The Bank of Israel increases the interest rate for June 2011 by 25 basis points to 3.25 percent

The Bank of Israel increases the interest rate for June 2011 by 25 basis points to 3.25 percent
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Background conditions
Inflation data: The inflation rate, measured over the previous 12 months, is currently 4 percent, above the upper limit of the target inflation range (of 1–3 percent a year), despite the fact that the Consumer Price Index (CPI) increased by 0.6 percent in April, below forecasts, and below the seasonal path consistent with the achievement of the inflation target. This was the second consecutive month in which the monthly change was below the seasonal path, after four months in which it exceeded it. This month, too, the increase in the CPI was influenced primarily by increases in the prices of food and energy, and by the continued rise in housing prices.
Inflation and interest rate forecasts: Inflation expectations for the next twelve months as derived from the capital market were 3.3 percent on average this month, while inflation expectations for the medium and long term remained stable within the target range. The average of forecasters' predictions for the next twelve monthly CPIs remained unchanged from the previous month, at 3.1 percent, slightly above the upper limit of the inflation target range. Based on the Telbor (Tel Aviv Inter-Bank Offered Rate) market, the Bank of Israel interest rate one year from now is expected to be 4.2 percent, and the average of forecasters' predictions is that it will be 4.3 percent. About half of the forecasters predict that the Bank of Israel will leave the interest rate for June unchanged, and about half predict that the Bank will raise the interest rate for June by 0.25 percentage points.
Real economic activity: Economic indicators that became available this month show that economic activity continued to expand. The preliminary National Accounts estimate for the first quarter shows an annualized GDP growth rate of 4.7 percent, and business product growth of 5.8 percent. This growth included an increase of 23.7 percent in investment in fixed assets, and of 16 percent in imports and exports (annual rates). First quarter National Accounts data are consistent with a growth rate higher than that in the most recent Research Department forecast (of 4.5 percent GDP growth in 2011). According to monthly figures from a new trends survey by the Central Bureau of Statistics, the improvement in private sector business activity continued in April, and the expectations for the next two months are optimistic. The Globes consumer confidence index and the Bank Hapoalim consumer confidence index rose in April, following their increases in the previous month, and they are at relatively high levels. In contrast, the Research Department index of Google searches, which is currently at 70 percent, indicates an increase in the probability of a slowdown in domestic demand. The Purchasing Managers Index also continues to point to contraction.
The Bank of Israel staff forecast which was updated this month, is that inflation in 2011 will be above the upper limit of the target inflation range, and that it will decline to within the range in the first quarter of 2012. (This is sooner than in the previous forecast, in which this was expected to occur towards the middle of 2012.) The interest rate is expected to increase gradually to about 4.2 percent in a year’s time (compared with 4.4 percent in the previous forecast). The main factors which could change the forecasts for real activity and inflation in Israel are developments in the global economy, including changes in commodity and oil prices, developments in the local housing market, the realization of geopolitical risks, and a possible increase in wage pressures in the public sector.
The labor market and wages: Labor market data indicate a continued expansionary trend in employment and a drop in unemployment, with a moderate increase in wages. According to trend figures for February, the percentage of unemployed in the civilian workforce continued to fall, and reached 6 percent. The number of work seekers declined by 1.2 percent in March from the February level (seasonally adjusted), and was 7 percent lower than the number in March 2010. The nominal wage increased in December–February by 1.2 percent compared with the level in the previous three months, while the real wage dropped by 0.4 percent (seasonally adjusted). Health tax receipts in April, which provide an indication of wage payments in that month, were 7.8 percent higher, in nominal terms, than in April 2010. The government recently approved an increase of NIS 410 in the minimum monthly wage, to NIS 4,300.
Budget data: Tax revenues in the first quarter were 2.4 percent higher than the seasonal path consistent with the budget forecast; domestic expenditure in the first four months of the year was 0.6 percent lower than the seasonal path consistent with full expenditure of the budget. Based on these trends, and even assuming full expenditure of the budget, the annual deficit is expected to be lower than the legally prescribed ceiling (3 percent of GDP).
The foreign exchange market: From the previous monetary policy discussion held on April 21, through May 20, the shekel depreciated by 2.4 percent against the dollar, in line with the trend around the world, and remained almost unchanged against the euro. The strengthening of the dollar against the other major currencies resulted from increased concern over the debt crises in Europe and the sharp drop in commodity prices. In terms of the nominal effective exchange rate the shekel weakened by about 0.9 percent.
The capital and money markets:Between the monetary policy discussions of April 21 and May 20, most Tel Aviv Stock Exchange share price indices fell, in line with the general trend abroad. The Tel Aviv 25 Index declined by 3.6 percent, and the Tel Aviv 100 Index fell by 3.9 percent. Yields on local currency government bonds declined by 5–10 basis points (b.p.), mainly in the medium term. Yields on CPI-indexed government bonds fell by 7–12 b.p. for most terms. The yield gap between Israeli unindexed 10-year government bonds and US 10-year Treasury notes widened during the period surveyed, and at the end of the period stood at 216 b.p. New corporate bond issues totaled about NIS 4 billion a month in the last few months, compared with the average of about NIS 3 billion a month in 2010, and their average rating rose. The CPI-indexed Tel-Bond indices rose––the Tel-Bond 20 index by 1.4 percent and the Tel-Bond 40 by 1.2 percent––and the Tel-Bond Shekel Index rose by 0.9 percent. Israel's sovereign risk premium as measured by the five-year CDS spread remained almost unchanged over the month, at 143 b.p.
The money supply: In the twelve months ending in April the M1 monetary aggregate (cash held by the public and demand deposits) increased by 5 percent, and the M2 aggregate (M1 plus unindexed deposits of up to one year) increased by 6.5 percent.
Developments in the market for housing credit: The balance of outstanding credit to the business sector decreased in March by 1.2 percent, to NIS 764 billion. Most of the decline was due to the appreciation of the shekel in March, which affected the shekel value of the balance of credit from abroad. Outstanding credit to households increased by 1.4 percent in March, to NIS 345 billion, which included a 1 percent increase in housing credit, following a similar increase in February. The total amount of mortgages granted in the twelve months up to and including April was about NIS 50 billion, some 25 percent higher than the amount in the previous twelve months. About 47 percent of new mortgages in April were not indexed to the CPI, at interest rates indexed to the prime rate. On May 5, 2011, a Bank of Israel directive regarding the maximum permitted share of a housing loan at a floating interest rate went into effect. Interest rates on mortgages of all types increased in April.
The housing market:House prices––which are presented in the Central Bureau of Statistics survey of house prices but are not included in the CPI––continued to increase, and in February–March they increased at a rate of 1 percent a month, following their increase of 1.4 percent a month in January–February. The annual pace of rises in house prices continues to be high, although it has moderated slightly: in the last twelve months house prices increased by 13.9 percent. In contrast with house prices, the housing price index, which is based mainly on renewed rental contracts and which is included in the CPI, rose by 0.7 percent in April, and in the last twelve months it has increased by 6 percent, slightly below the rolling twelve month increase in March. The trend data indicate some decline in house sales in the last few months, and at the same time the reduction in the stock of new houses for sale is continuing.
The global economy: : The global economic recovery continued in the past month as well, although some slowing in its pace was evident, and there was reduced optimism regarding the global economy, and in particular regarding the US and European economies. Macroeconomic data published in the last month presented a mixed picture. The IMF expects global GDP to grow by 4.4 percent in 2011 and by 4.5 percent in 2012, similar to its forecasts in January, albeit with emphasis on the downside risks to the forecasts. In the last few months attention has reverted to the European debt crises, and in particular, that of Greece. Commodity prices, especially food and oil prices, dropped this month, against the background of the global macroeconomic data and the strengthening of the dollar, although it is not yet clear whether this represents a turning point. In any event, it seems that the drop in commodity prices to date is likely to moderate the rising inflation in the emerging market economies. Against this background, the investment houses do not expect an increase in the eurozone interest rate before July, and the timing of an expected increase in the interest rate in the US has also been pushed back. Some emerging economies raised their interest rates again this month.
The main considerations behind the decision
The decision to increase the interest rate for June to 3.25 percent is consistent with the process of returning the interest rate to a more normal range intended to position inflation firmly within the target range, and to support the further recovery of economic activity, while maintaining financial stability. The rate of increase in the interest rate is not pre-determined, but is set in accordance with the inflation environment, growth in Israel and globally, the monetary policies of the leading central banks, and developments in the exchange rates of the shekel. At the current level of the interest rate, monetary policy continues to be expansionary.
  The inflation environment is still above the upper limit of the target inflation range. Inflation over the previous twelve months was 4 percent. Inflation expectations for the next twelve months derived from the capital market and the average of the forecasters’ expectations are still slightly above the upper limit of the range this month. This, despite several background developments that could be expected to moderate inflation, such as the appreciation of the shekel in recent months and the fall in commodity prices.
  Most economic indicators published this month support the assessment that the rapid expansion of activity continued in the first quarter of 2011 and in April, specifically on the export side, but also in domestic demand and employment. National Accounts data for the first quarter are consistent with a growth rate higher than that in the most recent Research Department forecast (4.5 percent GDP growth in 2011). Employment data indicate continued expansion, with the economy approaching a full employment situation. Nevertheless, there are several risks that are still raising the level of uncertainty regarding future global growth and its implications for Israel's economy.
  The annual rate of increase in house prices continues to be high, although it has slowed a little––in the last twelve months house prices increased by 13.9 percent.
  Central bank interest rates in the major advanced economies are still low, and are expected to remain so in the next few months. Against the background of the acceleration in inflation in emerging market economies, several central banks increased their interest rates again this month.
The Bank of Israel will continue to monitor developments in Israel's economy and the global economy and in the financial markets. The Bank will use the instruments available to it to achieve its objectives of price stability, the encouragement of employment and growth, and support for the stability of the financial system, including keeping a close watch on developments in the assets market, and especially in the housing market.
The minutes of the discussions prior to the above interest rate decision will be published on June 6, 2011.
The decision regarding the interest rate for July 2011 will be published at 17:30 on Monday, June 27, 2011.