Colombia central bank may raise key rate as end of tightening cycle nears

viernes 18 de marzo de 2016 09:30 GYT

By Nelson Bocanegra

BOGOTA, March 18 (Reuters) - Colombia's central bank may raise its interest rate a quarter-percentage point on Friday to help anchor inflation expectations as prices near their top and economic growth slows, a sign the tightening cycle may be nearing its end.

The seven-member policy board is likely to raise borrowing costs for a seventh consecutive month to 6.5 percent, the second-highest level in Latin America after Brazil and an additional 200 points since September.

The bank is grappling with inflation that, at 7.59 percent last month, has pushed well beyond the bank's target range of 2-4 percent.

Policymakers hope another increase will help firm inflation expectations and bring down the nation's bloated current account deficit, considered the economy's biggest vulnerability.

Still, analysts reckon consumer prices are getting close to their top of 8 percent and will begin to come down to about 5.5 percent by the end of the year.

A Reuters poll of 13 economists earlier this week showed they expect the bank to raise the interest rate twice more before the tightening cycle ends at 7 percent.

"If inflation was to come down now, maybe this would be the last month of increases," said Juan Felipe Pinzon, analyst at Profesionales de Bolsa. "I don't see the bank as being so aggressive after all, because it doesn't want to risk economic growth with high rates."

The economy is expected to slow to about 2.7 percent this year from 3.1 percent last year and 4.4 percent in 2014, according to the poll.

The government is more optimistic, with a forecast of 3 percent. (Writing by Helen Murphy; Editing by Nick Zieminski)