(Adds central bank leaving interest rates unchanged)
By Luc Cohen
BUENOS AIRES, Oct 4 (Reuters) - Argentina’s central bank kept its reference rate unchanged at 26.75 percent for the second straight week on Tuesday, after last week ending an eight-week cutting cycle as policymakers try to damp inflation.
Annual inflation will be 39.6 percent in 2016, a poll of 59 economists the central bank published earlier Tuesday showed, down slightly from their forecast for 41 percent inflation in last month’s poll, but above a government official’s expectation for 35 percent to 36 percent inflation.
Deputy cabinet chief Mario Quintana gave that view in a radio interview Tuesday, saying expectations for inflation of about 40 percent in 2016 were too high and that inflation would end the year “well below that.”
One month after taking office in December, center-right President Mauricio Macri’s administration said it hoped to end 2016 with inflation between 20 percent and 25 percent, but inflation has remained stubbornly high after the government lifted capital controls and ended some subsidies.
Finance Minister Alfonso Prat-Gay said in June the annualized rate of inflation through May was likely 40 percent to 42 percent, although he said it would start falling in June.
Macri ordered the statistics agency closed to revamp data collection methods that were widely discredited under former President Cristina Fernandez.
In May, the statistics agency resumed publishing inflation data for greater Buenos Aires, used as a proxy for national inflation. It has not released its calculations from January through April nor published annualized inflation data.
The central bank, under a new chief appointed by Macri, has adapted a formal inflation targeting scheme and expects inflation of between 12 percent and 17 percent in 2017 and 8 percent to 12 percent in 2018.
Economists polled saw inflation falling to 20 percent in 2017, slightly above the 19.8 percent expected last month. Latin America’s third-largest economy will likely contract 1.7 percent in 2016, according to the median estimate of the economists surveyed, more than the 1.5 percent contraction expected last month.
Those surveyed expected growth of 3.2 percent in 2017, unchanged from the prior month’s forecast. The estimates are slightly more modest than those of the government, which sees inflation at 17 percent next year and growth at 3.5 percent.
Earlier Tuesday, the International Monetary Fund said 2017 inflation in Argentina would total 23.2 percent. The IMF visited Argentina for the first time in 10 years last week and praised Macri’s program of market-friendly reforms. (Reporting by Maximiliano Rizzi and Luc Cohen; Editing by David Gregorio and James Dalgleish)