The functions of a central bank are to maintain the stability of the country’s currency and to ensure growth. Unfortunately, these two objectives are mostly mutually exclusive because growth tends to cause rising inflation while controlling inflation means taking the wind out of the economy’s sails.
When the central bank becomes concerned about inflation, which is often caused by excessive demand, it raises interest rates to curb spending – but, of course, this tends to reduce spending because everyone has to pay more interest on their bonds overdrafts and credit cards. Conversely, when the central bank reduces rates to stimulate growth the increased spending inevitably results in higher inflation sooner or later.
So the Central bank’s monetary policy committee meets every two months (in normal circumstances) to either put their foot on the economy’s accelerator (by reducing rates) or the brakes (by increasing rates). They conduct a very delicate balancing act between economic stimulation and currency stability. In South Africa, that balancing act is considerably complicated by the strength or weakness of the rand against first world currencies.
Changing the level of interest rates is not the Central bank’s only weapon. They can also engage in “open market operations” – which basically means either buying or selling government bonds on the open market. When the central bank buys bonds they are injecting cash into the economy and vice versa. Read More