Johannesburg - South Africa’s factory output grew above
expectations in May compared with last year, backing the case for interest
rates to stay unchanged at next week’s policy meeting, although the central
bank may cut them later this year to buoy the economy.
The Reserve Bank has kept rates at three-decade lows since
late 2010 but some analysts believe it might have to give domestic growth more
stimulus as a global downturn hurts exports while inflation is seen staying
within target until 2014.
Growth in manufacturing production, which accounts for about
15% of gross domestic product (GDP), outpaced forecasts at 4.2% year-on-year in volume terms in May,
after rising by 1.1% in April, Statistics South Africa said.
The median consensus among economists polled by Reuters was
for factory output to grow by 1.0% in May.
But the outlook for the rest of the year remains gloomy,
with sales to Europe, South Africa’s main trading partner, waning as the region
struggles with the impact of its debt crisis.
“(The May data) is encouraging but I don’t unfortunately
think it’s very revealing about what lies ahead because the global situation
actually deteriorated so it catches us with a lag,” said Nicky Weimar, a senior
economist at Nedbank.
“The third quarter is probably going to be weaker than this
Mandla Maleka, an economist at Eskom Treasury, said: “We
should have taken proper cue from the PMI (purchasing managers' index) indicators.
"We were clearly seeing
that manufacturing output is going to be under pressure, this is the first
sign, output is down 0.9% in the three months to May, versus three months
“That is a huge drop, considering that manufacturing
accounts for about 15% of the GDP, so we are going nowhere.
“We do not believe that the Reserve Bank is going to cut
interest rates, but it further strengthens the case that it should keep the
rate low for some time and not even think of a hike even in the first quarter
of next year, probably keep them low even for the rest of 2013.”
May’s increase in factory output was mainly due to higher
output in food and beverages, vehicles and accessories, transport equipment,
and petroleum and chemical products, the statistics agency said.
On a month-on-month basis, production rose by a seasonally
adjusted 2.7%, but contracted by 0.9% in the three months to May compared with
the previous three months.
The rand recouped some of its earlier losses against the
dollar, and was trading at R8.3450 compared with R8.3545 prior to release of
the data at 11:00 GMT.
*For more on this and other stories, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Google+.