The Bank of Israel keeps the interest rate for May 2012 unchanged at 2.5 percent

The Bank of Israel keeps the interest rate for May 2012 unchanged at 2.5 percent
To view this press release as a WORD file - Click here
Inflation data: The Consumer Price Index (CPI) increased by 0.4 percent in March, at the upper bound of the range of forecasts, and above the seasonal path consistent with achieving the inflation target. In recent months, the rate of inflation measured over the previous 12 months has remained stable near the middle of the target range (1–3 percent); in March the figure was 1.9 percent.
Inflation and interest rate forecasts: The average of forecasters' inflation predictions, and inflation expectations for the next twelve CPI readings based on over-the-counter CPI futures contracts offered by banks, remained stable at 2.5 percent. One year forward inflation expectations as calculated from the capital markets (break-even inflation) declined from around 3 percent at the beginning of the month, to 2.5 percent in the last few days. This was due to the ending of a seasonal bias evident in recent months. Professional forecasters project an increase of 0.9 percent in the CPI for April, and an increase of 0.4 percent for May, relatively high figures, primarily due to seasonal factors. Inflation expectations for the medium term were stable at 2.6 percent, and for longer terms, at 2.4 percent. Expectations for the Bank of Israel interest rate one year from now, based on the Telbor (Tel Aviv Inter-Bank Offered Rate) market, are 2.7 percent, and expectations calculated from the makam yield curve are 2.6 percent. The average of forecasters' predictions of the interest rate in one year's time was 2.6 percent, compared with average projections of 2.5 percent last month. Forecasters project that the Bank of Israel interest rate will remain unchanged for the next three months.
Real economic activity: Indicators of real economic activity that became available this month are consistent with the growth forecast published last month by the Bank of Israel, according to which growth in 2012 will be 3.1 percent, and surveys indicate that concern of a further decline in the rate of GDP growth has eased. National Accounts data for the fourth quarter of 2011 were revised upward. The GDP growth rate was revised to 3.4 percent, similar to its level in the third quarter. The Bank of Israel's Companies Survey indicates acceleration in business sector activity in the first quarter of 2012, and expectations for second quarter activity are positive, primarily in the commerce and business services sectors. The Central Bureau of Statistics survey of business trends for the first quarter indicates that the slowdown in activity is ending, with a significant improvement in March regarding expectations of future activity. The Research Department's index based on Google searches, which serves as an indicator of demand in the economy in the coming months, forecasts demand growth above the trend in recent months. Although the Purchasing Managers Index is still below 50, the boundary between contraction and expansion of activity, it increased in March to 46.3 points, continuing its increase in the previous month, with a positive change in most of its components. The Composite State-of-the-Economy Index increased by 0.2 percent in March. Among its component indices, the manufacturing production index declined by 2.2 percent in February, after an increase of 0.7 percent in January. The trade and services revenue index was unchanged in February after a decline of 1.8 percent in January. There was continued weakness in goods exports, which declined by 1.2 percent in March, following a 0.6 percent decline in February.
The labor market: This month, the Labour Force Survey (for January and February) was published, with data calculated using a different method. According to this survey, the unemployment rate was 6.5 percent in February, compared with 6.6 percent in January, and 6.7 percent in the fourth quarter of 2011, in concatenated figures. This contrasts with the unemployment rate of 5.4 percent in the last quarter of 2011 according to the survey published according to the previous methodology. The participation rate in February declined to 62.2 percent from 62.6 percent in January. The employment rate declined to 58.2 percent in February from 58.4 percent in January. The unemployment rates calculated according to the new method worsen Israel's position relative to other countries, but still leave it relatively favorably positioned compared with many other advanced economies. Health tax receipts, which provide an indication of total wage payments, were 4.5 percent higher in March in nominal terms than in March 2011 (excluding the effect of legislative changes); in contrast, February receipts were 5.5 percent higher than February 2011. Nominal wages increased 0.6 percent in November–January, compared with the preceding three months, and real wages increased 0.1 percent.
The Bank of Israel Research Department staff forecast: The Bank of Israel Research Department compiled its quarterly staff forecast last month. GDP growth in 2012 was projected to be 3.1 percent, and 3.5 percent in 2013. The forecast projects an inflation rate of 2.6 percent over the next four quarters and an average interest rate in the first quarter of 2013 of 2.5 percent. The interest rate is forecast to begin increasing in the middle of 2013, under the assumption of a recovery in the global economy.
Budget data: The domestic deficit in the first quarter of 2012 was NIS 0.4 billion, compared with a surplus of NIS 2.4 billion in the first quarter of 2011. The deficit is slightly greater than the seasonal path consistent with the forecast full year deficit of 3.3 percent of GDP, and is considerably greater than the figure required by the target deficit ceiling set by law, of 2 percent. The deviation from the path derives from lower than expected tax receipts in February and March. Likewise, the government's commitments for this year (wage agreements, defense expenditure, etc.) are about NIS 6 billion above the budget's expenditure ceiling. It should be noted, however, that the government has not in the past deviated from the expenditure ceiling, and that the danger to the expected budget deficit from an increase in government spending above the ceiling is much smaller than that arising from a potential decline in government receipts.
The foreign exchange market: From the previous monetary policy discussion held on March 25, 2012, through April 20, 2012, the shekel depreciated against the dollar by about 0.6 percent. Against the euro, the shekel appreciated about 0.45 percent, in line with the trend of the exchange rates of most major currencies against the euro. In terms of the nominal effective exchange rate the shekel depreciated by about 0.25 percent.
The capital and money markets: From the previous monetary policy discussion held on March 25, 2012, through April 20, 2012, the Tel Aviv 25 Index increased by 2.2 percent. This was a partial correction to the underperformance since the beginning of the year, a continuation of the positive trend of the previous month, and in contrast to the general global trend. Yields decreased in the government bond market, particularly in the unindexed segment, with the decline in inflation expectations for most terms to maturity. The yield gap between Israeli 10-year government bonds and equivalent 10-year US Treasury securities widened this month by 25 basis points (b.p.) to 270 b.p.; this was due to a sharper decline in yields in the US. Makam yields were unchanged during the period along the entire curve at an average of 2.6 percent. This was despite a marked exit by nonresident investors at the beginning of the month following the redemption of a bond series and a decline in market expectations regarding additional interest rate reductions by the Bank of Israel. The decline in the foreigners' share of makam holdings continued, and this month their holdings declined to under 4 percent. The trend of money market fund withdrawals halted this month, and there were net new investments of NIS 500 million. Corporate bond mutual funds also attracted net new investments again this month, of around NIS 800 million. Israel's sovereign risk premium as measured by the five-year CDS spread narrowed slightly to 191 b.p., compared with 195 b.p. just before the previous interest rate decision. The Tel-Bond 20 Index increased by 1.6 percent, and the Tel-Bond 40 Index by 0.8 percent. These returns were part of the positive domestic trend, and also came against the background of an update in Tel Bond indices at the beginning of the month, which increased the weighting of banks in those indices. Tel-Bond yield gaps vis-?-vis government bonds narrowed this month.
The money supply: In the twelve months ending in March, the M1 monetary aggregate (cash held by the public and demand deposits) increased by 0.9 percent, and the M2 aggregate (M1 plus unindexed deposits of up to one year) increased by 9 percent.
Developments in the credit markets: The outstanding debt of the business sector increased in February by 0.6 percent, to NIS 771 billion. The increase in the debt derived primarily from the increase in outstanding bank credit. Total outstanding credit to households declined by 0.3 percent, to NIS 365 billion, but within the total the balance of outstanding housing credit increased by 0.3 percent, to NIS 260 billion. Despite a 14 percent increase in new mortgages granted in March (apparently partly due to seasonal factors), total mortgages granted in the twelve months ending in March was 3 percent lower than that advanced in the twelve months to February, continuing the decline from the peak level in May 2011. Unindexed floating rate mortgages granted in March constituted 27 percent of total new mortgages. Interest rates on all mortgage tracks declined this month.
The housing market: The housing component of the CPI (representing rents) increased in March by 0.4 percent. In the past twelve months it increased by 4.4 percent. Home prices, which are published in the Central Bureau of Statistics survey of home prices but are not included in the CPI, increased in January–February by 0.3 percent, after declining 0.1 percent in December–January. In the twelve months to March, the rate of increase of home prices declined to 3.2 percent, compared with a rate of 4.1 in the twelve months to February, continuing the slowdown in the rate of increase in home prices. The ratio of home prices to rents increased by 0.1 percent in January, but remains 3.1 percent lower than the peak level recorded in March 2011. Activity in the construction industry continues to be strong. There were 44,587 building starts in the twelve months to January, compared with 44,575 in the twelve months to December, and the number of completions was 33,712 compared with the previous month's figure of 33,994. Although in February the number of homes available for sale built by the private sector declined by 3 percent, the decline came after a marked increase in the number of homes available for sale since the second quarter of 2011, the result of a sharp increase in building starts since the end of 2009. Thus, the number of homes for sale is still at the levels of 2003–07. The moderation in the rate of increase in home prices in recent months comes against the background of the continued increase in the number of building starts, the lagged effect of the increase in the interest rate, measures introduced by the Bank of Israel affecting mortgages, and steps taken by the Ministry of Finance in real estate taxation. These moves, together with land marketing efforts by the Ministry of Construction and Housing and the Israel Land Administration, are expected to continue to have a moderating effect on price increases.
The global economy: Following a period of some easing of concerns over the European debt crisis, these increased again this month, with a renewed focus on Spain and to some extent on Italy. Macroeconomic data from around the world continue to indicate a slow recovery in the global economy, with a slight slowdown in growth in the US. The mixed trend in the emerging market economies continued, and the growth rate in China was lower than expected. Against this background, the IMF revised its forecast of growth and world trade, reflecting the improvement in the markets since the deterioration in the European debt crisis at the end of 2011. The growth forecast for 2012 was increased by 0.2 percentage points to 3.5 percent, and that for 2013 by 0.1 percentage points, to 4.1 percent; the forecast for world trade was increased by 0.2 percentage points from the previous forecast, to 4 percent in 2012 and 5.6 percent in 2013. However, the IMF emphasized the risks to the recovery process. Inflation around the world remained moderate, and commodity prices declined this month. Most central banks kept their interest rates unchanged this month.
The main considerations behind the decision
The decision to leave the interest rate for May 2012 unchanged at 2.5 percent is consistent with the Bank of Israel’s interest rate policy that is intended to entrench the inflation rate within the price stability target of 1–3 percent a year over the next twelve months, and to support growth while maintaining financial stability. The path of the interest rate in the future depends on developments in the inflation environment, growth in Israel, the global economy, monetary policies of major central banks, and developments in the exchange rate of the shekel.
The following were the main considerations underlying the decision:
  The CPI increased by 0.4 percent in March, at the upper bound of the range of forecasts. For the third consecutive month, inflation over the previous 12 months is near the midpoint of the target inflation range, and in March was 1.9 percent. The housing and energy components of the CPI continued to contribute significantly to inflation. Inflation expectations for the coming year are around 2.5 percent. The relatively high figure derives primarily from the continuing increase in energy prices despite some decline in recent weeks, and from expectations that the housing (rent) component in the CPI will continue to increase at a relatively high rate. There do not appear to be other domestic inflationary demand pressures. Expectations for the Bank of Israel interest rate in the coming months are stable.
  Indicators of real economic activity that became available this month are consistent with the growth forecast published last month by the Bank of Israel, according to which growth in 2012 will be 3.1 percent. Based on various surveys, companies' expectations for future activity are slightly more positive than in previous surveys.
  After a period of relative calm in terms of concerns over the debt crisis in Europe, concerns of a renewed worsening increased this month. Global macro figures continued this month again to indicate a slower rate of recovery in the global economy, with some slowing in growth in the US and China. With that, this month the IMF revised upward its global growth and world trade forecasts slightly, while emphasizing the risks to the recovery process.
  Interest rates in major economies remained low, and markets are not pricing in an increase in the interest rate this year by any of the central banks of large advanced economies. The Fed has declared previously that it intends to maintain the federal funds rate at its near-zero level at least until the end of 2014.
The Bank of Israel will continue to monitor developments in Israel's economy and the global economy and in financial markets. The Bank will use the tools 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 asset markets.
The minutes of the discussions prior to the above interest rate decision will be published on May 7, 2012.
The decision regarding the interest rate for June 2012 will be published at 17:30 on Monday, May 28, 2012.