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PETALING JAYA: Bank Negara has raised its benchmark interest rate for the third time by 25 basis points (bps), but this is unlikely to be the last round of hike, according to economists.

Malaysia’s headline inflation rose for four consecutive months to 4.4% in July, with the food inflation hitting the record high of 6.9%.

Economists anticipated the overnight policy rate (OPR) to reach the pre-pandemic level of 3% by the first half of 2023. To reach that level, the OPR will need to rise by 50 bps, either in one or two upcoming meetings by the Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) of Bank Negara.

Interestingly, the MPC said yesterday that it is not on “any pre-set course”, hinting at the possibility of taking a pause or reducing the OPR, if necessary.

The committee added that it would continue to assess evolving conditions and their implications on the overall outlook for domestic inflation and growth.

As predicted by the market, Bank Negara hiked the OPR by 25 bps to 2.5% from 2.25% yesterday, as it sought to end the era of cheap money policy.

The ceiling and floor rates of the OPR were correspondingly increased to 2.75% and 2.25%, respectively.

There will likely be two more rounds of hikes – a 25-bps hike in November and January, according to economist Paolo Casadio.

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Casadio, who is a professor in HELP University, said the country’s “still moderate” inflation provides Bank Negara the advantage of hiking the OPR in a “step-by-step and smooth” manner.

This is opposed to the aggressive rate hikes in the United States and Europe.

“However, it will be the main problem of 2023 for Bank Negara on whether to turn the monetary policy stance to a restrictive one or not.

“Bank Negara will have to decide on its monetary policy stance based on different scenarios of the international as well as local economy,” he told StarBiz.

With the latest hike, Casadio said the country has reached the lower bound of the “normalisation range”, which he quantified in the interval 2.5% to 3%.

“The range corresponds – based on a monetary policy reaction function and the given medium-term evolution of the economy – to what we can identify as the neutral stance.

“Based on its latest statement, Bank Negara considers the monetary policy stance as still accommodative and supportive of growth.

“In contrast, I think we are passing into a neutral stance,” he added.

The hike came ahead of the decision of the European Central Bank to raise its rates, amid the eurozone’s battle against soaring inflation.

On Sept 7, the central bank of Canada raised its policy rate by 75 bps, with officials signalling that more rate hikes in coming months.

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