(Adds details, central bank’s comments)
* Oct CPI at 0.8% on year, matching expectations
* Slower inflation due to decline in food, utility prices
* Easing inflation leaves door open to more rate cuts
By Karen Lema and Neil Jerome Morales
MANILA, Nov 5 (Reuters) - The Philippines’ annual rate of inflation eased for a fifth straight month in October, the national statistics agency said on Tuesday, citing a high comparison base and lower food and utility costs.
The consumer price index rose 0.8% in October from a year earlier, matching the median forecast in a Reuters poll, and was below the previous month’s 0.9% rate. The rate was also the slowest pace of increase since April 2016.
The central bank had a 0.5%-1.3% forecast range for the month. In a statement, the bank said inflation likely bottomed out in October and will pick up slightly in the coming months but it will remain within this year’s 2%-4% target.
Tuesday’s data marked the third straight month that inflation has fallen below the central bank’s target for the year, giving policymakers an incentive to cut interest rates further, if needed, to support economic growth.
The annual core inflation rate was 2.6% in October compared with September’s 2.7%.
Annual inflation has declined from a near-decade peak of 6.7% in September and October last year on easing global oil and rice prices, allowing the central bank to reverse some of last year’s 175 basis points rate hikes to support growth.
“Easing inflation trend would still support any further easing of monetary policy by way of a further cut in local policy rates,” said Michael Ricafort, an economist at Rizal Commercial Banking Corp in Manila, adding another cut was still possible before the year closes.
The central bank has two more policy meetings before the end of the year, but Governor Benjamin Diokno has said there will likely be no more interest rate cuts this year after the three rate reductions totalling 75 basis points.
Authorities have expressed confidence that the lower end of this year’s 6%-7% economic growth target will be met, with a rebound expected in the second half on higher government spending and moderating inflation.
Growth in the Philippines slipped to its weakest rate in 17 quarters in April-June at 5.5%.
The country’s third-quarter gross domestic product data will be released on Nov. 7, ahead of the central bank’s policy meeting on Nov. 14. (Reporting by Karen Lema and Neil Jerome Morales Editing by Kenneth Maxwell)