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Bank Indonesia keeps interest rate on hold

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While the rupiah is down almost 6% against the dollar this year and among the worst performers in Asia, the pace of its slide has slowed.

Jakarta

INDONESIA'S central bank left its benchmark interest rate unchanged after three hikes in a row helped to stabilise the currency in South-east Asia's biggest economy.

The seven-day reverse repurchase rate was held at 5.25 per cent on Thursday, in line with the forecasts of 25 of the 28 economists surveyed by Bloomberg. Governor Perry Warjiyo said the policy stance remains "hawkish" with the central bank's focus on economic stability.

A total of 100 basis points of rate hikes in the past two months, including a bigger-than-expected half-point increase on June 29, have helped restore some stability to financial markets and give policymakers some breathing room. Investors have pumped more than US$475 million into government bonds this month following weeks of outflows amid a global emerging market sell-off triggered by rising US interest rates.

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"We think there's still room for the central bank to raise interest rates further this year, should pressure on the rupiah resurface amid global financial volatility," said Wisnu Wardana, an economist at PT Bank Danamon in Jakarta.

While the local currency is down almost 6 per cent against the dollar this year and among the worst performers in Asia, the pace of its slide has slowed.

The rupiah dropped 2.4 per cent against the dollar between the first rate hike on May 17 and the third one on June 29, and has been stable since then.

"We want to emphasise that Bank Indonesia's stance is still hawkish," said Mr Warjiyo. "Our focus is still on maintaining economic stability, especially the rupiah exchange rate. This is because we see that our previous rate hikes, which amounted to 100 basis points, have made us competitive enough to provide room for foreign capital inflows."

The rupiah strengthened briefly after the decision. The yield on the nation's 10-year sovereign bonds rose one basis point to 7.795 per cent, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

"I see USD/IDR consolidating for now but rupiah remains susceptible to external market turmoil," said Gao Qi, Singapore-based foreign exchange strategist at Scotiabank. "If needed, BI will definitely raise its policy rate again."

A benign inflation environment and sluggish growth outlook are more reasons for Mr Warjiyo and his policy board to pause for now. Consumer price growth eased to 3.1 per cent in June, staying within the central bank's 2.5 per cent to 4.5 per cent target band.

The government has trimmed its economic growth forecast for 2018 to 5.2 per cent from 5.4 per cent, while business groups have warned of the impact of a weaker rupiah and higher borrowing costs. BLOOMBERG

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