December 19, 2019 / 9:13 AM / a month ago

UPDATE 3-Norway leaves rates on hold, expects no change

* Leaves rates unchanged at 1.50%, maintains outlook

* Board discussed trade tensions for risks ahead

* May hike rates if wages grew faster than forecast -Olsen (Updates with quotes from governor, updates crown)

By Victoria Klesty and Terje Solsvik

OSLO, Dec 19 (Reuters) - Norway’s central bank left its key interest rate unchanged at 1.5% on Thursday, as expected, and reiterated that no change was likely anytime soon.

Norges Bank has raised the cost of borrowing four times in the last 15 months, but it has gradually toned down its hawkish bias as both global and domestic growth slowed.

None of the 32 economists polled by Reuters had expected Norwegian rates to rise and only six predicted any increase for years to come.

“The Executive Board’s current assessment of the outlook and balance of risks suggests that the policy rate will most likely remain at the current level in the coming period,” Norges Bank Governor Oeystein Olsen said in a statement.

While the central bank’s main forecast is for rates to stay on hold for the next several years, the chance of a hike is still greater than the probability of a cut, its forecasts showed.

The bank could raise rates if wages were to rise faster than it expected. Norges Bank sees moderate wage growth of 3.2% both in 2020 and 2021.

“Norway is not France,” Olsen told Reuters on the sidelines of a news conference. “You could imagine a Spring with conflicts, but it’s not the typical pattern of Norwegian wage negotiations.”

The decision to keep rates on hold contrasts with that of Sweden’s Riksbank, which earlier on Thursday raised its benchmark repo rate to zero percent, ending five years of negative rates.

The Norwegian currency, the crown, initially strengthened by 0.4% against the euro to trade at 9.9575. It gave up some of its gains to trade at 9.9735 at 1104 GMT.

“Norges Bank leaves rates on hold and the rate path pretty much unchanged,” said Nordea analyst Lars Mouland. “They also made very minor changes to the rate path, which signals that rates will be left on hold with an upward bias.”

The overall policy forecast was largely unchanged from September, with a slightly higher inflation forecast and slightly weaker growth expectations largely cancelling each other out, Norges Bank said.

The crown hit a record low of 10.31 to the euro in October but rebounded to a two-and-a-half month high in recent days. (Additional reporting by Nerijus Adomaitis and Gwladys Fouche, editing by Larry King)

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