Hungarian cbank may cut rates to 2.5 pct -governor Matolcsy

Reuters

* Bottom of interest rates could be 2.5-3.0 pct-central bank chief

* Analyst consensus forecast for bottom was 2.8 pct

* Cbank chief urges legislation to resolve fx loan problem

* Planned fx loan scheme key risk to forint, rates-analysts

By Sandor Peto

BUDAPEST, Dec 21 (Reuters) - Hungary's central bank may cut its 3 percent main interest rate further to 2.5 percent in the next months but deeper cuts would be risky, the bank's governor Gyorgy Matolcsy said on Saturday.

Analysts' median forecast for the likely lowest point of rates was 2.8 percent in a Reuters poll conducted before the bank's latest 20-basis-point rate cut on Tuesday.

"There is a bottom in Hungary for rate cuts - the Monetary Council will decide in the next months where it will stop within the room of manoeuvre it still has, maybe somewhere between 2.5 and 3 percent," Matolcsy told private television channel Hirtv.

Matolcsy, an ally of Prime Minister Viktor Orban who faces elections in April or May, said interest rates could not go much lower, such as to the euro zone's near-zero levels, because government debt was still high.

Cuts to 2.5 percent would bring Hungary's rates on a level with the main central bank rate in Poland, Central Europe's biggest and most robust economy, which has much lower debt levels than junk-rated Hungary.

Investors have been concerned that Hungary's central bank may cut rates too deep at a time when the U.S. Federal Reserve cuts back the stimulus that fuelled capital flows into emerging economies and helped rates fall globally.

Matolcsy was economy minister before he was appointed central bank chief in March. The Hungarian central bank has cut rates steadily since August 2012, by a total of 4 percentage points, to help the government's pro-growth policies.

The economic recovery is still slow and next year the economy is expected to grow at a rate of around 2 percent.

With months to go before the elections, Orban's ruling party has a firm lead in opinion polls. But chances are slim that it will be able to repeat the landslide victory of 2010, when it won two-thirds parliamentary majority.

A key risk to the forint currency and further rate cuts is a planned government scheme to help foreign currency borrowers, at the expense of heavily taxed banks, some of which have posted big losses in the past years.

Hundreds of thousands of households in Hungary took up Swiss franc and euro loans before 2008 but the decline in the forint since then has made these loans very costly.

Matolcsy urged the government to pass legislation to help borrowers and resolve the problem.

"The stance of the National Bank of Hungary is clear: banks had abused their dominant position," he said.

Matolcsy said it was unacceptable that banks used their dominant position to unilaterally modify the contracts, increasing the costs of borrowers.

"We need a legal solution, a law which settles the situation both retroactively and in a forward-looking way," he said, without elaborating.

Analysts have said retroactive cuts in interest rates applied in the foreign currency loan contracts could hurt banks badly.

Matolcsy has said four out of the eight biggest banks could quit Hungary in the next 6-18 months, adding that these banks were deleveraging their lending anyway, and local banks or Asian investors could take their place.

Foreign banks which have units in Hungary include Austria's Raiffeisen and Erste, Italian lender Intesa Sanpaolo and Unicredit, Belgium's KBC , German bank Bayern LB, Citi and the banking arm of General Electric.

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