Indonesia holds key rate as new virus wave threatens economy


Indonesia’s central bank kept the seven-day reverse repurchase rate at 3.5%, as expected by all 30 economists surveyed by Bloomberg. It’s the fourth straight month the rate has stayed at its record low, and BI previously has signalled it could remain at that level for the rest of the year.

JAKARTA: Bank Indonesia (BI) left its benchmark interest rate unchanged yesterday as a resurgence in Covid cases risks delaying recovery in South-East Asia’s largest economy.

Indonesia’s central bank kept the seven-day reverse repurchase rate at 3.5%, as expected by all 30 economists surveyed by Bloomberg. It’s the fourth straight month the rate has stayed at its record low, and BI previously has signalled it could remain at that level for the rest of the year.

“The decision is consistent with our low inflation projection and maintained rupiah stability and efforts to strengthen the national economic recovery, ” governor Perry Warjiyo told reporters in Jakarta. The central bank will keep policy accommodative to boost lending to businesses, which will help the economy to recover, Warjiyo said.

The move should help policy makers shield the rupiah from a renewed round of taper talk, after the US Federal Reserve on Wednesday sped up its expected pace of policy tightening. The rupiah, which is down almost 2.2% against the dollar this year, has been among currencies vulnerable to volatility as foreign investors shift their portfolios away from emerging markets.

The rupiah fell 0.9% yesterday, its largest drop since Feb 26, though most of the decline happened in the aftermath of the Fed decision, before BI’s meeting. The country’s benchmark stock index was mostly unchanged, while the yield on 10-year benchmark government bonds rose seven basis points to 6.49%, its highest level since May 20.

While some of its peers have started hinting at a policy shift, Bank Indonesia has pledged to keep policy accommodative as long as possible to support a soft economy that is struggling to get Covid-19 under control. Even after hitting a five-month high of 1.68% in May, inflation remains well below the central bank’s 2%-4% target.

Warjiyo said global financial volatility should ease as the Fed’s policy outlook becomes clearer. BI doesn’t expect the Fed to begin tapering its asset purchases until the first quarter of next year, Warjiyo said.

“Bank Indonesia’s decision to keep its policy rate unchanged at 3.5% wouldn’t be surprising in normal days, but it’s especially to be expected coming right after the Fed’s hawkish tilt overnight, ” said Wellian Wiranto, an economist at Oversea-Chinese Banking Corp in Singapore.

“While there remains a tail risk that BI might have to react to a new economic downturn domestically due to virus resurgence, its ability to cut rates further has been considerably slashed by the overnight global development. Hence, we now attach a very slim probability of any rate cut this year.”

A new wave of coronavirus infections threatens to derail the economy, which until recently had been showing signs of turning the corner. Indonesia added more than 55, 000 new cases in the week ending June 13, its largest increase since February, after gatherings for the Aidilfitri holiday and more transmissible strains worsened the virus spread. The government has tightened movement restrictions and expanded the vaccine roll-out to all adults in a bid to contain the surge, which is expected to persist until July.

Prior to the Covid spike, Indonesia’s mobility and retail sales were driving consumption, which accounts for more than half of gross domestic product. Exports and imports also jumped in May, in tandem with record-high factory activity. Indonesia aims to climb out of its recession this quarter and post growth of 4.5%-5.3% for the full year. — Bloomberg

Other points from the briefing:

Warjiyo expects Indonesia’s recovery to continue in the second quarter, and reiterates a full-year outlook of 4.1%-5.1% growth in gross domestic. The bank maintained its inflation outlook for the year at 2%-4% and its forecast for the current-account deficit at 1%-2% of gross domestic product. Bank lending fell 1.28% in May, the eighth straight month of declines, but loan demand is improving as corporate activities increase. -- Bloomberg

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