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South African Credit Expands at Fastest Pace in 3 Years

South African credit growth accelerated at the fastest pace in more than three years in March as the central bank left borrowing costs unchanged at a 30-year low, boosting lending in Africa’s biggest economy.

Borrowing by households and businesses rose 9.2 percent, up from 7.9 percent in February, the Pretoria-based Reserve Bank said on its website today. The median estimate in a Bloomberg survey of 11 economists was for credit to expand 8.6 percent.

The Reserve Bank has kept the repurchase rate at 5.5 percent since November 2010 to support economic growth threatened by a debt crisis in Europe, a key trading partner. While spending is recovering, consumers are facing rising costs from gasoline prices, giving the central bank room to keep its key rate unchanged.

“Things are recovering, but they aren’t going fast enough,” Colen Garrow, chief economist for Brait SA Ltd., said in a telephone interview from Johannesburg. The data “argues very much for leaving rates on hold.”

The rand was at 7.7496 per dollar at 11:44 a.m. in Johannesburg, little changed from 7.74 before the data was released. The yield on the bond due in 2015 dropped one basis point, or 0.01 percentage point, to 6.48 percent.

Inflation slowed to 6 percent in March, the top end of the Reserve Bank’s 3 percent to 6 percent target range and the slowest pace since September, the statistics agency said on April 18. The inflation rate will peak at 6.5 percent this quarter and fall into the target band by the end of the year, Governor Gill Marcus said on March 29.

Expenditure in the economy expanded 5.1 percent in the fourth quarter, the fastest pace in more than a year, according to the central bank. Consumers account for two-thirds of spending in South Africa.

The broad M3 measure of money supply rose 6.7 percent in March from a year earlier, compared with 5.9 percent in February, the central bank said. The median estimate in a Bloomberg survey was 6.4 percent.

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