its overnight policy rate remains "accommodative". The central bank noted that several major economies have eased policy, "but uncertainty from the prolonged trade disputes and geopolitical developments could lead to excessive financial market volatility".

Nine out of 11 economists in a Reuters poll had forecast no change to BNM'S key rate. The other two predicted a 25 basis point cut.

"They've kind of saved their bullets for now," Ms Charu Chanana, analyst at Continuum Economics, said of the rate hold.

Malaysia was the only country in South-east Asia to report higher growth in the second quarter than the first, but the trade-dependent nation is worried about global growth and the US-China trade war.

BNM maintained a growth projection of 4.3 per cent to 4.8 per cent for the year, but said the range is "subject to further downside risks from worsening trade tensions, uncertainties in the global and domestic environment, and extended weakness in commodity-related sectors".

Maintaining the projection "provides reassurance as (BNM) expects growth to remain steady going into the second half", said United Overseas Bank economist Julia Goh. She predicted the key rate will be held for the rest of the year.

Others disagree and expect at least one cut after the Federal Reserve cuts US rates, as is expected at its policy meeting next week.

Capital Economics, predicting a Malaysia cut "soon", said: "Although growth has held up well recently, we don't think this resilience will last. Consumer spending growth is set to slow following the recent jump in inflation."

The annual inflation rate was 1.4 per cent in July, the fastest pace in over a year as the effects of tax policy changes faded. BNM said inflation will be higher for the rest of this year and into next year.

BNM cut its policy rate in May by 25 basis points, the first trim since 2016.

The central bank said diversified exports will partly mitigate the impact of softening global demand.

While exports weakened slightly in the first half, they unexpectedly grew 1.7 per cent in July, on solid demand for manufactured goods and higher shipments to China.

However, July industrial production grew at its slowest pace in five years at 1.2 per cent annually, on a sharp decline in mining output.

The ringgit, which did not move after the central bank announcement, has weakened about 0.9 per cent against the US dollar this year.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 13, 2019, with the headline 'Bank Negara sees growth holding up, keeps rate steady'. Print Edition | Subscribe