MAS tightens Singdollar policy earlier than expected amid rising inflation

SINGAPORE – In a surprise move, Singapore’s central bank tightened monetary policy on Thursday (Oct 14), saying it expects rising inflation and aims to ensure price stability over the medium-term.

The Singapore dollar jumped about 0.3 per cent after the announcement to hit a three-week high of 1.3475 per US dollar.

In its tightening move, the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) slightly raised the slope of its Singapore dollar nominal effective exchange rate (S$NEER) policy band policy band, up from at zero per cent previously.

The width of the policy band and the level at which it is centred remain unchanged.

Said MAS: “Growth in the Singapore economy is likely to remain above trend in the quarters ahead. Barring a resurgence of the virus globally or a setback in the pace of economic reopening, output should return to around its potential in 2022.

“At the same time, external and domestic cost pressures are accumulating, reflecting both normalising demand as well as tight supply conditions.”

MAS expects core inflation this year to come in near the upper end of its 0 per cent to 1 per cent forecast range, and is expected to increase further to 1 to 2 per cent next year.

Overall inflation will come in around 2 per cent this year, at the top end of MAS’s forecast range, and average 1.5 per cent to 2.5 per cent next year.

MAS uses the S$NEER as its main policy tool rather than interest rates, because Singapore is a small and open economy with a heavy dependence on trade.

The S$NEER is the exchange rate of the Singapore dollar managed against a trade-weighted basket of currencies of the nation’s major trading partners. It is allowed to float within an unspecified band. If it goes out of this band, MAS steps in by buying or selling Singdollars.

MAS thus changes its monetary policy by adjusting the slope, width and midpoint of this band based on assessed risks to the country’s growth and inflation.

It said: “This appreciation path for the S$NEER policy band will ensure price stability over the medium term while recognising the risks to the economic recovery.”

In an earlier poll by Bloomberg, economists had tipped MAS to signal a potential tightening of monetary policy next year, while holding steady for now.

This is amid rising inflation risks from supply chain disruptions and surging energy prices.

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Fourteen of the 15 analysts surveyed had predicted that MAS would strike a more hawkish tone, while the same number expected that MAS would wait until its April 2022 statement to tighten policy.

Only one economist expected MAS to raise the slope of its currency band by 0.5 per cent from its current zero-appreciation level – representing a tightening move.

Singapore’s core inflation rose to over a two-year high in August amid higher food prices. Core inflation, which excludes accommodation and private road transport costs, rose to 1.1 per cent on a year-on-year basis, partly due to the low base effect from last year.

MAS said: “In the quarters ahead, rising imported and labour costs, alongside the recovery in domestic activity, will support a broad-based pick-up in inflation. Imported inflationary pressures are likely to persist for some time amid strengthening global demand and lingering supply constraints.”

It added that on the domestic front, wage growth is likely to be firm alongside the dissipation of labour market slack through next year.

“The accumulating business costs will pass through to consumer price inflation as the domestic economy reopens and private consumption recovers. Various service fee increases that were put on hold since the pandemic began, such as for transport, healthcare and education, could also resume,” it said.

MAS also expects the Singapore economy to sustain a “firm pace of growth” in the coming quarters, with growth in the trade-related and modern services sectors to be supported by the resilient electronics cycle and improving business activity.

“Barring the materialisation of tail risks such as the emergence of a vaccine-resistant virus strain or severe global economic stresses, the Singapore economy should remain broadly on an expansion path,” it said.

“The slack in the labour market should continue to be absorbed and the negative output gap close in 2022.”

In its April review this year, MAS left unchanged the Singapore dollar’s rate of appreciation at 0 per cent per annum of its policy band.

The width of the policy band and the level at which it is centred was also unchanged.

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