BOGOTA, Feb 20 (Reuters) - Colombia’s central bank will likely maintain its benchmark interest rate for a sixth consecutive month on Friday, as economic growth slows in the face of depressed oil prices.
The seven-member board will leave the key lending rate unchanged at 4.5 percent for the remainder of the year, a majority of analysts polled by Reuters this week said. Policymakers voted unanimously in January to hold the rate.
The meeting is taking place amid falling growth estimates for Latin America’s fourth-biggest economy, where oil is the biggest export and source of foreign exchange. Royalties and tax earnings are likely to take a hit amid the global plunge in crude prices.
Analysts will be closely watching whether this month’s decision is unanimous, as well as the tone of the statement - which could hint at whether and when the board will consider modifying the rate.
Minutes from January’s meeting sparked questions about the board’s cohesion on holding the rate, revealing that one member said it was necessary to contemplate a counter-cyclical cut as growth is dented by crude prices.
The comments contrast with those made by board member Cesar Vallejo, who recently told Reuters that using interest rates to boost growth carries the risk of sparking inflation.
“In the next months the bank will be confronted by the dilemma of inflation, which will reach the upper end of the target range, while the economy begins to show obvious symptoms of deceleration because of the fall in commodities,” said Eduardo Bolanos, an analyst at Positiva Compania de Seguros.
Inflation reached 3.82 percent in the 12 months to January, nearly at the upper limit of the bank’s 2 percent to 4 percent target. An eventual reduction in rates may increase inflation estimates, putting the target at risk.
The bank lowered its 2015 economic growth forecast to a “most-probable” 3.6 percent from 4.3 percent previously at January’s meeting, and it also lowered its forecast for 2014 GDP expansion to 4.8 percent, down from 5 percent.
Data on fourth quarter growth, estimated at 4 percent, is due in March.
Ten out of the 17 analysts surveyed in a Reuters poll this week said the board will hold the key lending rate for the rest of the year, while the remainder said the rate would eventually be lowered to 4 or 4.25 percent.
Analysts do not expect the bank to announce additional measures. (Reporting by Julia Symmes Cobb and Nelson Bocanegra; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)