By YOUKYUNG LEE, Associated Press
SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — South Korea's central bank on Thursday cut its benchmark interest rate for first time in seven months, joining government efforts to boost the export-reliant economy as manufacturers such as Hyundai Motor Co. face tougher competition from Japanese rivals boosted by the weakening yen.
The quarter percentage point cut in the official policy rate to 2.5 percent comes after the South Korea's parliament earlier this week approved $15.3 billion of stimulus spending through an extra budget.
Bank of Korea Governor Kim Choong-soo said the interest rate cut was intended to "maximize the effect of the extra budget."
Other central banks are also lowering borrowing costs to spur lending and growth amid an uncertain outlook for the global economy. Europe, India and Australia reduced key interest rates this month while the Bank of Japan and the U.S. Federal Reserve are engaged in an unprecedented expansion of their domestic money supplies.
The South Korean rate cut was a surprise to financial markets. Most analysts expected the central bank to leave interest rates unchanged after Kim said in April that the economy was on track for slow recovery and the central bank's monetary policy was already supporting growth.
Kim expressed concerns about the Japanese yen's fall against the U.S. dollar and other currencies, which hurts South Korean exporters that compete with Japanese companies in overseas markets.
In support of Tokyo's economic revival plans, Japan's central bank is aiming to double the money supply over the two next years to end a prolonged and debilitating spell of deflation in the world's third-largest economy. The yen has dropped about 20 percent against the dollar since late 2012.
"So far the yen's problem is not only that its slide is wide but also that its change is too rapid. It threatens the stability in the market," Kim said. "We don't see that the yen's slide has stopped."
South Korea's economy will continue to improve at a moderate pace but the possibility of a further slide in the yen is a risk that could hurt growth, the central bank said in a statement.
South Korea's government reduced its growth forecast for the country to 2.3 percent in March from 3.0 percent, citing the impact of the yen on the economy.
Exports edged up 0.4 percent in April from over a year earlier thanks largely to the increased shipments of electronics. But factory investments turned lower and domestic demand remained weak as companies are still reluctant to boost spending.
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