By Jack Kimball
BOGOTA, Feb 8 (Reuters) - Minutes from the most recent meeting of Colombia’s central bankers suggest that more interest rate cuts are on the table as moderating growth in Latin America’s fourth-largest economy may support the need for further stimulus.
Policymakers have cut the overnight lending rate in the last three meetings, bringing it to the lowest level since May 2011 while inflation remains at the lower end of the bank’s 2 percent to 4 percent target range.
The seven-member board on Jan. 28 reduced its overnight lending rate by 25 basis points to 4 percent, but a minority wanted a steeper cut.
The minutes, quoting the majority opinion, said that “although a more expansionary monetary policy is needed,” the board cautioned on the need to be “prudent on policy measures.”
The country’s economy likely grew between 2 percent and 3.5 percent in the fourth quarter and the bank pared back full-year 2012 expansion to between 3.3 percent to 3.9 percent from an earlier estimate of around 4 percent, the minutes said.
The most dynamic sectors in Colombia’s economy in the fourth quarter were likely transportation, social services and mining, the minutes said. The sectors which sapped growth were construction and industry, it said.
The Finance Ministry has said it expected better growth in the fourth quarter than the third. The annual gross domestic product grew just 2.1 percent in the third quarter and 4.9 percent in the April-June period.
Analysts saw the minutes, which were published on Friday, as pointing to more rate cuts in February.
“The minutes hint that almost the whole board is considering further expansion, with these estimates of the economic growth, (a rate cut to) 3.75 percent in February is 99 percent likely,” said Camilo Perez, head of economic research at Banco de Bogota.
“The door even remains open for another reduction in March,” he added.
In a quarterly presentation on Friday, central bank chief Jose Dario Uribe said that inflation this year would likely come in below 3 percent versus 2.44 percent last year with 2013 economic expansion of between 2.5 percent and 4.5 percent.
“For 2013, projections indicate that in the first quarters, GDP could grow at a rate below its potential, showing a negative output gap,” Uribe said.
“This weakness in demand and the slowdown in credit also reduces the likelihood that financial imbalances form.”