UPDATE 2-Russian c.bank holds rates as inflation risks abate

Fri Nov 9, 2012 4:59am EST

Related Topics

* Central bank leaves key policy rates unchanged as expected

* More optimistic about inflation trends

* Sr official says inflation may end year at 6.5-6.7 pct

* Lack of mid-term guidance leaves interest rate options open (Adds context, comment, market reaction)

By Jason Bush

MOSCOW, Nov 9 (Reuters) - Russia's central bank left all its policy rates on hold as expected on Friday, for the second month in a row, and adopted a less hawkish tone on inflation that suggests it may stay its hand in subsequent months.

In a statement accompanying its rate decision, the Bank of Russia was more optimistic about inflation trends than in previous months - interpreted by analysts as making future hikes in rates less likely.

"The overall message from the statement is that (the central bank) is still focused mostly on inflation rather than growth. But we also read this as a less hawkish position than in previous months," said Dmitry Polevoy, economist at ING.

Central bank First Deputy Chairman Alexei Ulyukayev said separately that inflation may be between 6.5 percent and 6.7 percent this year - a more optimistic outlook than a forecast of around 7 percent in a central bank strategy document this week.

"The small increase in interest rates in September made it possible to hold back inflation expectations and create a better picture for the control of inflation in future months," Ulyukayev said.

The central bank kept the fixed one-day repo rate, a de facto ceiling for the money market, at 6.5 percent, and the overnight deposit rate, a floor for interbank rates, at 4.25 percent.

The refinancing rate, the cost of overnight loans from the central bank, was held at 8.25 percent.

The rouble showed little immediate reaction to the central bank's widely-anticipated decision, but has been weakening slightly amid diminished global risk appetite.

At 1020 GMT the rouble was down 0.15 percent on the day to 35.45 against the euro-dollar basket monitored by the central bank.

RELAXED POSITION

The bank raised all its rates by 25 basis points in September - the first increase in nine months - after the annual rate of inflation overshot its 5-6 percent target range for the year.

But this month the central bank said that although inflation remained outside the target range, it had fallen somewhat, and the main cause of rising inflation - food prices - was abating.

The central bank said that the annual rate of consumer price inflation was 6.4 percent on Nov. 6 - a fall compared with 6.5 percent in October and 6.6 percent in September.

Stable food price inflation, as well as the central bank's increase in interest rates in September could lead to a moderation of inflation expectations, the bank said.

"The accompanying statement is pointedly dovish in flavour," Renaissance Capital economist Ivan Tchakarov said in a note.

The central bank also continued to be relatively unconcerned by signs that Russia's economy was slowing down.

Gross domestic product grew by 2.5 percent in September, down from 2.8 percent in August, leading the Economy Ministry to criticise the central bank's September rate hike.

The central bank said that despite some economic cooling, sentiment remained positive, with labour market conditions supporting demand, and little risk that tighter monetary conditions would cause slower growth.

Despite its more dovish tone on inflation, the central bank did not provide any guidance on whether it regarded the present level of rates as appropriate for the months ahead.

"The central bank still stands in monitoring mode and has left its hands free," said ING's Polevoy.

"But as the economy is clearly decelerating and will continue doing so in the coming quarters, we see that the chances of no change in policy rates has somewhat increased." (Additional reporting by Vladimir Abramov and Oksana Kobzeva; editing by Douglas Busvine and Keiron Henderson)

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