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BI cuts rate for second month as growth sputters

Move is to bolster economic growth; bank sees economy growing just 0.9% this year

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Inflation has slumped to a two-decade low as the pandemic crippled businesses and rendered millions of people jobless.

Jakarta

BANK Indonesia (BI) lowered its key interest rate for a second straight month to bolster economic growth, and signalled that further easing will depend on inflation and how the recovery from the coronavirus pandemic unfolds.

The central bank cut its seven-day reverse repurchase rate by 25 basis points to 4 per cent, the lowest since the current rate system was adopted in 2016, as predicted by 18 of 30 economists surveyed by Bloomberg. One expected a 50 basis-point cut, while 11 forecast the bank to hold rates steady.

BI has been one of the more aggressive central banks in Asia, cutting rates four times this year and pledging to buy billions of dollars of government bonds to help finance the budget deficit.

The central bank expects the economy to grow just 0.9 per cent to 1.9 per cent this year, and inflation has slumped to a two-decade low as the pandemic crippled businesses and rendered millions of people jobless.

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"This decision is consistent with inflation forecasts that remain low, maintained external stability and as a further step to encourage economic recovery in the Covid-19 pandemic," governor Perry Warjiyo said in his briefing.

"Bank Indonesia, through its policy mix, will continue to strengthen synergies with the government and related authorities so that various policies pursued will be more effective in encouraging economic recovery."

The rupiah weakened as much as 0.7 per cent before paring losses to end at 14,625 to the US dollar, its weakest closing level since May 28, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The Jakarta Composite Index rose 0.4 per cent to close at 5,098.374, while the yield on benchmark 10-year government bonds fell four basis points to 7.033 per cent.

The rate cut may weigh on the rupiah, which has rebounded about 12 per cent against the US dollar since hitting a 22-year low in March, but has been the worst performer in Asia over the past month.

Mr Warjiyo said on Thursday the currency has been pressured by global uncertainty, is undervalued and has room to appreciate.

"The clear implication of today's cut is that BI remains focused on growth rather than currency risks," said Joseph Incalcaterra, HSBC's chief Asean economist in Hong Kong. "We believe a more cautious and gradual pace of rate cuts in the coming quarters can help assuage concerns about currency risks" stemming from the bank's quantitative easing programme.

A spurt in coronavirus cases across the archipelago has clouded the timeline for resuming normal economic activity and weighed on household consumption, which makes up almost 60 per cent of Indonesia's economy.

"The governor's statement notes various downside risks to global growth, including how virus resurgence threatens to limit how much various stimulus measures, by both developed and emerging markets, can do to help rejuvenate growth," said Wellian Wiranto, an economist at Oversea-Chinese Banking Corp in Singapore. "On the domestic front, even though he tries to strike a positive tone by noting the uptick in economic activity, the relative pessimism is clear."

Mr Warjiyo said further rate cuts will depend on inflationary pressures, but noted that buying bonds and ensuring liquidity can be more effective in reviving the economy. BLOOMBERG

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