Brazil cuts rates to new low 5.00%, signals pace of future easing may slow

BRASILIA (Reuters) - Brazil’s central bank cut its benchmark interest rate to a new all-time low of 5.00% on Wednesday as expected, but signaled that further easing may be less aggressive than it has been in recent months, despite inflation running well below target.

In a change from recent statements, the bank’s policymakers warned that the historically low level of rates could raise uncertainty and lift inflation within the time horizon for which the bank sets policy.

“They were more specific in terms of future steps. Clearly they are saying ‘don’t expect us to move more aggressively, and after the December meeting we will probably play it with more caution’,” said Carlos Kawall, chief economist at Banco Safra in Sao Paulo.

“You can read it as a little bit more conservative than the market pricing. They have opened the door to go below 4.50%, but perhaps at a slower pace,” he said, sticking by his call for another half percentage point cut in December followed by two quarter-point cuts early next year.

The decision of the bank’s nine-person strong rate-setting committee, known as ‘Copom’, to reduce the Selic rate by 50 basis points was unanimous, as was the median forecast of all 31 economists in a Reuters poll.

In its accompanying statement, Copom said the benign outlook for inflation “should allow for an additional adjustment of equal magnitude,” but warned that low rates could increase uncertainty about the transmission channels and “may raise the inflation trajectory over the relevant monetary policy horizon.”

Wednesday’s move was Copom’s third consecutive 50-basis point cut under the leadership of Roberto Campos Neto, the U.S.-trained economist and former banker who took the helm of the central bank in February.

In recent months inflation has continued to fall, the pass-through impact on the exchange rate has been muted and Congress passed a landmark pension reform, saving some 800 billion reais ($200 billion) in public spending over the next decade.

All of that, against a backdrop of a widespread global monetary easing cycle, has until now given Copom the necessary cover to cut interest rates aggressively.

While policymakers noted the upside risks to inflation and economic uncertainty from ultra-low rates, Copom’s inflation outlook remained dovish.

Using a “hybrid” forecast of a constant exchange rate of 4.05 reais per dollar and a broad consensus view on interest rates, Copom projected 3.7% inflation next year and 3.6% in 2020. That’s still below the central bank’s official 2020 and 2021 targets of 4.00% and 3.75%, respectively.

Reporting by Jamie McGeever; Editing by Sandra Maler, Tom Brown and Diane Craft