By Orathai Sriring and Kitiphong Thaichareon
BANGKOK (Reuters) -Thailand’s central bank raised its key interest rate modestly for a second straight meeting on Wednesday to tame 14-year high inflation and said it was willing to adjust the size and timing of rate moves as necessary.
The Bank of Thailand’s (BOT) monetary policy committee, voted unanimously to increase the one-day repurchase rate by 25 basis points to 1.00%. The move was forecast by 22 out of the 25 economists surveyed, with three having predicted a bigger half-point rise.
The BOT said monetary policy should be “normalised in a gradual and measured manner” as it stuck to its 2022 growth forecast and said inflation had peaked, but it also left the door open for bigger rate hikes if necessary.
“The committee judges that the Thai economy will continue to recover but with increased inflation risks,” it said in a statement.
“The committee is ready to adjust the size and timing of policy normalisation should the growth and inflation outlook shift from the current assessment.”
The recovery of Southeast Asia’s second-largest economy has lagged that of other countries as its vital tourism sector only just started to rebound, allowing the central bank to go slowly on rate hikes.
In sharp contrast, major central banks are embarking on the most aggressive round of rate rises in decades to tame soaring inflation, sparking fears in financial markets of a global recession.
The second rate rise in as many months comes as inflation reached a 14-year high of 7.86% in August, far above the BOT’s target range of 1% to 3%.
The BOT on Wednesday said headline inflation had peaked and would fall gradually late this year, returning to the target range in the second quarter of 2023.
It predicted inflation would reach 6.3% at the end of the year and 2.6% in 2023. That was up marginally from a previous forecast of 6.2% and 2.5%, respectively.
“It is notable that the BoT left the door open to a shift in the pace of its policy normalisation. For our part, we think the external environment will increase pressures on the BoT to be more assertive with rate hikes, if it does not want to risk further currency declines,” said ANZ analysts in a note.
The baht has fallen 12.8% against the dollar so far this year amid a wider sell-off in emerging market currencies as the U.S. Federal Reserve continues with an aggressive tightening cycle.
It extended losses after the BOT decision and hovered near its lowest levels in over 16 years.
Piti said the economy was expected to return to pre-pandemic levels late this year or early next, echoing the view of Governor Sethaput Suthiwartnarueput.
The BOT on Wednesday maintained its 2022 economic growth outlook of 3.3% seen in June, and trimmed its 2023 growth forecast to 3.8% from 4.2% for 2023. The economy grew 2.5% from a year earlier in the April-June period.
“The key challenge for the central bank over the coming months will be clamping down on inflation and supporting the currency, while not killing off the recovery,” said Capital Economics in a note to clients.
“Overall, with the recovery holding up and inflation and the currency becoming more of a concern, we think the central bank will need to accelerate the pace of tightening,” it said, forecasting an increase to 1.75% by the end of this year.
While the BOT’s focus would remain tackling inflation, the BOT was ready to act on excessive currency moves, Piti said.
The BOT forecast tourist arrivals of 9.5 million for this year, and 21 million in 2023, bigger than the projections made in June. It also expected exports to grow 8.2% this year, up from the 7.9% seen in June.
(Reporting by Orathai Sriring, Kitiphong Thaichareon, Satawasin Staporncharnchai and Chayut Setboonsarng; Editing by Martin Petty and Ana Nicolaci da Costa)