By Kim Soo-yeon
SEOUL, Aug. 8 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's central bank froze the key interest rate for the third straight month on Thursday amid improving signs of the local economy and growing concerns over China's slowdown.
Bank of Korea (BOK) Gov. Kim Choong-soo and his six fellow policymakers held steady the benchmark seven-day repo rate, dubbed the base rate, at 2.5 percent, as widely expected.
In May, the BOK made the first rate cut in seven months in an effort to support the government's drive to stimulate growth. The bank slashed the rate in July and October last year.
"The BOK might have needed more time to gauge impacts of the latest rate cut as a set of data points to growing signs of the economic recovery," said Kong Dong-rak, a fixed-income analyst at Hanwha Investment & Securities. "The BOK is likely to stand pat on the key rate for the remainder of this year."
Korea's on-quarter economic growth quickened to 1.1 percent in the second quarter, the fastest gain in over two years, while its consumer inflation remained benign. The BOK last month revised up its 2013 growth forecast to 2.8 percent, and the government now expects the local economy to grow 2.7 percent this year.
The on-year growth of Korea's consumer prices picked up to 1.4 percent in July, but consumer inflation remained in the 1-percent range for the ninth straight month, running below the BOK's inflation target band of 2.5-3.5 percent.
Despite signs of the economic recovery, the Korean economy still faces risks such as China's economic slowdown and uncertainty over the Federal Reserve's monetary stimulus tapering.
Signs of China's slowdown are a cause for concern to Korean policymakers as the world's second-largest economy is Korea's biggest trading partner. Exports account for around 50 percent of Korea's economic growth.
In what may be a worrying sign, Seoul's exports to China grew 5.3 percent on-year in June, slowing from 16.5 percent in May, according to data by the BOK.
Global central banks are on the divergent path in managing their monetary policy in accordance with the strength of the economic recovery.
Emerging countries such as Indonesia are tightening their monetary policies in a bid to curb cross-border capital outflows, sparked by Fed stimulus exit speculation. The U.S. central bank is mulling the timing of dialing back its bond-buying stimulus program, but central banks in the eurozone and Japan vowed to keep their accommodative policy stance.
Most analysts said that the BOK is likely to hold the key rate steady this year as the economic recovery is reducing the need to cut the benchmark rate while subdued inflation does not warrant an imminent rate hike.
But more experts are forecasting that the BOK's next move may be a rate hike, saying that it may come late next year. The BOK forecast Asia's fourth-largest economy will grow 4 percent in 2014.