Colombia Likely to Keep 5.25% Rate Unchanged as Inflation Slows

Colombian policy makers will probably keep borrowing costs unchanged today for a second month as the lowest inflation rate in Latin America gives them time to gauge the impact of previous interest rate increases.

The seven-member board, led by bank chief Jose Dario Uribe, will maintain the benchmark rate at 5.25 percent, according to all 27 economists surveyed by Bloomberg. The bank will announce its decision after markets close at 1 p.m. in Bogota.

The central bank has raised the key rate nine times in 13 months, pushing it to the highest in almost three years in February, to tame prices amid a consumer credit boom. With inflation slowing in four of the past five months and analyst expectations within the target range, the policy makers can afford to stay on hold today, said David Rees, an emerging markets economist at Capital Economics Ltd. in London.

“Rate hikes are probably off the cards in the near-term, given falling food and energy costs bringing down inflation,” Rees said in an e-mailed response to questions.

Colombia has defied a global trend for lower rates, as record oil output and a 22 percent expansion in credit helped power 5.9 percent growth in 2011, the fastest since 2007.

Retail sales surged 9.4 percent in February from the year- ago period, boosted by the leap year, as industrial production increased 4.5 percent.

Regional Low

Even as sales surge and output rises, inflation slowed to 3.4 percent in March, compared with 5.24 percent in Brazil, 3.8 percent in Chile and 3.73 percent in Mexico. Colombia targets inflation of 2 percent to 4 percent.

Inflation will end this year at 3.29 percent, according to the median estimate in a central bank survey published April 12, down from a projected 3.45 percent in the March survey.

Brazil, Chile, Russia, the Philippines, Israel, Romania, Moldova, and Mauritius all reduced benchmark lending rates in recent months amid concern that Europe’s debt crisis will derail global growth. Brazilian central bank President Alexandre Tombini has slashed the key rate by 350 basis points to 9 percent since August.

Colombia’s IGBC stock index has gained 19.5 percent in 2012, the best performance among Latin America’s six biggest exchanges. By comparison, Brazil’s Bovespa has gained 8.7 percent, while Mexico’s IPC index is up 6.1 percent and Argentina’s Merval is down 7.8 percent.

The yield on Colombia’s 6.125 percent dollar bond maturing in 2041 has declined 132 basis points, or 1.32 percentage point in the last year to 4.49 percent on April 27. The price has risen 22.4 cents on the dollar to 126.18 cents.

Inflationary Pressures

Colombia’s central bank is “very confident” inflation will slow to 3 percent as economic growth eases to 5 percent, Uribe said in an April 13 interview.

Still, the bank remains concerned by credit growth, which may create risks if it continues at its current pace of more than 20 percent for a prolonged period, he said.

At its March 23 meeting, the board noted that though inflation expectation have fallen and the rate of total lending has stabilized, “several” board members said higher borrowing costs may still be needed.

“Inflationary pressures continue to weigh on the risk balance, which means additional adjustments in monetary policy might be necessary,” policy makers said in the minutes.

Given the government’s concern that the peso’s 9.9 percent advance against the dollar this year is hurting the nation’s manufacturers and farmers, policy makers may prefer to use other measures such as reserve requirements to curb lending, Rees said. The peso has gained more than any other Latin American currency since Jan. 1.

To contact the reporter on this story: John Quigley in Lima at jquigley8@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Joshua Goodman at jgoodman19@bloomberg.net.

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