BOGOTA, Sept 30 (Reuters) – Colombia’s central bank board is likely to begin raising its benchmark interest rate at its meeting on Thursday, echoing regional counterparts and ahead of an expected withdrawal of monetary stimulus by the U.S. Federal Reserve.

Of the 17 analysts surveyed in a Reuters poll last week, 15 predicted a 25 basis point increase in borrowing costs to 2%, while the remaining two projected an increase to 2.25%.

An uptick would mark the first time since July 2016 that policymakers have raised the rate and its first movement in a year. The board drastically cut the rate last year before holding at a historic low of 1.75% for the last 12 months, to boost economic recovery amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

A notable increase in consumer prices over recent months will be the principal motivator for raising the rate, analysts said, after 12-month inflation hit 4.44% in August, well above the target range of 2% to 4%.

“The increase in interest rates is imminent, a certainty,” said Fabio Nieto, head economist at Banco Agrario. “More interesting will be the arguments for the board’s decision, with some members who could be in favor of aggressive increases.”

Price increases are tied to better economic performance. Colombia’s gross domestic product is predicted to expand a record 8.2% this year, after a 6.8% contraction in 2020.

Analysts said the board will continue with rate hikes for the rest of this year, taking borrowing costs to 2.50% in December and up to 4% at the close of 2022.

“The cycle will probably begin with an increase in the rate of 25 basis points, but we expect larger magnitude increases afterward,” said Carolina Monzon, head economist at Itau bank.

The U.S. Federal Reserve has said it will start to reduce its bond purchases as soon as November if the economy continues on its current track. (Reporting by Nelson Bocanegra Writing by Julia Symmes Cobb Editing by Marguerita Choy)

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