Brazil's central bank cut its benchmark Selic interest rate to an all-time low of 4.50% this week but indicated that with borrowing costs so low and economic growth starting to pick up, it may mark a pause in the easing cycle, if not the end.
The unanimous decision by the bank’s nine-person rate-setting committee, known as Copom, was the fourth such move in a row. In its accompanying statement, Copom noted that growth had accelerated since the second quarter and flagged the need for a cautious approach to its next decisions, shifting gears after clear guidance of upcoming rate cuts in recent months.
“The current stage of the business cycle recommends caution in the conduct of monetary policy,” policymakers said.
The policy outlook had already started to shift after Copom said in its last statement in October that one more rate cut was likely, but recommended “caution” regarding subsequent moves.
“I suspect there’s a 70% chance Copom will now stay on hold, and a 30% chance it will cut,” most likely by 25 basis points, said Jason Vieira, chief economist at Infinity Asset Management in Sao Paulo. “What’s important is that they highlighted the increase in activity and lagging effects of monetary policy.”
Jose Francisco Goncalves, chief economist at Banco Fator in Sao Paulo, went a step further. “The right thing to do is to wait and see,” he said. “Do I think the cycle is over? Yes.”
Minutes after the central bank decision, ratings agency S&P raised its outlook on Brazil’s sovereign credit to positive from neutral, a step toward a ratings upgrade that would lift Brazil back toward investment-grade status.
Official data last week showed that the economy appears to be in better shape than previously thought. Activity in the third quarter was stronger than expected, and last year’s growth was revised up to 1.3% from 1.1%.
While inflation is still on track to undershoot the central bank’s targets for this year and next — 4.25% and 4.00%, respectively — it is creeping higher again, boosted by the Brazilian currency’s slide to a record low last month.