Will Poland have an “ECB moment”?

August 1, 2012

When Poland stunned markets in May with a quarter-point rate rise, analysts at Capital Economics predicted that the central bank would have an “ECB moment” before the year was over, a reference to the European Central Bank’s decision to cut interest rates last year, just months after it hiked them. A slew of weak economic data, from industrial output to retail sales and employment, indicates the ECB moment could arrive sooner than expected. PMI readings today shows the manufacturing business climate deteriorated for the fourth straight month, remaining in contraction territory.

With central banks all around intent on cutting rates, markets, unsurprisingly, are betting on easing in Poland as well. A 25 bps cut is priced for September and 75 bps for the next 12 months, encouraged by dovish comments from a couple of board members (one of whom had backed May’s decision to raise rates). Bond yields have fallen by 60-80 basis points.

Marcin Mrowiec, chief economist at Bank Pekao says:

The market should continue to expect that the (central bank) will unwind the rate hike delivered in May.

There are two hurdles. One is inflation. Price growth is running at 4.3 percent, well above the 2.5 percent target set by the  inflation-targeting central bank. That was what triggered the May rate rise.

Second, in Poland, as in Hungary, the central bank cannot afford to let the currency weaken much. A third of government and corporate debt is hard currency, while half of all mortgages are in Swiss francs. A fall in the zloty, caused by a rate cut, could raise defaults and problems for the banks. (See here for a story on Poland’s Swiss franc loan problem).

But with exports to the recession-hit euro economy providing a fifth of Poland’s GDP, Capital Economics reckon a rate cut is inevitable.

We would note that the relationship between the exchange rate and changes in interest rates is weak. Accordingly, we expect currency concerns to be outweighed by growth concerns.

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