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UPDATE 2-Norway's central bank keeps rates on hold, signals early 2019 hike

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OSLO, Sept 21 (Reuters) - Norway's central bank kept its key policy rate unchanged at 0.50 percent on Thursday, but raised its rate path, strengthening the crown currency against the euro and the dollar.

It signaled a first rate hike more than a year away.

"The key policy rate is forecast to be 0.5 percent over the coming year, rising gradually thereafter," Norges Bank said in a statement.

All 15 economists polled by Reuters had expected rates to remain unchanged.

In June the central bank removed its easing bias on rates, noting the economy was recovering from a two-year slump as the price of crude oil, Norway's main export, gradually rose from multi-year lows.

"The forecast is little changed on the June Report, but is a little higher towards the end of the forecast period," the central bank said in a statement.

Norway's currency, the crown, strengthened against both the euro and the dollar after the bank's decision, which was unanimous.

"Stronger outlook for the Norwegian and the international economy makes Norges Bank raise its rate path! Sees first hike early 2019," DNB Chief Economist Kjersti Haugland tweeted.

"They have pushed the rate hike six months forward in time," said Kari Due-Andresen, chief economist at Handelsbanken. "Norges Bank's expectations for the first rate hike is now fully priced in the new rate path in June 2019."

On the state of the Norwegian housing market, which had been cooling after strong growth in recent years, the central bank said that the ongoing "correction" may lower the risk of an abrupt and more pronounced decline further out.

"I read this as a sign of the bank's confidence in the property market," said Harald Magnus Andreassen, chief economist at Sparebank 1 Markets.

"The bank is painting a stronger picture of the economy, even though the housing market is slowing down." (Additional reporting by Terje Solsvik, Ole Petter Skonnord, Nerijus Adomaitis, Henrik Stolen, writing by Gwladys Fouche, editing by Jeremy Gaunt)