Bangko Sentral raises interest rates again; Fitch Solutions sees last hike for 2023 in May

MANILA – With inflation expected to remain elevated in most of 2023, Fitch Solutions Country Risk and Industry Research forecasts another 25 basis points hike in the central bank’s key rates in May, seen as the last for the year.

Last week, the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas’ (BSP) policy-making Monetary Board (MB) hiked by 25 basis points the central bank’s key rates to 6.25 percent for the overnight reverse repurchase (RRP) rate, bringing to 425 basis points the total uptick, from the record-low rate of 2 percent in 2020.

In a report, Fitch Solutions sees inflation to return within the government’s 2 to 4 percent target band only in the second half of this year.

“Although the central bank dialed back on the pace of monetary tightening, we still think that the cycle has a little further to run as inflation will remain elevated over the coming months,” it said.

The rate of price increases decelerated to 8.6 percent last February, little changed from the previous month’s 14-year high of 8.7 percent.

The report said that since domestic inflation rate remains sticky, “concerns about price stability will spur the BSP towards hiking rates a little further at its next meeting” or on May 18, 2023.

The research arm of Fitch Group said a pause in the central bank’s rate hiking cycle is forecast for the rest of the year as “signs of economic weakness will become increasingly evident in the data.”

It sees economic growth to be around 5.9 percent this year, slower than the 7.6 percent in 2022 and below the government’s 6 to 7 percent assumption for this year.

“We think that the economic slowdown will be driven by lackluster global demand and the lagged impact of domestic monetary tightening,” it added.

The report cited that with the peso still “susceptible to sell-offs in the near term due to a sustained wide currency account deficit”, risks for any hike in the BSP’s key rates is on the upside.

“In a risk-off event, the BSP may be forced to hike more aggressively than we expect to defend the currency. Second, if price pressures surprise to the upside, possible due to further supply disruptions, the central bank would likely have to hike its policy rates even further to anchor inflation expectations,” it said.