Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Uganda holds rate, foreign aid drop source of uncertainty

    Uganda's central bank maintained its Central Bank Rate (CBR) at a neutral level of 11.5 percent but said there were potential risks of stronger inflationary pressures from currency depreciation, stronger domestic demand and higher food prices while a possible decline in foreign aid was posing a source of uncertainty for the country's balance of payments and economy.
    The Bank of Uganda  (BOU), which cut its CBR rate by 50 basis points in 2013, cut its forecast for core inflation to 4-5 percent over the next few months, down from February's forecast of 5-6 percent in the first half of 2014, but added that inflation was then expected to rise to between 5.5 percent and 6.5 percent over the next 12 months.
    Uganda's headline inflation rate eased to 6.7 percent in February from January's 6.9 percent while core inflation, which excludes food, energy and utilities, fell to 3.7 percent in February from 4.6 percent. The BOU attributed the lower inflation rate to a 7.0 percent appreciation of the shilling in the 12 months to 2014.
    After strengthening last year, Uganda's shilling was hit last week after foreign aid donors, including the World Bank, withheld or threatened to withhold aid in reaction to new legislation that toughens the punishment for homosexuals.
    The drop in the shilling started last Wednesday with dealers saying the central bank had intervened and sold dollars to stop the decline. On Thursday the central bank continued to support the shilling and then on Friday the central bank confirmed it was selling foreign currency.
    Late on Thursday the World Bank said it was postponing a US$ 90 million loan for Uganda's health system and Sweden's finance minster then on Friday said the law would make it hard to continue funding projects. Denmark and Norway have already withheld aid while the United States, the country's biggest donor, is reviewing its aid for health projects.
    The shilling fell to 2,534.9 to the U.S. dollar last Friday, down 2.8 percent from the previous week's close, but rose slightly this week to trade around 2,523 today, largely unchanged from 2,525 end-2013.
    Despite uncertainty surrounding foreign aid, the central bank said it expects Uganda's economy to be "relatively buoyant" in the 2013/14 fiscal year, which began on July 1, due to fiscal stimulus, a strengthening global environment, strong inflows of foreign direct investment and household consumption.
    "However, there are risks to this growth outlook emanating from weak bank credit growth," the BOU said.
    Last month the BOU forecast growth in 2013/14 of 6.0 to 6.5 percent and said banks' credit to households had risen by 38 percent in December.
    Uganda's Gross Domestic Product contracted by 0.6 percent in the third calendar quarter from the second quarter for annual growth of 2.2 percent, down from growth of 5.8 percent in the second quarter.



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