By Jason Hovet and Krisztina Than
Dec 8 (Reuters) - Hungarian headline inflation eased to 7.9% year-on-year in November, its lowest rate since January 2022 as price growth continues to slow and leave the central bank a path to lower interest rates.
Headline inflation came in lower than analysts' forecast for 8.1% in a Reuters poll. Core inflation eased to 9.1%, and was in line with expectations.
The Hungarian central bank has led peers in central Europe in easing monetary policy, cutting rates since May. Its benchmark base rate stands at 11.5%, still the highest in the European Union.
"The most important thing is that we can see a widespread disinflation process, the two main sources of which are food and fuel prices," said Peter Virovacz, an analyst at ING Bank in Budapest.
"Incoming data suggest that by the year-end headline CPI could slow to an annual 6% year-on-year, with average inflation for 2023 coming in at 17.7%."
Virovacz said the data, however, were unlikely to prompt the central bank to change the pace of its cautious rate cuts. He said the National Bank of Hungary can be expected to cut its base rate by 75 basis points at its Dec. 19 meeting again.
The central bank has come under fire from Prime Minister Viktor Orban's government, which has sought lower interest rates to boost an economy just getting out of recession.
High inflation has hammered central Europe since last year. But price growth is back at single-digit rates and policymakers are managing monetary policy easing cycles that have either already started in Hungary or Poland's case, or may be about to begin.
Rates in Hungary have come down 650 basis points since May.
Inflation topped out at a rate of 25.7% year-on-year in January, and fell into single digits in October for the first time since April 2022, with a 9.9% reading that undershot market forecasts.
(Reporting by Krisztina Than in Budapest and Jason Hovet in Prague)
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