Colombia’s central bank cut its benchmark rate by the smallest
amount in five months in a bid to spur growth without sparking
inflation, and said it doesn’t see additional rate changes in the “near
The seven-member board, led by bank chief Jose Dario Uribe, reduce the interbank rate by half a point to 4.5 percent, matching expectations of 24 of 31 economists surveyed by Bloomberg. Four analysts expected no change, one saw a 0.75- point cut and two expected a quarter-point cut.
Latin America’s fifth-biggest economy shrank for the first time since 1999 in the fourth quarter of 2008 and a report next week may show that gross domestic product contracted again in the first quarter. The slump has cooled consumer spending and slowed inflation to within the bank’s target range, giving policy makers room to continue their longest rate-cutting cycle in more than six years.
“A good part of the effect of the rate reductions on the economy will be seen in the coming quarters, and with the information available to us up to now, we don’t expect changes to the benchmark rate in the near future,” bank chief Uribe said today at the central bank in Bogota after the rate announcement.
The government has reduced its official economic growth forecast for 2009 twice, from 5 percent in October to 0.5 percent now, and may cut it further once first-quarter GDP data is released later this month.
Policy makers expect to see the effect of lower interest rates on the economy in the quarters ahead, as the economy recovers and inflation continues to fall toward their target, the bank said in a statement after the rate announcement.
“The central bank said very clearly it considers the current level already expansionary,” said Jimena Zuniga, Latin America economist at Barclays Capital in New York. “What we’re seeing now is fine tuning rather than shock therapy.”
Finance Minister Oscar Ivan Zuluaga, who is also president of the bank’s board, on June 16 said the economy is expected to improve in the second half and that GDP may expand 2.5 percent in 2010.
“Given the green shoots we’re observing in the global market and the up-tick in commodities, these suggest the economy will enjoy some tailwinds going forward,” said Zuniga, who expected the half-point reduction today.
The economy saw record growth through 2007 when GDP expanded 7.5 percent, a three-decade high. President Alvaro Uribe’s improvements in security created a boom in consumer spending, construction and industrial output.
That in turn sparked annual inflation last year that hit 7.7 percent, its highest in eight years. The central bank raised rates 16 times to bring prices under control.
Zuluaga said inflation should end this year at 5 percent and end 2010 at 4 percent. The board targets inflation this year of 4.5 percent to 5.5 percent. It has missed its annual target two years in a row.
After pushing the benchmark rate up to 10 percent last year, policy makers kept it at that level — the highest since August 2001 — until half-point cuts in December and January.
Before today, the bank trimmed the rate by a full point at each of the last four monthly meetings.
Now, after seven straight rate cuts, bank chief Uribe has cautioned against keeping rates low for too long, saying that by encouraging borrowing policy makers run the risk of fueling inflation.
“We have to take into consideration the time lag in the effects of the central bank’s decisions,” said Mario Nigrinis, an economist at BBVA Colombia. “If they are lowered too much, then they will need to be raised later and that creates market instability.”
Policy makers may signal that they will pause after today’s cut or say that the easing cycle is coming to an end, Rafael de la Fuente, chief Latin American economist at BNP Paribas SA in New York, wrote in a report ahead of the meeting.
“The bank has to consider 2010 inflation,” Nigrinis said. (Bloomberg)
Colombia’s consumer prices rose 0.01 percent in May from the previous month and the annual inflation rate eased to 4.77 percent from 5.73 percent in April.
Still, Camila Estrada, chief analyst at Banco de Credito de Colombia SA, thinks the economy still needs help.
Exports, industrial output and retail sales are weak and the economy expanded just 2.5 percent in 2008 as the global economic slump choked bank lending and sapped consumer confidence, she said.
Retail sales fell 7.1 percent in April from the year- earlier period, while industrial output fell 14.5 percent in April from a year earlier, the biggest decline in a decade, the national statistics agency said yesterday.
Bank chief Uribe said that output has “hit bottom,” in comments to reporters in Bogota today.
“The need for monetary stimulus hasn’t finished yet,” said Estrada, who sees the bank cutting the rate to 4 percent this year. “The economy remains in poor shape.”