Poland’s Slowing Inflation Sets Up Central Bank Battle

Poland’s slowing inflation is setting up a battle among policy makers next month over whether to cut borrowing costs and reverse the only interest-rate increase by a central bank in the European Union this year.

Pressure is mounting on the Narodowy Bank Polski to reduce rates from their highest level since 2009 after data yesterday showed inflation fell to 3.8 percent in August, the slowest in three months, and the EU’s biggest eastern economy expanded at the weakest pace in almost three years in the second quarter.

The bank, whose Monetary Policy Council meets next on Oct. 2-3, kept is main rate at 4.75 percent last week even as policy makers around the world ease borrowing costs to avert a slump, saying a cut would require more proof the economy and inflation are slowing. Yesterday’s data increase the chances next month of a reduction, according to separate e-mailed notes by Polish lenders BRE Bank SA, Bank Zachodni WBK SA, ING Bank Slaski SA and Bank Pekao SA.

“Whatever we do, I think inflation will be back at the target by the first quarter,” MPC member Andrzej Bratkowski told broadcaster TVN CNBC in an interview yesterday. Bratkowski, who’s called for a rate cut since July, said he can’t predict when the bank will reduce borrowing costs even though there’s a “large possibility” it will happen this year.

Bonds, Zloty

Polish bonds fell today, with the yield on the five-year note rising eight basis points, or 0.08 percentage point, to 4.37 percent at 2:24 p.m. in Warsaw. The zloty was at 4.0599 per euro, versus 4.0858 the previous trading day. The zloty has appreciated 2.7 percent this month, making it the world’s best performer among more than 170 currencies tracked by Bloomberg.

Governor Marek Belka, who heads the 10-member MPC, said in an Aug. 31 interview with Bloomberg Television that the bank has scope to reduce rate cuts as the economy slows. While MPC member Elzbieta Chojna-Duch told TVN CNBC yesterday that she sees room for “one big” rate reduction, Belka and Anna Zielinska-Glebocka have been the only other council members to speak publicly in favor of lowering borrowing costs.

“The market gets monetary policy wrong in Poland as it does overprice the magnitude of rate cuts in the pipeline, in my view,” said Benoit Anne, an emerging-markets strategist in London at Societe Generale. The central bank “may indeed at some point switch on to an easing cycle, but it will be later and more gradual than what most investors think right now.”

Easing Inflation

While price growth has averaged 4 percent this year, a slowing economy and a recession in several of Poland’s main trading partners in the 17-nation euro region will curb inflation to 2.8 percent next year and 2.5 percent in 2014, the median estimate in a Bloomberg survey of economists shows.

The economic expansion eased to 2.4 percent in the three months through June from a year earlier, the slowest pace in 11 quarters and down from 3.5 percent in the January-March period, as domestic consumption declined and the euro-region debt crisis curbed demand for the nation’s exports.

In May, Poland’s central bank became the only one in the 27-country EU to raise borrowing costs this year when it increased rates a quarter point to combat inflation, which has exceeded the 3.5 percent upper limit of the bank’s tolerance range for 20 months.

Yesterday, Russia’s central bank unexpectedly raised all of its policy rates by a quarter-point after price growth overshot its target, splitting from policy makers in other major economies focused on bolstering growth.

ECB Moves

European Central Bank President Mario Draghi said on Sept. 6 that policy makers had agreed to an unlimited bond-buying program for struggling nations in the euro region, which is grappling with an almost three-year-old debt crisis. The ECB also facilitated borrowing against government-issued or guaranteed assets by dropping rating requirements.

Poland will lower its benchmark rate by a percentage point within the next nine months, Simon Quijano-Evans, an emerging-markets economist at ING Bank NV in London, wrote in an e-mailed note. Data next week on jobs and industrial output will probably “provide plenty of food for an October rate cut consideration,” he said.

Traders are betting for the first time since 2009 that Poland will cut rates by half a point. Forward-rate agreements used to speculate on interest rates in three months have dropped to 53 basis points below the Warsaw interbank offered rate, the biggest discount since March 2009 and twice the 25 basis-point gap a month ago, data compiled by Bloomberg show.

Still, Peter Attard Montalto, an economist at Nomura Plc in London, said expectations for lower rates “are overblown in both timing and scope,” even if they will come eventually.

“We don’t expect cuts until January, but they could occur at the earliest in November,” when the government releases its new inflation and growth projections, Montalto said by e-mail.

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