UPDATE 1-South African inflation slows as food price rises ease
* Graphic on South Africa's inflation bit.ly/2oKTHE4 (Adds details, analyst comment)
By Mfuneko Toyana
JOHANNESBURG, April 19 (Reuters) - South Africa's consumer inflation eased in March as the return of rainfall following a severe drought cut into food price inflation.
The slide -- to 6.1 percent year-on-year in March from 6.3 percent in February -- bolstered the likelihood of the central bank will keep interest rates on hold despite recent shocks to the currency. On a month-on-month basis, inflation fell to 0.6 percent from 1.1 percent, Statistics South Africa said on Wednesday.
The rand retreated about 12 percent after of President Jacob Zuma's decision to fire respected finance minister Pravin Gordhan in early April. The firing lead at least in part to two credit downgrades to "junk" and a spike in investor concerns over the direction fiscal policy.
Such moves would normally boost inflation, putting pressure on central banks to raise interest rates.
But Paul Sirani, chief market analyst at Xtrade, said the data would let the South African central bank stand pat.
"Today's figure shows that prices are heading in the right direction, though policy makers are likely to sit on their hands and seek further reassurance from next month's figures," he said.
Food inflation, which climbed close 12 percent in 2016 as the worst drought in decades swept through southern Africa, continued to retreat, slowing to 8.7 on a yearly basis. Continued...