September 30, 2016 / 1:32 PM / 2 years ago

Colombia central bank seen holding rate steady to damp inflation

BOGOTA, Sept 30 (Reuters) - Colombia’s central bank is likely to hold the benchmark interest rate steady on Friday, keeping it at a level policymakers hope will help quell stubbornly high inflation even as economic growth slows, analysts said.

A Reuters survey of 15 analysts earlier this week unanimously predicted the seven-member board on Friday will maintain borrowing costs at 7.75 percent, following almost a year of rate increases aimed at damping pressure on consumer prices. A majority said the rate will hold steady until the end of the year.

A prolonged drought and a weaker currency boosted food prices and imports costs, creating pressure that caused consumer price growth to reach more than double the central bank’s target range of 2-4 percent.

Although the bank’s efforts to slow inflation has started to bear fruit, the annual rate in August was still at 8.10 percent, though slightly below July, when it was 8.97 percent.

“The decision at this meeting won’t be in any way surprising,” said Otman Gordillo of AdCap Securities brokerage. “They will hold the rate.”

Finance Minister Mauricio Cardenas, who represents the government on the board, said on Tuesday the rate should not be cut until inflation numbers come down further.

“For now, we must be patient,” he said.

President Juan Manuel Santos, however, said on Thursday policymakers could begin to consider decreasing the rate.

“We can now start to think of how it could be lowered to stimulate the economy,” Santos said at a business event.

Two analysts expect cuts to begin in December to help an economic recovery after a sharp fall in global oil prices dented national income.

Oil-producing Colombia can expect economic growth of 2.5 percent this year and 3.5 percent next year, the government has said. (Reporting by Helen Murphy and Julia Symmes Cobb, additional reporting by Nelson Bocanegra; Editing by Alan Crosby)

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