July 13, 2017 / 11:34 PM / a month ago

UPDATE 1-Chile's central bank holds rate steady, but surprises with tone

(Adds analysts quotes, context)

SANTIAGO, July 13 (Reuters) - Chile's central bank kept the benchmark interest rate unchanged at 2.5 percent at its monthly meeting on Thursday, maintaining a neutral bias, even as many analysts expected the bank to hint at more easing.

The bank had said earlier this year that future rate cuts were unlikely before year-end, but unusually strong deflation in June caused some analysts and traders to speculate it would cut the rate by 25 basis points in the coming months.

In its decision, the bank said the June inflation numbers were a short-term issue, though some analysts maintained easing remains likely.

"Without modifying its bias, the announcement delivered a general tone of trying to convince that everything is in line with previous forecasts, and that fruits and vegetables are principally responsible for the recent negative (inflation) numbers, an outlook that we don't share," BBVA said in a note to clients.

At least one of the bank's board members likely voted to cut the rate, BBVA added.

In a separate note, Banco Santander Chile said that any future inflation surprises to the downside would likely spur easing.

"We believe that if in the coming months there are fewer pressures on prices, and activity shows a slow recuperation, the Central Bank will cut the interest rate at least 25 basis points." (Reporting by Gram Slattery, editing by G Crosse and Diane Craft)

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