Bank of Korea keeps rates on hold as expected, cut seen later

SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korea's central bank kept interest rates untouched on Thursday, as forecast, as the bank widely expected to pause before easing again in a follow-up to its March rate cut.

The Bank of Korea's monetary policy committee held its base rate steady at 1.75 per cent, a media official said without elaborating. Governor Lee Ju-yeol is due to hold a news conference from 11:20 a.m. (0220 GMT).

Thirty-two out of 34 analysts polled by Reuters ahead of the decision forecast the Bank of Korea would hold interest rates on Thursday: The bank is known to make successive moves only in times of economic crisis.

A majority of the analysts polled expected another rate cut beyond April, before year-end, the Reuters survey found.

"The Bank of Korea has no choice but to move in course with the U.S. Federal reserve, so the timing of the next rate hike by the Fed will affect the BOK's next rate cut for sure," said Kim Sang-hoon, a fixed-income analyst at KB Investment & Securities, who sees another rate cut in May or June. "(But) the biggest factor in the next rate decision will be local economic data."

Markets were largely unmoved from previous levels after the Bank of Korea decided to keep interest rates steady.

The Bank of Korea will also release its revised economic forecasts for this year and 2016 on Thursday, which are largely expected to be downgraded and lend support to rate cut views.

The central bank currently views Asia's fourth-largest economy grow 3.4 per cent this year, and 3.7 per cent in 2016.

Although the government and finance minister have been talking up the economy to boost sentiment, remarking that the economy is showing signs of improvement, indicators have shown South Korea is still struggling to make a sharp comeback.

Data out on Wednesday showed retail sales are still sluggish, with sales at department and discount stores both falling in March on a yearly basis.

Exports, which South Korea heavily depends on for growth, has been sputtering, with shipments falling the most in two years in March in the face of weak global demand and heightened competition for key export goods.