Bank of Korea to hold rates on May 23, first cut pushed to Q4 – Reuters poll

By Thomson Reuters May 20, 2024 | 7:38 PM

By Anant Chandak

BENGALURU (Reuters) – The Bank of Korea will keep its key policy rate unchanged for an 11th straight meeting on Thursday and through next quarter, followed by a half point cut in Q4 after the likely start of policy easing from many global peers, a Reuters poll found.

South Korea’s economy grew at the fastest pace in over two years last quarter thanks to strong exports, suggesting the economy may not need an immediate rate cut from the central bank.

Bolstering the higher-for-longer rate view was elevated inflation and a weak currency.

Already down nearly 5% for the year, any further weakening of the won, would likely drive up import costs and exacerbate inflationary pressures.

All 43 economists in the May 14-20 Reuters poll expected the central bank to leave the base rate on hold at 3.50% on May 23.

Median forecasts showed interest rates remaining unchanged through the third quarter before a 50 basis-point cut by end-2024. In an April survey, the consensus view predicted 25 basis-point cuts in Q3 and Q4.

“Considering the uncertainty of the timing of the Federal Reserve’s interest rate cut and the higher dollar exchange rate level, the monetary policy committee will also maintain its cautious stance in lowering interest rates,” said Jihee Min, fixed income analyst at Mirae Asset Securities.

The BOK, among the first to kick-off its policy tightening cycle in August 2021, was expected to lag its global peers on the timing of the first cut.

The European Central Bank and the Fed were expected to ease in June and September, respectively.

Although median forecasts showed interest rates on hold until end-Q3, a strong minority of 17 of 39 economists forecast a cut to 3.25% by the end of next quarter.

Among those who provided forecasts until end-2024, a slim majority, or 19 of 37, expected interest rates at 3.00%, while the rest said 3.25%.

“The BOK is likely to signal that a rate cut is unlikely in the next three months but still possible by the end of 2024,” noted Bum Ki Son, analyst at Barclays.

“Growth momentum remains two-tiered with strong net exports, versus a still-soft domestic outlook. The soft domestic demand growth outlook and relatively muted perceived growth still suggest that the next move will be a cut.”

Last month the BOK said the economy could grow at a faster pace this year than its earlier projection of 2.1%. A separate Reuters poll in April showed the economy expanding 2.2% in 2024.

(For other stories from the Reuters global economic poll:)

(Reporting by Anant Chandak; Polling by Milounee Purohit and Susobhan Sarkar in Bengaluru and Jihoon Lee in Seoul; Editing by Hari Kishan, Jonathan Cable and Chizu Nomiyama)