UPDATE 1-Chile's economic activity growth hits near four year low

miércoles 5 de marzo de 2014 09:12 GYT
 

(Adds detail, background, comment)
    SANTIAGO, March 5 (Reuters) - Chile's monthly economic
activity rose at its weakest pace in nearly four years in
January, undershooting market estimates and adding to evidence
that an ongoing slowdown in the top copper exporter could be
more severe than expected.
    The IMACEC economic activity index,
encompassing about 90 percent of the economy tallied in gross
domestic product figures, rose 1.4 percent in January from the
same month a year ago, the central bank said on Wednesday. 
    That came in below a Reuters poll forecast for a 1.9 percent
rise and is the lowest figure since March 2010, when the country
was still reeling from a devastating earthquake.
    It is also the lowest January reading since the 2009
recession.
    The weaker-than-expected data comes hot on the heels of
anemic manufacturing output, less frenetic retail sales growth
and disappointing jobless figures. 
    "Investment, particularly in machinery and equipment, is
undergoing a significant contraction, in addition to which
individual consumption is beginning to feel the slower rhythm
that the labor market is beginning to show," said Matias Madrid,
economist with Banco Penta.
    The data will increase expectations that the central bank
will continue its easing cycle when it meets to decide the
benchmark interest rate next week. 
    The market is already predicting a cut to 4.0 percent from
4.25 percent, after the bank maintained a negative bias when it
reduced rates from 4.5 percent last month. 
    In the minutes of the February decision published on
Wednesday the bank said that all board members "stressed that
recent data pointed to a deeper than expected slowdown."
 
    It said the "surprise" was that output and consumption
continued to grow in line with expectations. 
    Although the rate of growth is slowing, retail sales have
remained robust, propping up the economy in recent months. Late
Tuesday, Chilean retail giant Falabella reported profit
up 15 percent in the fourth quarter.  
    In comparison with December, January's IMACEC decreased a
seasonally adjusted 0.6 pct. The December 2013 IMACEC reading
was 2.6 percent growth, the lowest of the year.

 (Reporting by Rosalba O'Brien and Alejandro Lifschitz; Editing
by Sophie Hares and Sofina Mirza-Reid)