BOGOTA, Dec 11 (Reuters) - Colombia’s central bank board agreed last month to “toughen” monetary policy going forward in a bid to tackle a widening current account deficit and inflationary pressure, though some wanted a bigger increase in the benchmark lending rate, the minutes of the meeting showed on Friday.
The bank on Nov. 27 increased the lending rate a quarter point to 5.5 percent, adding to 75 basis points raised in the previous two board meetings.
“All board members agree on the need to continue the tightening of monetary policy, although there are differences about the speed of the increases in the interest rate policy,” the minutes showed.
The seven policymakers discussed the bank’s credibility, with some focusing concern on rising inflation and others on the weakened economy. The bank has been criticized for not acting sooner to stem rising inflation.
All members expressed concern about the current account deficit, which Finance Minister Mauricio Cardenas has described as “unsustainable” at an estimated 6.2 percent this year.
Another quarter point increase in borrowing costs is expected by economists at next week’s meeting.
A drop in oil prices has hit Latin America’s fourth-largest economy, which is also struggling with an increase in inflation. Crude oil is Colombia’s biggest export and leading source of foreign currency.
Twelve-month inflation reached 6.39 percent in November. The measure has been above the high end of the central bank’s 2 percent to 4 percent target range since February due to a precipitous fall in the peso currency in the past year and rising food prices as the El Niño weather phenomenon disrupts agriculture.
“Monetary policy credibility could suffer more from future supply shocks,” the minutes said, pointing to inflationary pressure resulting from the “imminent” increase in U.S. interest rates that would further weaken the local peso currency and lower oil prices.
The minutes clarified that the majority vote last month was split among those calling for an increase of 25 basis points and others wanting 50 basis points.
Colombia’s economy grew 3.2 percent in the third quarter from a year earlier, the government said on Thursday, a better-than-expected figure that will give room to raise the interest rate.
Cardenas, who represents the government on the bank’s policy board, on Friday said growth this year could reach 3.2 percent, slightly under his official 3.3 percent estimate. (Reporting by Helen Murphy and Nelson Bocanegra; Editing by Andrew Hay)