Poland, the lonely inflation targeter

May 9, 2012

Is the National Bank of Poland (NBP) the last inflation-targeting central bank still standing?

The bank shocked many today with a quarter point rate rise, naming stubbornly high inflation as the reason, and signalling that more tightening is on its way. The NBP has sounded hawkish in recent weeks but few had actually expected it to carry through its threat to raise rates. Economic indicators of late have been far from cheerful — just hours after the rate rise, data showed Polish car production slumped 30 percent in April from year-ago levels. PMI numbers last week pointed to further deterioration ahead for manufacturing. And sitting as it does on the euro zone’s doorstep, Poland will be far more vulnerable than Brazil or Russia to any new setback in Greece. Its action therefore deserves praise, says Benoit Anne, head of emerging markets strategy at Societe Generale.

(Poland’s central bank) is one of the last orthodox inflation-targeting central banks in the global emerging market central bank universe. They are taking action because they are seeing inflation creeping up and have decided to be proactive.

The rate rise  is especially notable given many central banks in developing countries appear effectively to have surrendered their inflation-fighting mandate. Nowhere is the push for lower interest rates more pronounced than in Brazil where the government last week announced plans to scrap fixed-rate savings deposits in a move that is seen paving the way for more agressive rate cuts. Clearly there is tolerance here for higher inflation, which will still end 2012 well above target.

But many analysts such as Manik Narain at UBS consider Poland’s decision a high-risk one given the growth issues. Narain sees it possibly motivated by the need to signal Poland will not welcome further currency weakness (the zloty like most emerging currencies has shed much of its early-2012 gain) Therefore a prolonged monetary tightening cycle is unlikely, he says. Indeed many reckon the NBP may find itself, like the European Central Bank last year, reversing an ill-considered rate rise. Analysts at Capital Economics write:

If we are right in expecting growth and inflation to slow by more than most expect over the second half of this year then this may well be the NBP’s “ECB moment”. Recall that having hiked rates twice in the first half of 2011, the ECB was forced to start loosening policy once again by November as the economy weakened. In Poland’s case, we think there is a good chance that today’s rate hike will be reversed by the end of the year.

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