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REFILE-PREVIEW-Bank of Korea expected to stand pat in Feb, cut seen imminent
February 12, 2016 / 5:21 AM / 2 years ago

REFILE-PREVIEW-Bank of Korea expected to stand pat in Feb, cut seen imminent

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* For poll details click: reuters://realtime/verb=Open/url=cpurl://apps.cp./Apps/cb-polls?RIC=KROCRT%3DECI

* 25 out of 27 analysts see base rate unchanged at 1.50 pct

* Some analysts change 'hold' views to 'cut'

* The Bank of Korea reviews policy on Feb 16

SEOUL, Feb 12 (Reuters) - South Korea's central bank is expected to leave rates untouched this month, but could cut soon as external uncertainties such as China's slowing growth and global financial market turmoil undermine an ongoing but fragile recovery at home.

Twenty-five out of 27 analysts polled by Reuters said they expected the Bank of Korea (BOK) would keep interest rates unchanged next week as it monitors recent global market turbulence in the wake of Japan adopting negative interest rates and a spreading belief that the U.S. Federal Reserve will have difficulty hiking rates again.

The remaining two saw a cut.

Of the 27 analysts, 18 said they saw the BOK bank probably cutting interest rates at least once before year end, including this month, as inflation is heading back down while exports show no sign of a rebound.

A majority of the respondents who expected a cut said the BOK would move in March.

"To respond aggressively to global downside risks to growth and shore up consumption and investment, a rate cut in March would be most timely," said Lee Sur-bee, a fixed-income analyst at Kyobo Investment Trust.

Nine analysts in the poll saw rates unchanged for some time, a considerable shift from January's survey which had a majority of 30 analysts seeing rates on hold for an extended period.

Annual inflation cooled to its lowest in four months in January, adding to worries over the health of domestic consumption which has had to prop up growth after exports started falling last year.

Exports last month slumped over 18 percent on-year as sales to China collapsed, adding urgency to a government push for the development of new export markets and products as key performers lose ground.

Dwindling bets that the Fed will hike interest rates steadily may also create some room for the BOK to cut them at home, analysts said.

"Capital flight and higher U.S. rates were key factors in blocking the BOK from further easing, but it is growing unlikely the Fed will raise in March. And that will be the BOK's opportunity for a cut," said Shin Dong-soo, a fixed-income analyst at Eugene Investment & Securities.

South Korean bond yields dipped to new record lows on Thursday after Fed Chair Janet Yellen told U.S. lawmakers earlier this week that tighter credit markets, volatile financial markets and uncertainty over Chinese economic growth had magnified the risks facing the U.S. economy.

The Bank of Korea last cut rates in its easing cycle in June last year. It will review policy on Feb. 16. (Reporting by Yeonsoo Kwak, Jee Heun Kahng, Hooyeon Kim and Dahee Kim; Writing by Christine Kim; Editing by Eric Meijer)

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