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Three key Asia central bank decisions to watch this week

PUBLISHED : Monday, 04 April, 2016, 12:06pm
UPDATED : Monday, 04 April, 2016, 12:54pm

Central banks in India and Australia are set to issue policy decisions this week as both countries face concerns about bad debt.

The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) will announce its decision on Tuesday and Moody's Analytics expects the RBI will cut its policy rate by 25 basis points to 6.5 percent.

"Inflation has largely been within the central bank's 6 percent target, and the continued fiscal consolidation road map suggests that inflation is unlikely to spike," Moody's Analytics said. "High-frequency indicators suggest that growth hasn't gained momentum in recent months."

But ANZ said in a note Friday it expects investments in India to remain subdued due to high leverage and as banks will be focused on managing their non-performing loans after the RBI set a March 2017 deadline for them to clean up their balance sheets.

The Reserve Bank of Australia's rate-setters also meet Tuesday and economists expect the bank to keep interest rates on hold at the record low 2 percent, while maintaining an easing bias.

"The domestic economy continues to improve, supported by steady employment growth," Moody's Analytics said in a note Friday. "The recent appreciation of the Australian dollar will likely weigh on the board's decision, but this trend is unlikely to persist, as commodity prices come under downward pressure from weaker global demand."

Concerns over bad debts have been weighing on Australian banks and worries about fueling further rises in housing prices have been keeping the RBA on the sidelines.

Singapore's central bank, the Monetary Authority of Singapore, or MAS, is also set to meet this week, with a decision expected Thursday, but analysts expect it will remain on hold.

"Given the fiscal support in the fiscal 2016 budget, we expect GDP (gross domestic product) growth for this year should remain well within the government's forecast range, although moderating from the prior year. Core inflation should also be supported by robust domestic demand, our expectations of a weakening of the Singapore dollar and a pick up in fuel prices in coming quarters," Goldman Sachs said in a note Friday.

Singapore's advance estimate for GDP is also expected Thursday. Goldman forecasts growth of 1.7 percent on-year in the first quarter, down from 1.8 percent on-year in the fourth quarter.

On Wednesday in the U.S., the Federal Open Market Committee will be releasing the minutes of its March meeting. They will likely be closely parsed after speculation that the Federal Reserve might raise interest rates in April -- an idea spurred by hawkish comments from several Fed governors -- was quashed by dovish comments last week from Fed chair Janet Yellen.

"The crux of the dovish argument stems from concerns about global risks and we anticipate the minutes will be littered with references to this," economists at RBC said in a note Friday. "The domestic U.S. economy is unlikely to get a downgrade given the broadly upbeat nature of recent economic data."

Australia will be releasing February retail sales on Monday, with Moody's forecasting a 0.5 percent on-month increase after January's 0.3 percent rise.

"Accommodative monetary policy and rising employment support domestic demand, while financial market volatility likely kept a lid on the gains," Moody's Analytics said. "Household spending should remain a bright spot as the economy transitions away from mining-driven growth."

Foreign trade data will be due from Australia on Tuesday, from Malaysia on Wednesday and from India on Sunday.

On Friday, Japan will release its consumer confidence data for March. The figure may be closely watched after last week's Tankan data from the Bank of Japan showed worsening confidence among the country's big manufacturers.

Moody's expects the figure likely slid to 40 in March from 40.1 in February.

"Going below 40, which could happen in the coming months, would be a significant dent for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's economic policies. Consumer spending fell in the December quarter and was a drag on growth," Moody's said.