Malaysia's central bank kept its benchmark interest rate unchanged on Thursday amid signs of moderating growth and easing inflation.

All but three of the 25 economists polled by Reuters had expected Bank Negara Malaysia (BNM) to maintain its overnight policy rate (OPR) at 3.00%, with a majority forecasting that rates would remain unchanged for the rest of the year.

At its previous policy meeting in May, the central bank had surprised by hiking rates for the fifth time since last year, citing a need to manage persistent inflation amid robust domestic demand.

Headline inflation however has eased in recent months. The consumer price index in May rose 2.8%, its slowest annual pace this year.

BNM said in a statement on Thursday that its "monetary policy stance is slightly accommodative and remains supportive of the economy" at the current interest rate.

"The Monetary Policy Committee will ensure that the monetary policy stance remains conducive to sustainable economic growth amid price stability," the central bank said.

As expected, headline and core inflation are projected to trend lower in the second half of the year, it said.

BNM has forecast headline inflation to average between 2.8% to 3.8% in 2023, compared with 3.3% last year.

The Southeast Asian economy has rebounded from a pandemic-induced slump, with growth hitting a 22-year high of 8.7% in 2022, but its outlook is clouded by slowing global demand.

Malaysia's economy was expected to grow 4% to 5% this year, BNM has said.

Thursday's rate decision was the first major policy announcement by BNM under its newly appointed governor - central bank veteran Abdul Rasheed Ghaffour - who took up the post on July 1. (Reporting by A. Ananthalakshmi; Writing by Rozanna Latiff; Editing by Martin Petty and Jacqueline Wong)