BOGOTA, April 24 (Reuters) - Colombia’s central bank will likely hold its benchmark interest rate steady for an eighth consecutive month on Friday in a bid to spur economic expansion as growth projections recede and inflation quickens.
All 27 analysts surveyed in a Reuters poll this week said the bank’s seven-member board will keep the rate at 4.5 percent, and a majority predicted it will stay at that level through the end of the year.
Friday’s board meeting comes amid concern over slowing growth and an uptick in inflation in Latin America’s fourth-largest economy, while government revenue has been hit by the fall in prices for oil, Colombia’s biggest export and source of foreign exchange.
“The bank will have to cautiously define its policy over the coming months, in the midst of a scenario which has obvious risks in terms of inflation and economic deceleration,” banking industry group Asobancaria said in a report.
The government trimmed its growth estimate for this year to between 3.5 percent and 4 percent last week, down from 4.2 percent, because of the oil price decline.
The central bank sees 3.6 percent growth as most likely, but the board may lower its outlook at Friday’s meeting, analysts said.
“Growth will not be 3.6 percent as predicted,” said Angela Gonzalez, an analyst at Banco de Bogota, giving a possible range of 3 percent to 3.5 percent.
The economy, among the fastest-growing in Latin America, expanded 4.6 percent in 2014, just under the government’s forecast.
Growth of 3.5 percent in the fourth quarter, however, was markedly lower than the 4 percent expected by analysts and well below the 6.1 percent expansion of a year earlier.
The bank must strike a balance between boosting growth and dealing with rising consumer prices.
While expected to ease in the second half of the year, inflation is above the bank’s 2- to 4-percent target range due to a 30 percent weakening of the peso and a brief truckers strike that raised food prices.
In March, 12-month consumer price growth hit 4.56 percent.
The peso has fallen 29 percent over 12 months versus the dollar, one of the sharpest currency declines in the region. The peso closed on Thursday at 2,468.05 to the dollar.
The March decision to hold the rate steady was unanimous, but six analysts polled by Reuters said Friday’s will not be. A non-unanimous vote may signal a shift by some board members. (Additional reporting by Nelson Bocanegra; Editing by Helen Murphy; and Peter Galloway)