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Philippine central bank stands pat, signals August rate cut

MANILA (Reuters) -- The Philippine central bank on Thursday signaled it could cut interest rates as early as August driven by recent inflation and growth numbers, after it kept its key policy rate steady for a fifth straight meeting.

The Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) said its policy-making monetary board voted to keep its target reverse repurchase rate unchanged at 6.50%, which was correctly predicted by all 23 economists in a Reuters poll.

"We are somewhat less hawkish than before," BSP Gov. Eli Remolona told a press conference, adding that it was possible rates could be cut in August, ahead of major central banks, including the U.S. Federal reserve.

The last time the BSP cut interest rates was Nov. 19, 2020.

On Thursday, the central bank lowered its risk-adjusted inflation forecast for this year to 3.8% from 4.0% previously, but slightly raised its projection for next to 3.7% from 3.5%, saying risks to the outlook continued to lean to the upside.

Both forecasts were within the central bank's 2.0%-4.0% target range and signaled a better inflation picture after consumer prices soared to 6.0% in 2023.

Annual inflation quickened for a third straight month in April to 3.8%, bringing the average to 3.4% in the first four months, which was within the central bank's comfort range.

Central Bank Deputy Gov. Francisco Dakila said improving inflation should "be supportive of consumption numbers going forward."

Thursday's decision came after a slew of data showing inflation has suppressed consumer spending, restraining the first-quarter economic growth at 5.7%. The growth was below forecast but stronger than the previous quarter's 5.5% expansion.

"Based on the latest GDP data, the expected path for domestic output growth over the medium