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BOK’s next rate hike could come as early as January: analysts

Nov. 26, 2021 - 16:46 By Jung Min-kyung
The Bank of Korea headquarters in central Seoul (Yonhap)
A day after South Korea’s central bank chief strongly hinted at another rate hike within the first quarter of 2022 following its decision to raise its base rate by 25 basis point to 1 percent, analysts on Friday projected the expected move to come as early as January.

The BOK’s monetary policy board on Thursday carried out its second pandemic-era rate hike amid growing inflationary pressure and snowballing household debt. BOK Gov. Lee Ju-yeol in a press briefing explained that the current 1 percent rate remains “dovish” and while it would depend on the economic circumstances at the time, “there would be no need to rule out another rate hike in the first quarter of 2022.”

Currently, there are two rate-setting meetings scheduled in the first three months of the year -- Jan.14 and Feb. 24. Analysts pointed out that with Lee’s term as the chief of the central bank to end in late March and the presidential election in the same month, the monetary policy board is likely to carry out a rate hike in January, to allow for some separation from other major changes.

“Lee’s remark could be strongly interpreted as another rate hike in the first quarter of next year,” Shinyoung Securities analyst Cho Yong-gu said.

“While he said political circumstances won’t matter in deciding the timeline for the rate hike, a January move seems like a realistic option,” he added.

In Thursdays’ briefing, Lee addressed the doubts that a rate hike could be carried out near the presidential election, saying that the monetary policy decision will be made on economic, not political circumstances.

Daishin Securities analyst Gong Dong-rak said, “The next rate hike is expected to come in January, raising the base rate to 1.25 percent as the BOK reaffirmed its willingness to normalize its monetary policy to pre-COVID level.”

Gong said the BOK will likely to make efforts to make solid progress in policy normalization before Lee steps down in March.

The Bank of Korea in August carried out its first pandemic era rate hike, raising its benchmark rate from the previous 0.5 percent by 25 basis point to 0.75 percent. The move ended more than a year of ultra-low interest rates, which the BOK had maintained to cushion the market from the effects of the pandemic.