Grinding higher: Emerging market central banks raise rates in May

LONDON (Reuters) - The pace of interest rate hikes by emerging market central banks slowed in May as policy makers in developing nations face uneven economic recoveries from the COVID-19 pandemic.

FILE PHOTO: The central bank headquarters building is seen in Brasilia, Brazil May 16, 2017. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino/File Photo

Policy makers across a group of 37 central banks in developing economies delivered a net one interest rate rise in May after a net four hikes in April.

Among the major emerging central banks, Brazil delivered a second straight increase of 75 basis points (bps) in May, stepping up efforts to get inflation back to target this year.

Two other central banks moved in May, though neither are part of the Reuters sample group: Armenia hiked rates to 6% while Ghana surprised markets by cutting its main policy rates by 100 bps to 13.5%, citing muted inflation risks.

“EM central banks are reluctantly turning more hawkish, due to price pressures amid higher demand and supply constraints,” said Christian Keller at Barclays, adding emerging economies faced much more uneven recoveries than their developed peers due to the different pace of vaccination campaigns.

“The jury is still out as to how long this unusual combination of still weak aggregate labour markets, uneven sectorial economic recoveries, supply-side shortages, high commodity prices and differential vaccination rates will last, bringing additional uncertainties to policymaking and markets.”

EM central banks continue with rate hikes EM central banks continue with rate hikes

Yearly tally of EM central bank rate moves Yearly tally of EM central bank rate moves

For an interactive version of the graphic, click here

While the pace of rate hikes slowed a touch, there was little let up from food price gains, one of the main sources of inflation in recent months.

The United Nations food agency said on Thursday world food prices rose in May at their fastest monthly rate in more than a decade, posting a 12th consecutive monthly increase to hit their highest level since September 2011.

Commodity and energy prices have added to the pressure, with crude oil rising nearly 40% so far this year.

The recent switch of emerging market central banks from an easing to a hiking cycle had come after the balance between rate hikes and cuts across the group of 37, by Reuters calculations, was negative or zero for two years up to February 2021.

This had been the longest easing cycle since the 2008 financial crisis and the 2010 euro crisis.

At the peak of the cycle in March last year, 27 of the 37 central banks cut interest rates, trying to protect their economies as the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic and lockdowns to contain it rippled through markets around the world.

In 2021, there have been 10 rate hikes across the group so far, compared to four in the whole of 2020 and nine in 2019.

There have been only three cuts this year, compared to 115 in 2020 and 81 in 2019.

For an interactive version of the graphic below, click here

Yearly tally of EM central bank rate moves Yearly tally of EM central bank rate moves

Reporting by Karin Strohecker; Graphics and data reporting by Ritvik Carvalho; Editing by Kim Coghill