Euro zone inflation jumps, weighs on rate cut bets

BRUSSELS Fri Aug 31, 2012 6:17am EDT

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Euro zone inflation jumped more than expected in August, data showed on Friday, likely reducing chances that the European Central Bank will cut interest rates next Thursday.

Consumer prices in the 17 countries sharing the euro rose 2.6 percent year-on-year, just above forecasts and accelerating from 2.4 percent in July, the European Union's statistics office estimated.

"This is the first time the euro area inflation rate has accelerated since September last year, and we think that it should rise further in September," Francois Cabau, economist at Barclays Capital, wrote in a research note.

BarCap believed rising energy prices were the main factor, he said.

Inflation has fallen from 3 percent in November 2011 to stabilize at 2.4 percent in May, June and July as the euro zone economy slowed because of the debt crisis.

The ECB, which targets inflation below but close to 2 percent, had expected the rate to fall below 2 percent by the end of the year.

The central bank is also looking for ways to boost economic growth in a stagnating euro zone and may cut its main refinancing rate from 0.75 percent at next week's policy meeting.

Economists in a Reuters poll published on Wednesday were evenly divided on whether there would be a cut, while an October rate cut instead was viewed as equally likely.

A full breakdown of the August inflation estimate and the monthly rate will be published by Eurostat on Sept 14.

Euro zone gross domestic product was unchanged quarter-on-quarter in the first three months of the year and contracted 0.2 percent in the second quarter.

Evidence of the sharp deceleration of the economy was seen in the unemployment rate, which was at new euro zone highs of 11.3 percent in July, unchanged from an upwardly revised June.

Rising unemployment is likely to limit inflationary pressures in coming months, in what the ECB might see as an argument in favour of a rate cut.

(Reporting By Jan Strupczewski; editing by John O'Donnell, John Stonestreet)

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