UPDATE 1-Colombia central bank holds interest rate at 1.75% for third month

(Adds details from statement, quotes)

BOGOTA, Dec 18 (Reuters) – Colombia’s central bank board held the benchmark interest rate steady at 1.75% for the third consecutive month at its Friday meeting, citing low inflation and continuing economic recovery, meeting analyst predictions.

The decision was backed by five policymakers, with the remaining two board members voting to cut the rate by 25 basis points, board chief Juan Jose Echavarria said.

“Inflation in November was 1.49%, lower than expected by analysts and economic authorities,” the board said in a statement read by Echavarria.

The bank’s long-term target rate for consumer price increases is 3%.

“The projection of the trajectory of inflation foresees low levels during the first quarter of 2021 and a subsequent acceleration during the rest of the year,” the statement said.

Consumer prices are set to increase in 2021 and 2022 by 2.7% and 3% respectively, it added.

“The most recent economic growth indicators confirm the recovery of activity and this evolution is expected to continue in 2021,” the statement added.

The bank’s technical team predicts economic contraction of between 6.5% and 9% for this year, while the government sees shrinkage of between 6% and 7%.

In October gross domestic product contracted by 4.53%, the best figure since March’s shrinkage of 4.41%, the government said on Friday.

The board cut 250 basis points from the rate between March and September to counteract the impact of a long coronavirus quarantine and a collapse in consumption.

Analysts largely expect holds until December 2021.

The meeting was Echavarria’s last as board chief. He will be replaced on Jan. 1 by International Monetary Fund official Leonardo Villar.

The board will return to voting on the interest rate eight times per year in 2021, it said in a second statement, after changing to monthly voting during the height of the pandemic.

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