UPDATE 2-Colombia central bank sees inflation slowing

Fri May 11, 2012 1:38pm EDT

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* Bank has kept lending rate steady for two months

* Board sees inflation slowing, credit growth strong

* Analyst expects central bank to keep rate steady (Adds details, quote from analyst, byline)

By Eduardo Garcia and Nelson Bocanegra

BOGOTA, May 11 (Reuters) - Colombia central bank board members said inflation in the South American country shows signs of easing even though consumer credit is strong, according to minutes published on Friday.

The seven-member board decided unanimously to keep the lending rate at 5.25 percent in the past two policy meetings following a year-long, 225-basis-point rise that has helped cool inflation in one of Latin America's fastest-growing economies.

The minutes signaled concern among Colombian policymakers that a continued credit expansion may be pressuring consumer prices even though inflation has slowed and months of tighter monetary policy helped temper economic growth.

"Inflation forecasts fell again, and we expect that they will converge toward the middle of the (annual) target range," according to the minutes, which also show board members still fear that consumer credit growth may fuel a rise in consumer prices.

In the 12-month period through April, consumer prices rose 3.43 percent, not far above the 3 percent midpoint of the central bank's 2-percent to 4-percent annual target range.

Some board members said there is a risk that prices may increase because of strong domestic demand, while others said that borrowing costs have reached a "neutral level" and that measures already taken by the bank should keep inflation in check.

"The minutes confirm our expectations that there won't be changes to the interest rate for the rest of the year," said Camilo Perez, an analyst with Banco de Bogota.

Price increases slowed to a 0.12 percent rise in March, from a 0.73 percent increase in January and a 0.61 percent advance in February.

In April, consumer prices rose 0.14 percent

All 35 analysts surveyed in a Reuters poll late last month said they expected inflation this year to be within the government's range.

Board members vowed to monitor credit growth data closely - they said that in the 12 months to March the credit portfolio of private banks grew 22 percent.

The central bank forecasts that the Colombian economy will expand between 4 percent and 6 percent this year, according to the minutes. The government sees the economy expanding at least 5 percent in 2012.

Colombia has become one of the best performing economies in Latin America and has attracted a flood of foreign investment in the oil and mining sectors. Last year it was granted an investment grade rating status from Fitch, Moody's and Standard & Poor's. (Writing by Eduardo Garcia; Editing by Leslie Adler, W Simon and Padraic Cassidy)

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