Israel cenbank to hike rates but analysts split on 25 or 50bps

Citi strategist Bhumika Gupta said that with the US Federal Reserve moving to quarter-point moves, the Bank of Israel would follow suit

By Reuters

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An Israeli flag flutters outside the Bank of Israel building in Jerusalem. — Reuters file photo
An Israeli flag flutters outside the Bank of Israel building in Jerusalem. — Reuters file photo

Published: Sun 19 Feb 2023, 7:02 PM

Israel’s central bank is expected to raise interest rates by as much as a half percentage point this week, in what could be the last move in an aggressive tightening cycle aimed at pushing the inflation rate back down to its one per cent to three per cent annual target.

With the Bank of Israel saying last month it saw an interest rates ceiling of about four per cent, most economists had figured on a 25 basis-points increase in February to bring the rate to four per cent, which would be its highest since October 2008, from 3.75 per cent.

The rate has jumped from 0.1 per cent in what the central bank called a “front loading” cycle.

But higher than expected inflation and growth data issued last week has analysts believing a stronger dose of 50 basis points was now possible.

Citi strategist Bhumika Gupta said that with the US Federal Reserve moving to quarter-point moves, the Bank of Israel would follow suit.

“However, given the latest inflation print is the highest in the cycle yet, the market is now pricing in a higher probability of a 50 bps hike,” she said, adding that the terminal rate will likely be 4.5 per cent rather than 4.25 per cent.

The annual inflation rate rose to a more than 14-year high of 5.4 per cent in January, slightly above a Reuters consensus and December’s rate of 5.3 per cent.

At the same time, Israel’s economic growth was an annualised 5.8 per cent in the fourth quarter from the prior three months — more than double expectations — to push 2022 growth to 6.5 per cent.

Of the 15 economists polled by Reuters, nine project a 25 basis points hike while six foresee 50 basis points when the central bank announces its decision on Monday at 4pm (1400GMT).

“Apprehension regarding the negative impact on mortgage borrowers is the only factor that may moderate the increase in interest rates,” said Bank Hapoalim economist Victor Bahar.

Policymakers, he said, are also looking at the Israeli government’s planned judicial reforms, “particularly if it leads to a further depreciation of the shekel beyond that recorded so far.”

The next rate decision is set for April 3.

Analysts believe that with China reopening and other price pressures easing, inflation will move back to its target in late 2023 and that could prompt the start of interest rate cuts, especially if the rate hikes significantly harm economic growth. Israel’s economy is forecast to grow less than three per cent in 2023. — Reuters


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