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Thursday, November 6, 2008

The Czech Central Bank Slashes Rates As Manufacturing Contracts And Exports Wane

The Czech central bank slashed its benchmark interest rate more than expected this morning as a growing credit crunch slows down borrowing and a decline in external demand hits exports and industrial output. Manufacturing output in the Czech Republic contracted for the seventh month in a row in October, and the purchasing managers index (PMI) hit an all-time low of 41.2, just above the revised euro zone figure of 41.1, giving us some idea of just how interconnected Czech and Eurozone activity are.

Sharp Rate Reduction

The Prague-based Ceska Narodni Banka reduced the two-week repurchase rate by three-quarters of a percentage point to 2.75 percent, its lowest level since June 2007. The size of the cut is the largest since at least 2004.

The koruna fell to 24.953 per euro immediately after the decision, and this was its lowest level since Oct. 27. It was trading at 24.868 at 12:37 p.m. in Prague, compared with 24.550 late yesterday. The koruna has risen 11 percent against the euro over the last 12 months, and obviously Czech exporters have been feeling the pinch. This was the second time this year the bank has lowered rates (there was a quarter point reduction in August) as economic growth in both the CR and its key trading partners has fallen back rapidly.

Exports Weaken In September

Czech exports exceeded imports by 10.9 billion koruna ($581 million) in September, well short of the 14 billion-koruna surplus many economist had been expecting. On a working day adjusted (but not price corrected) basis exports were down 1.2% year on year in September (the third month of y-o-y decline, there were 3 working days more in September 2008 than there were in September 2007), while imports were up 6.5%.

Without the working day correction exports at current prices grew by 5.1% and imports by 6.8%, year-on-year. Month on month, seasonally adjusted exports were up by 1.8% over August and imports by 9.8%.

Year-on-year, exports and imports at current prices were up by 5.1% and 6.8% respectively. Imports grew faster than exports for the first time since February 2008. External trade turnover amounting to CZK 436.6 billion was the second highest (after April) in this year. September 2008 was by three working days longer than September 2007. Due to appreciation of the koruna external trade grew more rapidly in euros (exports +18.3%, imports +20.3%) and US dollars (exports +22.4%, imports +24.5%) than in korunas.

Flagging Retail Sales

And if we want additional evidence on the domestic slowdown in the Czech Reoublic then we need look no further than August retail sales, which fell the most in six years as inflation damped consumer spending and two fewer working days than a year ago cut shopping hours. Inflation adjusted sales (excluding automotive sales) were down 2.6 percent, compared with a 3.4 percent increase in July, according to data from the Czech Statistical Office earlier this week. Working day adjusted sales were down 0.3 percent.

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