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By Julia Symmes Cobb and Nelson Bocanegra
BOGOTA, May 22 (Reuters) - Colombia’s central bank voted unanimously to hold its benchmark interest rate steady for a ninth consecutive month on Friday, as policymakers try to boost the economy without stoking inflation.
The bank’s seven-member board said in a statement it voted to maintain the lending rate at 4.5 percent as the economy adapts to slowing consumption and a decline in exports.
“The Colombian economy is adjusting in an appropriate way to new conditions in the global economy and I would class it as a positive evaluation,” bank chief Jose Dario Uribe told reporters after announcing the lending rate.
The decision met the forecast of all analysts in a Reuters survey this week.
The decline in internal demand and exports would be somewhat offset by a weaker peso and heavy investment in infrastructure, the central bank said in its statement.
“We do not note any change in the board’s tone or its arguments for keeping interest rates steady,” Citibank said in a note to investors. “Despite a new inflation surprise, the board showed no signs of considering a preemptive hike.”
The weaker peso, which makes imports more expensive, was a minor driver in higher inflation in April, the bank said, with higher food prices the key factor.
Analysts expect consumer prices to increase as much as 3.85 percent this year. In April, 12-month consumer price growth hit 4.64 percent, well above the 2 to 4 percent target range.
Government revenue in Latin America’s fourth-largest economy has been dented by the global fall in oil prices, Colombia’s biggest export and source of foreign exchange.
Finance Minister Mauricio Cardenas, who sits on the central bank’s board, expects the economy to grow between 3.5 percent and 4 percent this year, down from 4.6 percent in 2014, chiefly due to lower prices for crude oil. The plunge in oil has sent the peso to multi-year lows.
“It is expected that investment in public works and construction will continue to be dynamic, and over time, the real devaluation of the peso will have a positive impact on the performance of the sectors that export and compete with imports.”
Analysts polled by Reuters lowered their forecasts for economic expansion to 3.2 percent from 3.4 percent, matching a recent revision by the central bank, which earlier this month lowered its forecast from 3.6 percent.
Reporting by Bogota newsroom; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe and Leslie Adler