UPDATE 3-Brazil halts interest rate hikes as recession takes hold
(Adds fresh analyst comment and context)
By Alonso Soto
BRASILIA, Sept 2 (Reuters) - Brazil's central bank halted one of the world's most aggressive rate-hiking cycles on Wednesday, taking pressure off an economy struggling with recession despite concerns that a budget crisis could stoke inflation.
In a unanimous vote, the central bank's monetary policy committee, known as Copom, kept its benchmark Selic rate at 14.25 percent, a nine-year high and still the highest among the world's top 10 economies. An overwhelming majority of economists expected policymakers to keep interest rates unchanged after seven consecutive hikes.
While most other major emerging-market economies are gearing up to raise borrowing costs to head off rising prices, Brazil is ending monetary tightening as its economic downturn proves more severe than even the most pessimistic economists had envisioned.
The bank made no changes to its decision statement, signaling again that it will hold borrowing costs where they are for some time to bring inflation back to the 4.5 percent center of the official target.
The recession and a decline in inflation expectations prompted the central bank to end the tightening cycle even though inflation remains near double digits, climbing to 9.57 percent in mid-August.
Although recession is helping slow inflation as consumption drops, renewed political turmoil has weakened the real and is keeping the central bank under pressure.
"The exchange rate has been weakening significantly, dragged down by domestic and external uncertainties ... that could warrant an additional rate hike," said Ilan Goldfajn, chief economist with Itau Unibanco. Continuación...