Bank of Israel Keeps Benchmark Interest Rate at 0.1% as Inflation Eases

View of the Bank of Israel main offices in Yerushalayim. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Bank of Israel held its benchmark interest rate at 0.1% for a 13th straight policy meeting on Monday, citing uncertainty regarding economic activity due to the COVID-19 pandemic while inflation remained under control.

“Recovery from the crisis continues. However, there are still challenges to economic activity,” the central bank said. “The (monetary) committee will therefore continue to conduct an accommodative monetary policy for a prolonged time.”

The central bank also said that while it had completed a $30 billion foreign currency purchase program to curb the shekel’s gains, “the committee emphasizes that this is not an upper bound for intervention, and that the bank continues to act taking into account the state of the economy.”

The shekel last week reached a 26-year high versus the dollar and 20-year peak against the euro. The bank’s government bond buying program will end in December, it said.

All 16 economists polled by Reuters expected the monetary policy committee to keep rates steady after doing so ever since cutting them from 0.25% at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic. The next rates move is widely expected to be a rate increase in 2022 or 2023.

JPMorgan has calculated that markets are pricing in a 28 bps hike for Israel in the next 12 months, and for interest rates to rise by a total of 72 bps in the next 24 months.

The central bank said that while Israel was enjoying an economic expansion it remained concerned about the medium term, in particular the labor market, due to a view of “risk of further morbidity cycles in Israel and abroad.”

The economy grew an annualized 2.4% in the third quarter from the prior three months after growth of 13.7% in the second quarter. Growth has come amid a COVID-19 vaccination roll-out in which 44% of Israelis have received a booster shot and the country largely free of virus-related restrictions.

That has helped lower the jobless rate to 7%.

At the same time, Israel‘s inflation rate dipped to 2.3% in October from an eight-year peak of 2.5% in September, remaining above the midpoint of a 1%-3% annual target range.

Policymakers noted that Israel‘s inflation environment differs from Europe, where some countries like Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic have hiked rates to rein in inflation.

“To date, the only interest rate increases worldwide have been in countries where inflation deviated markedly from their targets, while inflation expectations in Israel are within our target range,” the Bank of Israel said.

It added that its own forecasts and by forecasters show the inflation rate is expected to be lower in 12 months.