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Brazil hikes interest rates fifth time, no sign of stopping

Yasuyoshi Chiba | AFP | Getty Images

Brazil raised interest rates for the fifth straight time on Wednesday and gave no indication of backing off its battle with high inflation even as Latin America's largest economy struggles to pick up speed.

The central bank raised its benchmark Selic interest rate to 9.5 percent from 9.0 percent as expected by all but two of the 65 economists polled by Reuters last week.

Several economists were surprised the central bank made no changes to the statement accompanying its decision, suggesting it could maintain the current pace of rate increases at its next meeting in November.

(Read more: Brazil hikes rates again to regain market confidence)

"The central bank isn't giving any indication that it will stop the monetary tightening," said Arnaldo Curvello, head of asset management at brokerage Ativa Corretora in Sao Paulo.

"Probably at the next meeting we will have another increase of 50 basis points, but there are doubts in the market about what comes afterwards," he said.

A technical look at Brazil

Before the meeting, most economists believed the Selic would end the year at 9.75 percent, according to a weekly central bank poll released on Monday.

But a growing number of economists have started to bet that interest rates could climb back into double digits next year to ensure inflation expectations for 2014 and 2015 fall toward 4.5 percent, the center of the official target range.

Consumer price data released earlier on Wednesday showed 12-month inflation eased in September for the third straight month to 5.86 percent. But economists in the central bank's survey see little room for inflation to slow further, projecting a year-end rate of 5.82 percent in the central bank survey.

Some analysts say the bank may need to raise rates to between 11 and 12 percent to get inflation back to 4.5 percent.

(Read more: Morning Six-pack: Brazil, Canada and the Holy See)

That would be a major disappointment for President Dilma Rousseff, who boasted last year that the days of high interest rates in Brazil were over as the Selic fell to an all-time low of 7.25 percent.

Brazil's economy was slow to react, however, to the monetary stimulus and has been stuck in a holding pattern of slow growth in the past three years. At the same time, inflation has remained stubbornly high, forcing the central bank to reverse course and start raising interest rates again. Since April, the bank has raised the Selic by 225 basis points.

Some economists took the repeat of the terse language used by the bank in its previous three decision statements as a strong indication of another aggressive rate hike that could take the Selic to 10 percent on Nov. 27.

That scenario seemed more likely after central bank director Carlos Hamilton Araujo said last week there was still "a lot of work to be done" to battle inflation.

Araujo, who is widely viewed as the most hawkish member of the eight-member monetary policy committee, made the comments after unveiling bank projections for inflation to remain above 4.5 percent until the third quarter of 2015.

(Read more: Brazil's new middle class erupts in discontent)

Still, the central bank headed by Alexandre Tombini has suggested it sees the end of its rate-hiking cycle ahead, as a slight rebound by Brazil's currency and the prospect of tighter government spending contribute to easing price pressures.

"We expected this to be the last rate hike in the cycle," said economist Tatiana Pinheiro of Santander Brasil following the decision on Wednesday. "Now, with this statement, we will likely see at least one more increase."