(Adds in first sentence that decision was divided, adds economic details)
By Helen Murphy and Nelson Bocanegra
BOGOTA, July 31 (Reuters) - Colombia’s central bank held the benchmark lending rate at 4.5 percent for the 11th straight month on Friday to help bolster economic growth, although the decision was divided as some policymakers sought an increase to tackle accelerating inflation.
The meeting of the seven-member board comes as growth expectations for Latin America’s fourth-largest economy have been curbed by falling oil revenue, and a weakened peso that is beginning to put pressure consumer prices. Some members called for a 25 basis-point rate hike.
The bank revised down its estimate for economic growth this year to 2.8 percent from 3.2 percent and said the depreciating peso currency would probably mean inflation ends the year at between 4 percent and 5 percent, higher than the target range of 2 to 4 percent.
“Inflation remains above the upper limit of the target range and domestic spending in the economy continues to adjust to the lower dynamics of national income,” said bank chief Jose Dario Uribe, reading the board’s policy statement.
“It can be expected that temporary shocks in prices will reverse toward inflation expectations that are anchored to the target. However, the recent depreciation of the peso could delay the convergence of inflation to the target.”
The bank said the continued devaluation in the currency has slowed the decline in inflation toward reaching 3 percent, the “most desired” midpoint of the target range. Inflation for the 12 months through June was 4.42 percent.
The interest rate decision met expectations of all analysts in a Reuters survey earlier this week.
The peso has been devalued by 54 percent over the last year, a decline analysts say is beginning to affect consumer prices and therefore the bank’s ability to bolster the economy.
“The monetary policy dilemma is very clear, and it’s becoming more complex for the bank to decide on the interest rate and other policies such as the exchange rate,” said Camilo Perez, chief economist at Banco de Bogota.
At 4.5 percent, the interest rate remains above that of Mexico, Chile and Peru but below Brazil‘s.
Expectations that rate increases in the United States are imminent as its economy shows signs of renewed pep will be a key consideration for monetary policy in Colombia and other emerging markets in coming months.
Rate increases in the United States would make its bonds a more attractive investment and could draw money out of Colombia. (Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Matthew Lewis)