- All 21 economists surveyed by Bloomberg predicted the decision
- Bank of Israel seen holding rate as economy grows moderately
The Bank of Israel held interest rates at a record low while signaling it may take action to prop up declining exports.
In a departure from previous months, the central bank emphasized sales abroad in the statement accompanying its rate decision, and not just falling consumer prices, a strong shekel and developments in the global economy.
“The intensifying decline in exports in recent months reinforces the Monetary Committee’s assessment” that monetary policy “will remain accommodative for a considerable time,” the statement said. The shekel exchange rate “continues to weigh on growth of exports,” it added.
The shekel is trading near historical highs versus a basket of currencies. Economic growth slowed far more sharply than expected in the first quarter as exports excluding diamonds and technology startups plunged 12.9 percent. The central bank has used a mix of rate cuts and foreign currency purchases to try to keep exports competitive and boost output, but has said it would only resort to unconventional measures, which would include zero or negative rates, in “unusual” circumstances.
“The central bank is concerned about the export situation” and highlighted the shekel’s strength as the issue “weighing down on export growth,” said Nira Shamir, Israel Discount Bank’s chief economist.
The weak growth numbers may already be doing some of the central bank’s work. The currency weakened after the economic output figures were released, losing 2.44 percent against the dollar last week, the worst performer among major currencies Bloomberg tracked.
“The central bank is putting more emphasis on exporters, who have been doing very badly,” said Ofer Klein, head of economics and research at Harel Insurance & Financial Services Ltd. “I don’t necessarily see the bank changing its policy anytime soon, though, because the shekel has weakened in recent days, the central bank is already purchasing foreign currency, and unemployment is extremely low.”
Yossi Shvimer, chief economist at Migdal Capital Markets in Tel Aviv, predicted the bank will hold rates at a record-low 0.1 percent for the rest of the year. “Other data we’re looking at, such as industrial activity, shows the economy is not doing so badly. And with a weaker shekel, exporters may do a bit better.”
Unemployment is at a record low, falling to 4.9 percent last month from 5.3 percent in March, according to data released Tuesday. Last week, Bank Hapoalim Ltd. reported industrial activity is showing expansionary signs. Inflation expectations also have been increasing in recent months, moving closer to the government’s target range of 1 to 3 percent after 20 months of negative inflation.