Malaysia's central bank ordered lenders to set aside more cash as reserves and unexpectedly kept interest rates unchanged, saying it will consider further policy moves after assessing economic conditions.
Bank Negara Malaysia raised the statutory reserve requirement ratio to 4 per cent from 3 per cent effective July 16, it said in a statement in Kuala Lumpur Thursday.
The benchmark overnight policy rate was held at 3 per cent, a decision predicted by five of 15 economists surveyed by Bloomberg News. The rest expected a quarter-of-a-percentage-point increase.
Europe's debt crisis and slowing US growth have dampened the outlook for exports, putting pressure on Asian policymakers to delay further rate increases even as inflation accelerates. While there are "higher downside risks to growth", pressure remains on prices to climb further, Malaysia's central bank said.
"This is largely a response to the downside risks to growth which they perceive, but clearly they have left the door open to future hikes," said Kit Wei Zheng, a Singapore-based economist at Citigroup. "Given the way inflation is moving, it is still possible" that the central bank may raise rates later this year, he said.
The Malaysian ringgit weakened to 3.0123 a dollar from 3.0103 before the central bank decision, according to Bloomberg data. It has jumped more than 6 per cent against the dollar in the past year, and reached 2.9598 against the US currency on May 2, the strongest level in 13 years.
Consumer prices rose 3.3 per cent in May from a year earlier. Inflation may range from 2.5 per cent to 3.5 per cent this year from 1.7 per cent in 2010, the central bank said in March.
Inflation is likely to "head up further" before peaking in the fourth quarter, said Wellian Wiranto, an economist at HSBC Holdings in Singapore. Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak's government permitted power distributor Tenaga Nasional Bhd. to raise electricity charges last month, adding to price pressures for business and consumers.
Asia's central banks have enacted the steepest increases in borrowing costs as the region led the global recovery from the 2009 recession, with India, South Korea, Thailand and Taiwan raising their key rates last month and China announcing a move yesterday.
The central bank said the decision to raise the reserve requirement for a third time this year is a "pre-emptive measure to manage the significant build-up of liquidity, which may result in financial imbalances and create risks to financial stability".
From / Gulf News