BOGOTA, April 6 (Reuters) - Colombia's central bank board will likely raise its benchmark rate at its meeting later this month after inflation figures hit a nine-year high in March, analysts said on Wednesday.
Twelve-month inflation was 7.98 percent last month, the government statistics agency said on Tuesday, almost double the upper limit of the central bank's long-term target range of 2 to 4 percent. Consumer prices were up 0.94 percent compared with the previous month, well above market predictions of 0.70 percent.
The figures will push the seven-member board to raise rates by 25 basis points to 6.75 percent at their April 29 meeting, 11 of 14 analysts surveyed by Reuters said.
The latest inflation figure is likely to prompt analysts to revise upward their estimates for inflation. Many had expected prices to hit 8 percent later this year before coming down to about 5 percent by year end.
An increase in rates at the April meeting would mark the eighth consecutive month the board has voted to tighten.
The three remaining analysts said the bank would raise the benchmark rate by 50 basis points to 7 percent, to put a brake on price pressures.
A majority of the analysts said the bank will up its rate to 7 percent before the tightening cycle ends, though some would not rule out increases up to 7.50 percent.
"I think the bank will stay on the path of raises of 25 basis points each month until it gets to between 7 and 7.50 percent," said Juan David Ballen, analyst at Casa de Bolsa brokerage. "The tightening cycle will continue, because in real terms the interest rate is ever more negative."
Board member Carlos Gustavo Cano said last week Colombia requires additional, more forceful increases in the rate to anchor inflation expectations and bring down consumer prices.
The decision to raise the rate gradually over the last six months has not been unanimously supported by policymakers - with a minority believing the board would do better to increase the rate by half a percentage point. (Reporting by Nelson Bocanegra; Writing by Julia Symmes Cobb; Editing by Helen Murphy and Diane Craft)