(Adds comments on interest rate, peso, context)
SANTIAGO, April 1 (Reuters) - Chile central bank head Rodrigo Vergara said on Wednesday the bank’s operating assumption was that it would raise the benchmark interest rate towards the end of 2015 or at the start of next year.
If inflationary pressures become more intense that rise could happen sooner, Vergara said at a business forum in Santiago.
“The working hypothesis we have is that the interest rate will rise towards the end of this year or the start of the next,” he said.
“Towards that date we should already be discussing what we call monetary normalization.”
In its quarterly monetary policy report on Monday, the bank gave an indication that it was moving away from the neutral bias on rates it has held since October.
Vergara reiterated on Wednesday that recent economic forecasts implied that the key interest rate would follow a trajectory “somewhat higher” than that projected in polls.
Analyst and trader polls conducted by the central bank last month forecast the rate remaining at 3 percent over the next 12 months.
In the year previous to October, the bank cut its benchmark interest rate 200 basis points to 3 percent to stimulate the flagging economy, but inflation that has consistently been higher than market forecasts has since stayed its hand.
Inflation - above the bank’s target range of 2 to 4 percent for the last year, and currently at 4.4 percent - has been driven higher by a weakening peso, which has increased the cost of imported goods in Chile’s relatively open market.
Vergara has previously said he is comfortable with the peso’s level, and on Monday said the bank board had not considered intervening in the currency market to prop it up.
The peso was up around 1 percent on Wednesday morning, trading at around 618 to the dollar. It fell an overall 3 percent in the first quarter of 2015, after weakening 13 percent in 2014.
Reporting by Felipe Iturrieta, Writing by Rosalba O'Brien; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and W Simon