November 9, 2012 / 6:25 PM / 7 years ago

UPDATE 1-Colombia cenbank now sees 2012 growth at 3.7 pct-4.9 pct

* Board members see domestic demand fueling growth in Q3-Q4

* Decision to leave rate unchanged was not unanimous

BOGOTA, Nov 9 (Reuters) - Colombia’s central bank on Friday forecast 2012 economic growth in the Andean country at between 3.7 percent and 4.9 percent, and said that expansion in the last two quarters will likely be spurred by strong domestic demand.

The bank had previously said that full-year gross domestic product would come in between 3 percent and 5 percent.

Minutes from the bank’s last policy meeting released on Friday showed that board members are concerned about a possible economic slowdown in the third quarter, yet are confident that the economy is still growing strongly.

“Despite signs of a slowdown, growth in the following quarters will continue being stimulated by domestic demand. A healthy finance system, household confidence and a dynamic labor market will continue underpinning consumer growth,” the seven-member board said in a statement.

The bank also said the economy continues to be supported by the availability of internal and external financing and high foreign direct investment.

“In 2013 we see growth similar to 2012. Of course there are high levels of external uncertainty that have to do with how the problems in Europe are tackled and, in the short term, the decisions that the U.S. Congress may take about fiscal issues in that country,” central bank chief Jose Dario Uribe said in a presentation after the minutes’ release.

Colombia’s central bank kept its benchmark interest rate steady for a second-month running at 4.75 percent at its latest meeting on Oct. 26, given a mixed picture for domestic growth and the global economy.

The majority decision by policymakers followed a likely slowdown in Latin America’s No. 4 economy in the third quarter due to weaker retail sales, industrial output and exports.

Most members voted to keep the benchmark interest rate unchanged because despite signs of a slowdown, they saw overall spending in the Andean country above potential growth.

The minutes also showed that other members proposed borrowing costs should be cut because inflation seemed to be under control and the Colombian economy was still vulnerable to external shocks.

The bank said that inflation expectations remain near the midpoint of its 2 percent to 4 percent target range.

The minutes showed that board members are still concerned about global economic woes, including the growth slowdown in China and fiscal problems in the United States.

Nonetheless, the bank noted that prices for key Colombian commodity exports, like oil, remain strong.

“Global financial conditions have improved in the past few weeks, in part because of the policy decisions taken by the key central banks in the world,” the minutes said.

There was also disagreement among board members in the September meeting, where the majority of the board voted to hold borrowing costs steady while a minority wanted to cut the rate to protect the economy from the global slowdown.

Analysts said the tone of the bank’s statement after the October meeting suggested it would likely keep rates steady going forward.

Other major Latin American economies such as Mexico and Chile have also held rates steady since early this year as they gauge fallout from the euro zone debt crisis.

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