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POLL-Colombia's 2019 GDP seen accelerating, though slower than gov't target

Nelson Bocanegra

BOGOTA, Feb 22 (Reuters) - Colombia's economy will grow faster this year than in 2018, though less than the government expects because of a slow recovery in the manufacturing sector and imbalances in external accounts, a Reuters poll showed on Friday.

The survey of 19 analysts showed economic expansion predictions remained at 3.2 percent for this year, below the government's 3.6 percent goal, and at 3.5 percent for next year.

The survey showed a slight uptick in GDP growth expectations for 2018 to 2.67 percent from 2.60 percent in last month's survey; the government's goal was 2.60 percent. The government will reveal economic growth data for last year on Feb. 28.

Analysts expect growth in the fourth quarter of 2018 to have been 3 percent compared with a year earlier.

"Private consumption likely will be the main driver of the economic cycle, once again, consistent with better domestic fundamentals, including low inflation, low interest rates and a resilient credit market," said Andres Abadia, an economist at Phanteon Macroeconomics in London.

"More immediately, though, the relatively weak industrial data and recent downside pressures in the labor market indicate that the output gap is far from closing," he said.

The central bank recently raised its estimate for the current account deficit to 3.9 percent of GDP from a previous estimate of 3.4 percent. The current account deficit is considered one of the main risks of the Colombian economy.

Analysts' inflation expectations for this year fell to 3.40 percent from 3.46 percent in last month's survey.

In February consumer prices are expected to rise 0.73 percent, which would take accumulated 12-month inflation to 3.17 percent.

Given the slow improvement in the economy for this year and next, analysts expect the benchmark interest rate to be raised to 4.75 percent by the end of 2019, from 4.25 percent currently. Their expectations for 2020 slipped to 5 percent from 5.25 percent in last month's poll.

"A slow recovery, an uncertain external scenario and controlled inflation suggest that there's no need for rate increases in the short term," said David Cubides, an analyst at Itau in Colombia. (Reporting by Nelson Bocanegra Writing by Helen Murphy Editing by Julia Symmes Cobb and Phil Berlowitz)