Economists split about Egypt's interest rate decision on Thursday: Reuters poll

CAIRO (Reuters) - Economists are roughly evenly split on whether Egypt’s central bank will raise interest rates at its monetary policy committee (MPC) meeting on June 16, after a jump in inflation in May.

Six out of 11 economists in the Reuters poll expect the bank to hold rates while five expect a hike ranging from 25 basis points to a full percentage point.

“Whilst a rise in interest rates might, in other scenarios, prove an efficient policy response, at the moment, given the increasingly heavy burden on the budget from rising debt payments, we do not expect a rise in interest rates this month,” Cairo-based think-tank Signet Institute’s head, Angus Blair, said.

Urban consumer price inflation jumped two percentage points to 12.3 percent in May, and core inflation - excluding items with volatile prices, such as fruit and vegetables - rose to a yearly 12.23 percent last month, up from 9.51 percent in April.

The central bank kept its overnight deposit rate at 10.75 percent at its last meeting on April 28 and held the overnight lending rate at 11.75 percent.

One economist expected the central bank to hike rates by 25 basis points on Thursday, three others expected a 50-basis-point hike and one expected a 100-basis-point hike.

“Given the rapid rise in core inflation since the last MPC meeting, we think it will be hard for the central bank to keep a lid on inflation expectations without enacting at least a token interest rate hike”, Exotix’s Alan Cameron said. He expects a 50-basis-point hike.

Economic and political instability since the popular uprising in 2011 that toppled Hosni Mubarak contributed to comparatively slow growth of about 4.2 percent in the last fiscal year. The government expects growth of about 5 percent this fiscal year.

Egypt has had foreign currency shortages since the uprising drove away tourists and foreign investors, and it devalued the pound to 8.78 per dollar in March then hiked interest rates by 150 basis points just days later, to control inflation.

President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is under increasing pressure to revive the economy and keep prices under control to avoid any backlash from the public whose mantras in the revolution included “bread, freedom and social justice”.

“With May inflation numbers showing headline inflation at a year high and more importantly core inflation at seven-year high, we see the situation warranting a rate hike by the central bank,” EFG-Hermes economist, Mohamed Abu Basha, said. He expects a 25-basis-point hike.

Editing by Louise Ireland