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UPDATE 1-Brazil central bank holds rates, eyes weak start to 2019

Jamie McGeever

(Adds quote from policymakers, details of polling, economic context)

BRASILIA, May 8 (Reuters) - Brazil's central bank kept its benchmark Selic interest rate on hold at a record-low 6.50 percent on Wednesday as expected, noting that inflation risks are roughly balanced although the economic slump of late 2018 looks to have carried into 2019.

The bank's nine-member monetary policy committee, known as Copom, voted unanimously to keep the Selic rate unchanged for the ninth straight meeting, as forecast by all but one of 19 economists in a Reuters poll.

"Although the risk associated with economic slack has increased at the margin, the balance of risks is symmetric," the policymakers wrote in a statement explaining their decision.

Copom is widely expected to keep the Selic rate on hold at 6.50 percent for the rest of the year, but there's a dovish shift underway. Out of 15 economists in the latest Reuters poll who gave a 12-month outlook, nine said the bias was neutral, five said to the downside, and only one said to the upside.

The economy is in far worse shape than policymakers and most economists had anticipated, and may even have contracted in the first quarter for the first time since 2016. Incoming data, such as declining services sector activity, offer little indication that the economy has picked up in the second quarter. (Reporting by Jamie McGeever Editing by Brad Haynes and Alistair Bell)