Analysis: Central Bank mulls keeping high interest rates for longer

Policymakers seem to hope that situation will improve to the point of making additional hike unnecessary


Central Bank’s building in Brasília — Foto: Jorge William/Agência O Globo

Central Bank’s building in Brasília — Foto: Jorge William/Agência O Globo

Central Bank’s Monetary Policy Committee (Copom) is now considering the possibility of maintaining interest rates at a high level for longer to meet the inflation target. This would complement or replace the previous strategy of raising the Selic, Brazil’s benchmark interest rate, to even higher levels in the final leg of the monetary tightening cycle.

In the minutes of last week’s meeting unveiled Tuesday, the policymakers say they analyzed this possibility. They have also discussed which message to send about monetary policy for the next meeting, to be held in August.

As the inflation environment has deteriorated, the Copom decided that it was about time to raise the interest rate even more last week, to 13.25% a year from 12.75% a year. The policymakers have also signaled that they will keep interest rates at a high level for longer than the markets have been expecting in order to complement the necessary tightening dose. “The strategy of convergence around the target requires a more contractionary interest rate than that used in the reference scenario for the entire relevant horizon,” the minutes say.

In last week’s meeting, the reference scenario provided for an interest rate of 13.25% at the end of 2022, 10% at the end of 2023 and 8.5% at the end of 2024. This way, considering what the minutes say, the Copom seemingly believes that the interest rates must be above each of these percentages at the end of each year.

The minutes could not make it clear how a higher interest rate at the end of 2023 or 2024 will help to meet the inflation target on the relevant horizon, which is 18 months ahead. The interest rates in 2023 will impact inflation more in 2024 than in the current monetary policy horizon.

The alternatives between raising the interest rate to a higher level now or keeping the rate higher for longer were also analyzed when the Copom discussed future monetary policy signals for the next meeting, in August.

Here again, the Copom concluded that keeping interest rates high for longer will not be enough to meet the inflation target. As a result, the chosen strategy was to signal a 50-basis-points hike or a 25-basis-points hike, depending on the inflation rates until there.

In a very important point to consider regarding future signals of monetary policy, the Copom said the perspective of maintaining the Selic rate for a sufficiently long period would not assure, “at this moment,” the convergence of inflation around the target in the relevant horizon.

It has been a while since the Copom used this phrase when talking about future steps – the intention, historically, has been to highlight that any signal is reliant on the evolution of the economic scenario. If the committee considered it better to include the expression “at this moment” now, it probably sees chances of positive evolution of this scenario by August, in a way that allows meeting the target by only keeping the interest rates at the current level, of 13.25% a year.

On the other hand, the Central Bank made a point of reinforcing, as it had already done in May, that the outlook is very uncertain, so it requires caution. When they presented their inflation projections, the policymakers said that uncertainty “has increased since the previous meeting.” Caution, in this case, is related to the risk of setting a higher-than-necessary dose of interest rate.

The debate about the Copom’s decision started with the directors saying they have already done a lot. “It was emphasized that the current monetary tightening cycle was quite intense and timely and that, due to monetary policy lags, much of the expected contractionary effect and its impact on current inflation are still to be seen.”

All things considered, the Copom is moving to stop raising interest rates and to keep them high for a sufficiently long period. It signaled a new hike for August, but it seems to hope that the situation will improve to the point of making an additional hike unnecessary.

Will the Central Bank be able to stop raising the interest rates? The Copom has been signaling the end of the cycle since March, but it was not possible. This time, the policymakers decided to keep raising the rates because the “Copom observed deterioration in both the short-term inflationary dynamics and the longer-term projections.” The reaction function still seems to be in place: if more negative surprises come, the Central Bank will keep raising the interest rates.

*By Alex Ribeiro — São Paulo

Source: Valor International