Excerpts from the statement issued by Lesetja Kganyago:
The domestic economy remains weak despite the positive growth surprise in the second quarter of 2016, when an annualised growth rate of 3,3 per cent was recorded. This was driven by a rebound in the primary sector, and a surge in real exports. Mainly as a result of the higher starting point, the Bank’s forecast for economic growth for 2016 has been revised upward from zero per cent to 0,4 percent. The forecasts for the next two years have been increased marginally by 0,1 percentage points, to 1,2 per cent and 1,6 per cent respectively. Estimates of potential output growth are unchanged, implying a persistence of below-potential growth. The trend in the Bank’s composite leading indicator of economic activity remains indicative of subdued growth.
The Monetary Policy Committee has noted improvements in the expected inflation trajectory during the course of the year. Apart from the tighter stance of monetary policy, this has also been driven by lower starting points, as inflation surprised at times on the downside, and changed assumptions underlying the forecast. The expected peak in headline inflation is notably lower, and an earlier return to within the target range is also expected. Most of the changes have been for the current and coming year, whereas the changes in the forecast for 2018 have been marginal. Changes to the core inflation forecast have been less pronounced, but it is no longer expected to breach the upper end of the target range. Despite these improvements, the longer-term inflation trajectory remains uncomfortably close to the upper end of the target range, with high wage settlement rates and inflation expectations contributing to this persistence.
The MPC assesses the risks to the inflation forecast to be more or less balanced at this stage. The current level of the rand is stronger than that implicit in the forecast, and, in conjunction with continued low levels of pass-through from the rand to inflation, the risks are assessed to have moderated somewhat. However, some of the positive factors impacting on the rand may be temporary, and the rand remains vulnerable to both domestic and external shocks.
The other major risk to the inflation outlook relates to food prices. The forecast still expects food prices to peak in the final quarter of this year. The future trajectory of these prices will be highly dependent on the normalisation of rainfall in the coming months. Favourable weather patterns could see food price inflation falling faster than that implicit in the forecast.
The committee is aware that a number of the favourable factors that have contributed to the improved outlook can change very quickly resulting in a reassessment of this view. The bar for monetary accommodation, by contrast, remains high, as the MPC would need to see a more significant and sustained decline of the inflation trajectory to within the inflation target range.