Indonesia urges US Fed to hurry up and raise rates

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Indonesia wants the U.S. Federal Reserve to hurry up and raise interest rates because uncertainty over when it will tighten has created downward pressure on the rupiah, the country's chief economics minister said.

Sofyan Djalil, coordinating minister for economics, told Reuters that he did not see the rupiah dropping when the U.S. tightening does come because the move has been built into market expectations, and in fact the currency is now undervalued.

The Federal Reserve has kept rates at a near-zero level since December 2008 as part of its effort to spur the recovery from the 2007-2009 financial crisis.

Why the Indonesian rupiah remains vulnerable

Fed officials are still undecided on whether to raise rates next month.

However, data released on Friday showed U.S. non-farm payrolls increased by 215,000 in July, pointing to an improving economy and bolstering the case for a September hike.

The rupiah has been emerging Asia's second-worst performing currency so far this year, falling by more than 8 percent against the dollar. It hit its lowest level since the Asian financial crisis in 1998 multiple times this year, with Friday being the latest when it touched 13,542 per dollar.

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"I wish the Fed will decide and the sooner is the better for Indonesia because the uncertainty gives ... the financial market a good legitimacy to play around," Djalil said in an interview late on Friday.

Due to its sizable current account deficit, Southeast Asia's largest economy was one of the worst hit by outflows when the Fed first announced a plan to taper off its monetary stimulus in 2013.

The rupiah fell by more than 20 percent against the dollar that year and the country was dubbed one of the 'Fragile Five'.

Indonesia's current account gap has shrunk since then and is predicted to fall to a level the central bank, Bank Indonesia, considers healthy at below 2.5 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) in 2015.

Djalil said Indonesia's fundamentals are good but the current weakness of the rupiah is because markets have priced in a 25-50 basis point increase in the Fed's rate.

"Our rupiah is undervalued," he said.

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Bank Indonesia expects capital inflows after the U.S. rate increase and that the financial market will see Indonesia's positive side again, Senior Deputy Governor Mirza Adityaswara said on Friday.

A Bank Indonesia official said the central bank, which has been prevented from policy easing to support growth, will be able to cut its key rate after the Fed rate hike.

Economic growth was at its slowest in nearly six years of 4.67 percent in the second quarter, with consumption held back by high inflation and weak purchasing power due to falling incomes as a result of low commodity prices.

The inflation rate in July was 7.26 percent, above the central bank's target range of 3-5 percent. Bank Indonesia said inflation will stay high before dropping back to 4.3-4.5 percent later this year due to a base-effect adjustment.

But Djalil said there was anecdotal evidence that economic activity is picking up, such as an increase in container shipments out of Jakarta and steadier sales of motorbikes.

He said the government still believes economic growth will recover to come in at 5.0-5.2 percent for full-year 2015.