LIMA, Feb 13 (Reuters) - Peru's central bank held its benchmark interest rate at 4.0 percent for the third month in a row on Thursday and said slower-than-usual economic growth will likely pick up in the first quarter.
Fifteen out of 16 foreign and local economists polled by Reuters earlier this week forecast the bank would again keep the rate unchanged. One economist said it would cut the rate by 0.25 percent.
The central bank reiterated on Thursday, as it has in previous months, that economic growth has been weaker than it could be but that it would pick up soon.
"Indicators of productive activity and expectation polls point to a recovery in economic activity in the first quarter," the bank said in a statement. "The board is attentive to the projection of inflation and its determinants in considering, if necessary, additional easing measures of monetary policy instruments."
Peru central bank President Julio Velarde has said that the bank prefers loosening reserve requirements on commercial banks as it did this month and several times last year instead of further lowering the benchmark rate.
The annual inflation rate rose more than expected in January to 3.07 percent, slightly above the central bank's 1.0 to 3.0 percent target range.
The central bank expects inflation to cool toward its goal of 2.0 percent this year.
In November the central bank surprised the market by lowering the interest rate by 0.25 percent to stimulate growth, the first rate cut in more than four years.
Peru's economy, which expanded at an annual average rate of 6.5 percent over the past decade, likely grew by around 5.0 percent in 2013 as global prices for the Andean country's mineral exports weakened.
Growth data for December and all of 2013 will be released on Friday.
Peru is a top producer of copper, gold and silver. Its potential growth rate, the pace at which the economy can expand without stoking inflation too much, has typically been seen at between 6.0 percent and 6.5 percent.