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Latin America's Rate-Cutting Wave Boosted by Tepid Price Data

Economy Aug 08, 2019 04:31PM ET
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(Bloomberg) -- The stage is set for fresh central bank interest rate cuts across Latin America following a deluge of benign consumer price data released on Thursday.

Annual inflation in Mexico slid to the lowest level since the end of 2016, while year-on-year prints in Brazil and Chile came in close to a full percentage point below their respective price targets. Investors see odds of a quarter-point borrowing cost cut in Mexico as soon as its policy decision next week. They are also pricing in as much as a half-point reduction in both Chile and Brazil in September after previous cuts in both countries.

Latin American central bankers are rushing to the aide of economies that have been stung by a global growth slowdown and ripple effects from the U.S.-China trade war, as well as domestic factors including policy uncertainty. They are set to follow peers in Asia, who earlier this week delivered a round of borrowing cost cuts aimed at countering a worsening international outlook.

“All across the region we’re seeing very mediocre growth. The inflation numbers have been very good, either at target or below the target,” said Alberto Ramos, chief Latin America economist at Goldman Sachs (NYSE:GS). “There’s a synchronized movement toward easing, both in emerging and developed markets.”

A recent tumble in global commodity prices amid worsening trade tensions may help keep a lid on an already-favorable regional inflation outlook. Energy costs in Mexico have dropped for four straight months, while fuel has more recently helped keep consumer prices low in Brazil and Chile.

Meanwhile, Mexico narrowly dodged a recession after eking out 0.1% growth in the three months through June, and weak retail and industrial production in Brazil are putting Latin America’s largest economy on the cusp of its second-straight quarterly contraction. In Chile, the government’s 3.2% growth target has been undercut by a plunge in the price of copper, which is the country’s main export, as well as by poor consumer sentiment.

Read more: IMF Cuts 2019 Brazil and Mexico Growth Forecasts to Below 1%

To be sure, not all of Latin America is easing monetary policy right now. With annual inflation of 55.8%, Argentina has little chance of lowering the world’s highest borrowing costs, while expectations of steady growth and accelerating inflation are prompting Colombian policy makers to keep rates on hold for now.

Still, the U.S. Federal Reserve’s rate cut last week encourages many Latin American countries to follow suit. Later on Thursday, Peru may lower its borrowing costs in the first reduction in a year and a half.

"Inflationary pressure has been receding at the global level," said Miguel Ricaurte, chief economist with Banco Itau in Santiago. "It’s opening the door to interest rate cuts in several different economies in the region."

Latin America's Rate-Cutting Wave Boosted by Tepid Price Data
 

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