Indonesia’s Growth Slows to 4-Year Low, Adding to Rate-Cut Calls

(Bloomberg) --

Indonesia’s economy expanded at its weakest pace in four years in 2019, opening the door for additional interest-rate cuts as the nation braces for the impact of a spiraling coronavirus crisis.

Gross domestic product rose 5.02% last year, broadly in line with the 5.04% forecast in a Bloomberg survey of economists, according to data released Wednesday. Fourth-quarter growth of 4.97% was the slowest since late 2016, below the median estimate of 5% in the survey.​

Indonesia’s Growth Slows to 4-Year Low, Adding to Rate-Cut Calls

“We continue to maintain our view that domestic demand has been weak, and we see little impetus for it to turn around meaningfully,” said Mohamed Faiz Nagutha, an economist with Bank of America Securities in Singapore. “As such, policy support -- from both fiscal and monetary sides -- remains appropriate.”

He expects the central bank to cut interest rates by 50 basis points this year. Bank Indonesia lowered its key rate four times since July, and left it unchanged last month.

Earlier on Wednesday, Bank Indonesia Governor Perry Warjiyo pledged to maintain an accommodative stance this year and said easing would not be limited to lowering the benchmark rate. The governor last week called for greater coordination between monetary and fiscal authorities to support growth, saying the “central bank cannot be the only game in town.”

Government spending slowed to 0.48% in the fourth quarter -- its lowest pace of growth since 2017 -- and down from 0.98% in the previous three months, data showed. While President Joko Widodo had targeted a growth rate of 7%, the economy has hovered around the 5% level since he first took office in 2014.

Sung Eun Jung, an economist at Oxford Economics Ltd. in Singapore, said while household spending held steady in the final quarter, government consumption “barely grew at all” and was a drag on domestic demand. The economy was expected to weaken further as exports take a hit from the coronavirus outbreak and tourism slows.

“With China temporarily halting trade and production, we expect Indonesia’s growth to slow to 4.8% in H1 2020,” Sung said. “To further boost demand, we now forecast Bank Indonesia to cut its policy rate by 25 basis points” in the first quarter, she said.

Downside Risks

Manufacturing was under pressure throughout last year, Suhariyanto, head of the government statistics agency, told reporters Wednesday. Exports contracted 0.39% in the fourth quarter from a year ago, and 0.87% for the full year.

Growth in consumer spending, which makes up 57% of the economy, slowed to 4.97% in the fourth quarter, down from 5.01% in the third quarter. Investment growth slowed to 4.06%, compared to 4.21% in the previous quarter.

“Growth is uninspiring, especially if you compare with peers like the Philippines,” said Euben Paracuelles, an economist at Nomura Holdings Inc. “This should support the case for BI to more than maintain an accommodative stance and eventually cut its policy rate, especially with still limited signs the government is making budget revisions with some meaningful fiscal stimulus.”

The government is projecting growth of 5.3% this year, but officials say there are downside risks to the forecast because of the coronavirus crisis.

“While domestic consumption has been a bulwark to stabilize things, if Indonesia does not boost investment soon, sub-5% growth in 2020 cannot be ruled out,” said Wellian Wiranto, an economist at Oversea-Chinese Banking Corp. in Singapore.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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