Colombia cenbank minutes suggests continued interest rate hikes

BOGOTA, June 13 Fri Jun 13, 2014 4:13pm EDT

BOGOTA, June 13 (Reuters) - Colombia's central bank on Friday suggested it may continue to raise its key interest rate in the coming months, as minutes of its last board meeting showed concern over household and business debt levels as the economy grows faster than expected.

Some board members said the economy is growing faster than first thought and its potential pace of expansion is also higher than indicated by current official estimates. Others said there was an "accumulation of risks" from increasing debt levels, the minutes of the last monetary policy meeting showed.

The central bank on May 30 raised the benchmark lending rate a quarter point to 3.75 percent to head off inflationary pressure as the economy gathers steam.

The bank's concerns indicate it will continue to raise the lending rate in the coming months, analysts said.

"Without doubt the minutes show that rate increases that began in April are just the starting point and that the bank will continue with its increase cycle," said Daniel Lozano, chief economist at brokerage Serfinco, who expects consecutive increases until 4.5 percent.

"It's a hawkish tone, these arguments show they will continue to raise the rate gradually and that the increases will be uninterrupted at least until July," said Angela Gonzalez, an analyst at Banco de Bogota.

Output has accelerated over the last year and the bank expects first-quarter economic growth of 4.8 percent compared with 2.8 percent in same the period a year ago. The government will publish the gross domestic product numbers on June 19.

The economy grew 4.3 percent last year and the central bank expects at least the same for 2014. The bank has not revealed its view of the economy's potential growth level.

"Some board members see that both potential and observed GDP growth are above that projected by the bank's technical team," the minutes said.

President Juan Manuel Santos on Friday said that expansion above the government's 4.7 percent target is possible this year with growth likely to be more than 5.5 percent next year.

The minutes also showed some policymakers raised concern over risks from increasing debt levels. The higher lending rate will help pull some of the stimulus away from borrowers after 12 months of holding the rate at 3.25 percent, the minutes said.

"They highlighted that an increase in the interest rate is in line with the objective of reducing stimulus to the accumulation of risks, even more so when the prolonged low interest rate is taken into account," the document showed.

Colombia's economy has been growing at 4 percent or faster since 2010 and inflation is controlled, at around 3 percent or the center of the central bank's 2 percent to 4 percent target range. (Additional reporting by Helen Murphy; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

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