(Adds comments from second cenbank board member)
By Carlos Vargas and Nelson Bocanegra
MEDELLIN, Colombia, May 8 (Reuters) - Colombian central bank board member Adolfo Meisel said on Thursday he expects the bank to continue an expansionist monetary policy for the time being even though it lifted rates last month for the first time in more than two years.
The Andean nation’s economy is enjoying a period in which growth and consumption are picking up without inflation concerns, though a recent influx of foreign investment has caused the local currency to firm sharply.
The central bank raised the benchmark interest rate a quarter point to 3.5 percent on April 25 as policymakers sought to get ahead of any future inflationary pressure as the economy gathers pace.
The central bank could also extend the dollar purchase program it launched in April beyond its scheduled expiration at the end of June, Meisel said, by which time it is scheduled to have bought up to $1 billion.
“We have historically high reserve levels, but there are countries that have higher reserves than ours. In other words we can’t rule out that we will increase dollar purchases,” he said when asked if the purchases would continue beyond June.
Meisel was attending a bankers’ forum in Medellin, Colombia’s second-biggest city.
Colombia is the world’s No. 4 coal exporter and heavy investment in its oil sector pushed up output to 1 million barrels per day in 2013. It is also the world’s biggest producer of washed arabica coffee, a premium kind.
The peso touched its strongest level since October on Thursday at 1,898 to the dollar due to a recent rise in foreign investment in its financial assets spurred by J.P. Morgan’s move to raise the weighting of Colombian government debt in its indexes.
Meisel said he expects inflation to rise to around the central bank’s 3 percent target by the end of the year. He said he doubted that the El Nino weather phenomenon, which brings dry weather, would have any lasting impact on food and energy prices. El Nino could start in in the next few months, meteorologists say.
Annual inflation through April was 2.72 percent.
Another board member at the Medellin forum, Juan Pablo Zarate, told Reuters he expected the government’s statistics agency, DANE, would revise its 2013 GDP growth figure of 4.3 percent, suggesting its number may not fully reflect a rise in consumer demand in the fourth quarter of last year.
He said he also expected the economy to grow more than the 4.3 percent estimate of the central bank’s technical team. Finance Minister Mauricio Cardenas has said he expects expansion of 4.7 percent for this year. (Writing by Peter Murphy and Helen Murphy; Editing by Chris Reese, Peter Galloway and Andrew Hay)