Philippines Central Bank Is Still on Guard Even as Prices Cool

(Bloomberg) -- The Philippines central bank will remain cautious on inflation even as price gains eased from a nine-year high in the past two months and economic growth slowed to a three-year low in 2018.

“Even as we continue to see abating pressures on prices, the BSP will remain vigilant and ready to employ monetary responses to keep prices stable and rein in inflation expectations,” according to a speech by Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas Governor Nestor Espenilla Friday evening in Manila that was read by one of his deputies. Policy responses will be data dependent, timely and appropriate, the speech said.

Philippines Central Bank Is Still on Guard Even as Prices Cool

Reduction in banks’ reserve requirement ratio will resume in the months ahead along with “further refinements” in the central bank’s interest-rate corridor system, said Espenilla, 60, who’s been battling tongue cancer and missed the annual cocktails the agency hosted for the banking community. He had been on intermittent leaves since September for treatment.

The speech Friday was the first remarks this year from the governor of a central bank known for openly communicating its policy direction. Espenilla’s tone remained as cautious as it was on Dec. 5 when he said that “monetary policy will need to stay vigilant to keep inflation under control amid expected strong growth.”

The Philippines raised its policy rate by a total of 175 basis points in five increases last year, its most aggressive tightening in almost two decades to contain inflation that accelerated to the fastest since 2009. Monetary authorities will meet on the policy rate on Feb. 7, after keeping the rate steady at 4.75 percent in Dec.

Annual inflation eased in Nov. and in Dec. from 6.7 percent in Oct. and is expected to return this year to the central bank’s target range of 2 percent to 4 percent. Annual economic growth of 6.1 percent in the fourth quarter was below expectations and expansion was the weakest in three years in 2018, according to a report on Thursday.

First quarter growth will be hurt by a delay in the approval of the 2019 budget as the government cannot implement about 46 billion-pesos ($875 million) of spending, Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez told reporters during the banking event.

Other highlights

  • Bangko Sentral will issue a circular on foreign exchange governance to implement policies that will promote a fair, liquid and transparent market as it continues to streamline documentary requirements for currency transactions, according to the speech.
  • Authority will continue to implement measures to ensure financial stability, enhancing risk management and expanding financial inclusion, the speech said.
  • Congress has ratified amendments to central bank charter, based on the speech.
  • President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration is open to helping resolve the issue involving Hanjin Heavy Industries and Construction Philippines, which earlier this month was allowed by the court to delay payments on debt owed to some of the country’s largest banks, the finance secretary said.

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