JAKARTA : Indonesia's central bank will purchase government bonds worth up to 439 trillion rupiah (US$30.46 billion) in 2021 and 2022 to provide cheaper financing for the government's COVID-19 relief measures, senior officials said.
The fiscal deficit financing scheme is similar to an agreement Bank Indonesia (BI) had with the finance ministry last year to fund ballooning healthcare and welfare bills amid the pandemic, which authorities said was a one-off measure.
Investors and economists have raised concerns https://www.reuters.com/article/us-indonesia-policy-rupiah-idUSKCN24E1BU about the scheme's effects on inflation and the rupiah.
In a call with investors on Monday, BI Governor Perry Warjiyo cited a rise in infections since June, driven by the Delta variant, as the main reason for the agreement under which BI will purchase up to 215 trillion rupiah worth of tradeable bonds in 2021 and 224 trillion rupiah in 2022.
The bonds will carry a floating interest rate equals to BI's three-month reverse repo rate - currently at 3.06per cent, but the central bank will return to the government interest payments for bonds worth 58 trillion rupiah in 2021 and 40 trillion rupiah in 2022.
"I cannot imagine buying vaccine, (paying for) medical expense, by issuing government bonds in the market with the cost of now about 6.3per cent. I cannot comprehend it," Warjiyo said, referring to the current yield of the benchmark 10-year bond.
Warjiyo and Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati stressed the agreement will not compromise BI's independence.
BI would continue its plan to reduce liquidity in the banking system next year, said Warjiyo, who also argued the bank's quantitative easing measures would be more effective by cooperating with fiscal authorities.
At a press briefing on Tuesday, the governor said the central bank was mindful of the agreement's impact on inflation, but he doesn't expect price pressures to heat up before 2023. Warjiyo also reiterated BI's earliest consideration for a rate hike would be at the end of 2022.
Sri Mulyani said the agreement would bring down the government's interest expense to roughly 2.2per cent of GDP in 2021, from an estimated 2.4per cent. She said that ratio will be maintained over the next several years, providing greater fiscal headroom for other spending.
"The bond purchases by BI could also limit the potential rise in (Indonesia's) bond yields amid a potential Fed tapering next year," said Josua Pardede, an economist with Bank Permata. "So I think this will be well accepted by investors."
Since the start of the pandemic, BI has cut its benchmark rate by a cumulative 150 basis points to a record low of 3.50per cent and injected more than US$57 billion of liquidity into the financial system.
(US$1 = 14,410.0000 rupiah)
(Reporting by Gayatri Suroyo; Editing by Ed Davies and Mike Harrison)