By Sandor Peto
BUDAPEST, Aug 9 (Reuters) - Expected interest rate increases by the Czech central bank (CNB) should strengthen the crown more than 2 percent against the euro in the next 12 months, according to an Aug. 6-8 Reuters poll.
The survey of 31 analysts predicted only minor changes for other Central European currencies, except for the leu, which is expected to weaken.
It coincided with a pick-up in inflation in Central Europe, which reduced real interest rates.
As the region's most hawkish central bank, the CNB delivered its fourth and fifth rate increases since August 2017 at its last two meetings. It is trying to cut inflation down from 2.3 percent in July to its 2 percent target, the lowest in the region.
The crown, which traded near its strongest levels against the euro since the middle of May on Wednesday, will give up some of its recent gains in the next few weeks the poll said.
But then it should strengthen almost 1 percent from Wednesday's level to 25.4 in the next six months and 2.4 percent to 25 in a year. The 12-month forecast is somewhat weaker than the 24.85 predicted in July's survey.
The CNB could raise its 1.25 percent base rate further this year. Its hope that a stronger crown will do the rest of the inflation-fighting job in 2019 may not be realistic, Commerzbank said in an Aug. 8 note.
"We take a more critical stance and add another interest rate hike of 25 basis points to 1.75 percent in 2019. Therefore, much depends on how the koruna develops," the note said.
Romania's central bank has also raised rates this year, in three steps, to fight inflation, which rising wages pushed to a 5 1/2-year high of 5.4 percent in June.
But on Monday the bank disappointed many investors by not raising rates further. It said inflation could fall fast later this year, to the top level in its 1.5 to 3.5 percent target range.
Its shift to a less hawkish rhetoric knocked the leu to two-week lows past 4.65 versus the euro from Friday's seven-month high of 4.612.
A separate poll of analysts still predicted a 25-basis-point increase to its 2.5 percent benchmark rate by December.
But according to the exchange rate poll, the leu will weaken by just under 1 percent versus the euro in the next three months to 4.675, and by 1.5 percent in the coming year to 4.71.
The Polish and Hungarian central banks have retained their loose policy stances, even though inflation worries pushed the forint to record lows past 330 versus the euro in early July.
But the currency returned to stronger levels around 320 by August and the median forecasts in the survey see it staying close to that level throughout the next 12 months.
July figures published on Wednesday showed a pick-up in annual inflation to 3.4 percent, the highest since early 2013, but core inflation remained flat at 2.4 percent, below the mid-point in the central bank's 2 to 4 percent target range.
Poland's inflation causes the least worry in the region. It picked up to 2 percent in July, well within the 1.5 to 3.5 percent target of the Polish central bank, allowing it to retain its loose policy.
The poll predicts the zloty will weaken to 4.285 versus the euro by the end of this month, then strengthen to 4.25 over the coming year.