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Thursday, March 10, 2016

Economic: BNM MPC Meeting - OPR and SRR remain unchanged



OVERVIEW

Bank Negara Malaysia (BNM) maintained its monetary policy stance at the latest Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) meeting on Mar 9. The Overnight Policy rate was left unchanged at 3.25% for the tenth straight MPC meeting or since July 2014. The Statutory Reserve Requirement (SRR) was also left unchanged at 3.50% after a 50 basis point cut at the previous meeting on Jan 21. The decision to leave the SRR unchanged at the March meeting is in line with our expectations but does not rule out the possibility of another cut later this year to address banking system liquidity concerns. Among major regional central banks, Bank Indonesia was alone in easing monetary policy this year. Almost all other central banks in the region including the People’s Bank of China and Reserve Bank of India decided to leave policy rates unchanged this year after making rate cuts last year. In its monetary policy statement, BNM reiterated that domestic financial conditions have since stabilised, although there are still heightened risks in the global economic and financial environment. Given such concerns and uncertainty we continue to expect changes to monetary policy if growth flounders and liquidity conditions worsen. However, we maintain our base case of no change in the OPR this year.

BNM made an announcement on Mar 9 to maintain its Overnight Policy Rate (OPR) at the current 3.25%. This was the tenth straight Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) meeting where the OPR was left unchanged since a one-off increase of 25 basis points in July 2014. The BNM decision was in line with market expectations which unanimously predicted no change to the OPR.

The Statutory Reserve Requirement (SRR) was also left unchanged at 3.50% after a cut at the previous meeting on Jan 21. According to BNM, overall domestic financial conditions have remained relatively stable. This was in contrast to the previous monetary policy statement, when BNM cited volatility in the ringgit exchange rate and domestic financial markets as well as net external outflows as having led to a moderation in domestic liquidity.

Depending on domestic liquidity conditions and the impact of another US Federal Reserve rate hike expected to take place before the end of the year, we do not rule out the possibility of more SRR cuts in the remaining four MPC meetings scheduled for this year.

Despite reduced GDP growth expectations for the Malaysian and global economy, BNM assured that the current OPR remains accommodative and supportive of economic activity. While its monetary policy stance remains unchanged, BNM reiterated that close monitoring of macroeconomic conditions is necessary.

Since the last MPC meeting, foreign exchange reserves have gradually increased. The ringgit has strengthened against the US dollar on the back of increasing crude oil prices. The USDMYR cross rate was last at 4.1263.

OUTLOOK

We maintain our view that the current monetary stance will remain unchanged for the remainder of the year, barring any unforeseen risk to growth.

Looser monetary policy might become necessary if growth shows signs of slipping below the 4.0%-4.5% official forecast for 2016, but a shift in policy is unlikely to be made in the next several months as BNM goes through a leadership change and waits for calmer foreign exchange markets.

The choice of central bank governor to replace the outgoing Tan Sri Zeti Akhtar Aziz could have a temporary effect on market sentiment as her succesor has yet to be named ahead of the April 30 handover date.

Our assessment of historical movements in the OPR in relation to global manufacturing PMI is that current BNM policy stance is about right. A proxy for worldwide aggregate economic growth shows that manufacturing activity is well under the 54 global PMI reading that would trigger a rate hike bias and above the 40 point mark that would signal a rate cut.

The United States Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) is expected to make at least two rate hikes this year, a more gradual pace than the previous tightening cycle.

Kenanga Research, 10 March 2016

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