ANKARA: Turkey’s central bank is seen keeping its policy rate unchanged at 24 per cent next week, a Reuters poll showed on Friday, with economists expecting it to start easing in June and to cut by a total 500 basis points by year-end.

The central bank hiked its policy rate by 11.25 percentage points in 2018 to counter rising inflation, which remained above 20 per cent in January. It will announce the rate decision on March 6 at 2pm (1100 GMT).

Amid investor concerns that the central bank would lower rates earlier than expected, it said last month that it would maintain a tight stance until it sees a “convincing improvement” in inflation.

All 17 economists in the Reuters poll predicted that the central bank would leave its repo rate unchanged at its meeting next Wednesday.

“Our prediction, base-case scenario is that the fall in inflation will begin in the second half of the year. In this regard, we think the central bank will start cutting rates in June or July,” said Muammer Komurcuoglu, economist at Is Invest.

He added that the first cut may come in April if data regarding economic activity and inflation is lower than expected. Growth also slowed to 1.6 per cent in the third quarter of last year.

The central bank has kept its one-week repo rate unchanged since September and 11 out 15 economists in the poll said they expect the central bank to hold off lowering rates until its meeting in June.

Two said they expected the first rate cut in April and two others said they expected it in July.

The lira weakened nearly 30 per cent against the dollar last year, partly on investor concerns about political pressure on the central bank to lower borrowing costs to boost flagging economic activity.

President Tayyip Erdogan, a self-described “enemy” of interest rates, has in the past regularly criticised the central bank, raising concerns about its independence. But he has remained quiet on the issue in recent months.

The median estimate of 15 economists for the policy rate at year-end stood at 19 per cent. Estimates ranged between 22 per cent and 15 per cent.