(Updates with central bank comment in third paragraph.)
Dec. 7 (Bloomberg) -- Peru’s central bank kept its benchmark interest rate unchanged for a seventh month on expectations slower growth will bring down the highest inflation rate since 2009.
The seven-member board, led by central bank President Julio Velarde, left the overnight rate at 4.25 percent, matching the expectations of all 19 economists surveyed by Bloomberg.
“This decision takes into account the slower growth being observed in some spending components, the international financial risks and that the increase in inflation primarily has been the result of temporary supply factors,” the bank said in a statement on its website. “Future adjustments in the benchmark rate will depend on new inflation about inflation and its determinants.”
Annual inflation that reached a 31-month high of 4.64 percent in November leaves little room for rate cuts to arrest a slowdown in investment that may worsen next year as social unrest thwarts mining investment, said Alejandro Arreaza, an analyst at Barclays Capital Inc.
“All the noise from the cancelation of mining projects and the social conflicts surrounding them could harm investor confidence and affect growth in coming quarters,” Arreaza said in a phone interview from New York. “If the economy continues to decelerate, that should help bring inflation down next year.”
Peru’s outlook for growth, already weak since President Ollanta Humala took office June 5, deteriorated further after protesters caused Newmont Mining Corp. to halt a $4.8 billion expansion last month, said Ruben Loaiza, chief executive officer of AFP Prima, Peru’s biggest private pension fund.
“We saw 2012 as a year when investment could recover, but these recent events makes one wonder if that will be the case,” Loaiza said in a Dec. 3 interview.
The government declared a state of emergency Dec. 4 to end local protests against the copper and gold mine that would be Peru’s largest-ever investment project.
Though Humala has tried to allay concern he would reverse economic policies that have fueled the fastest growth in Latin America over the past decade, business confidence remains below pre-election levels, said Arreaza.
Peru’s decision to leave rates unchanged contrasts with Brazil, which has cut borrowing costs three times since August. Policy makers in Mexico and Chile have signaled they may do the same as Europe’s debt crisis threatens to damp Latin America’s commodity-dependent growth.
The sol rose to 2.6950 per U.S. dollar today, its strongest level since April 2008, as investors bet the economy will withstand the global slowdown and the central bank will take measures to prevent swings in the currency.
Peru’s economy has already showed signs of slowing in recent months.
Annual private investment growth eased to 8.5 percent in the third quarter, down from 16 percent in the previous three months, the central bank said Nov. 25. Import and export growth eased in October while expansion in credit was the slowest in a year on weaker demand for business loans.
Gross domestic product will rise almost 7 percent this year, before growth slows to 5 percent to 6 percent in 2012, according to Finance Minister Miguel Castilla.
The government may expand a $3 billion spending program to offset a “prolonged” global slowdown, he said in a Dec. 3 interview. GDP climbed 8.8 percent last year, the second-fastest pace in 16 years.
The central bank increased its benchmark rate five times between January and May, pushing it to a two-year high, to contain inflation expectations. The bank has kept rates on hold since June.
“The pause was initially due to concern that the political context affecting demand and also because of the international situation,” Velarde said in a Dec. 2 interview.
“Looking ahead, we don’t see any demand-related pressures nor any of these pressures from food” that would cause inflation to accelerate, he said. Inflation expectations are “well anchored” in the 1 percent to 3 percent range, he added.
Interest rates may remain on hold until inflation slows or Europe’s debt crisis has a clearer impact on the domestic economy, Arreaza said.
“The central bank’s pause will last longer than at first thought,” said Mario Guerrero, an economist at Scotiabank Peru in Lima. “It will have room to lower rates when inflation returns to the target range in the second half of next year.”
--With assistance from Alex Emery in Lima. Editors: Philip Sanders, Robert Jameson
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