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Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Polish Central Bank Leaves Interest Rates Unchanged in May

by Edward Hugh: Barcelona

Poland's Monetary Policy Council left interest rates unchanged in May for a second consecutive month as it awaits more data on inflation and economic growth before making any further increases. Rate setters kept the seven-day reference rate at 5.75percent at their meeting this morning.

The central bank has raised rates seven times in the past year to curb inflation as rising salaries and record-high employment spur consumer demand.

Poland's inflation rate unexpectedly fell back in April, a factor which has also evidently influenced today's decision. The rate slipped to 4 percent from 4.1 percent in March. Consumer prices gained 0.4 percent in the month.

Unemployment has been falling steadily, and using the EU harmonised methodology there were 1.313 million Poles unemployed in March (the latest month for which we have such data) and the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was 7.7%.

Polish retail sales continued to grow at a healthy clip in April, if rather more slowly than in March, a factor which may well have influenced the central bank policy decision. Retail sales rose 17.6 percent from a year earlier and 2.9 percent from March.

On the other hand Polish industrial output growth accelerated in April, although this whole situation is clouded somewhat by the timing of easter this year, and the fact that April thus had more working days than March. Production rose an annual 14.9 percent, compared from 1 percent in March. Month on month, production was up 4 percent over March.

The zloty has gained 5.6 percent against the euro and 12.7 percent vis a vis the dollar this year, driven by strong economic growth, the prospect of euro adoption and rising yield differentials as the central bank has steadily raised rates.

The Polish government now forecasts that growth will slow to 5.5 percent this year from the decade-high 6.5 percent in 2007.

Central bankers are concerned that slowing growth won't prevent higher wages and employment from speeding up inflation. Average corporate wages rose an annual 12.6 percent in April, while employment increased 5.6 percent from a year ago. It remains to be seen whether the current policy rate will be sufficient to continue to hold back inflation given the vigour of the current expansion and the steadily dwindling pool of appropriately trained and educated workers.