By Bhargav Acharya and Tannur Anders
JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – South African inflation slowed for the first time in four months in November thanks to cooling fuel prices which overpowered still-rising food costs.
Headline consumer inflation fell to 5.5% year on year in November from 5.9% in October, data from the statistics agency showed on Wednesday, a slightly bigger fall than the 5.6% predicted by analysts polled by Reuters.
South Africa’s central bank, the South African Reserve Bank (SARB) targets inflation between 3% and 6%.
Independent economist Elize Kruger said at 9.0% year on year food price inflation was higher than expected but that overall the data left her expectations intact that the SARB would stay cautious and keep interest rates at elevated levels in the coming months.
The SARB kept its main interest rate unchanged for the third policy meeting in a row last month, with Governor Lesetja Kganyago reiterating that the bank saw inflation stabilising around the mid-point of its target band by 2025.
Razia Khan, chief economist for Africa and the Middle East at Standard Chartered Bank, said headline inflation would probably fall further in December as more fuel price cuts were expected.
“With the inflation outlook improving – we think current rand weakness is temporary – the SARB should be in a position to roll back some of these hikes,” Khan said, adding the first interest rate cut could come in March.
Wednesday’s inflation figures had little effect on the rand, which was last trading around 0.5% weaker against the dollar on the day.
Core inflation, which excludes food and fuel prices, rose to 4.5% year on year in November from 4.4% in October.
(Editing by Alexander Winning and Alison Williams)