(Updates with analyst comment, peso depreciation context)
MEXICO CITY, Dec 19 (Reuters) - Mexican central bankers worry that a sustained weakening of the peso could stoke inflation and say risks to growth and prices have deteriorated on falling oil prices, slack consumer demand and weak economic activity, minutes showed on Friday.
Central bank board members voted 5-0 at their Dec. 5 meeting to hold their benchmark rate at a record low of 3.0 percent. The majority of board members viewed a recent slide in the country’s peso as an adjustment in the real exchange rate tied to slumping crude oil prices.
However, since the rate announcement, the peso is down more than two percent to its weakest levels in nearly six years at 14.657 per dollar. The central bank intervened on Dec. 11, selling $200 million to prop up the currency.
“A sustained depreciation of the peso represents a risk for inflation,” the minutes said, adding, however, that at the time, on Dec. 5, most board members believed the risk was mitigated in part by slack in the economy.
Analysts see the peso currency significantly weaker than previously forecast in 2015 and raised slightly their expectations for inflation, a Mexican central bank survey of analysts showed separately on Friday.
Most members of the central bank’s board expect inflation to ease to around 3 percent by the middle of 2015, the minutes showed. Inflation in the 12 months through November slowed to 4.17 percent, data showed last week, holding above the bank’s tolerance ceiling.
“Overall, we found the minutes neutral but increasingly vigilant (slightly hawkish) with regards to the outlook for inflation and the MXN going forward,” Alberto Ramos, an economist for Goldman Sachs, wrote in a note to clients. He expects the central bank to remain on hold in the near term.
Ramos looks for the next Mexican rate move to be a hike, after the U.S. Federal Reserve tightens borrowing costs.
“However, if the currency were to continue to depreciate and negatively impact expectations and the outlook for inflation, we believe the central bank could anticipate the projected beginning of the rate normalization cycle and eventually act before the Fed,” he said.
Mexico’s central bank also flagged risks from “recent social events”, following angry protests over government handling of a probe into the apparent massacre of 43 trainee teachers in the southwest, which is plagued by drug gang violence. (Reporting by Simon Gardner, Luis Rojas and Dave Graham; Editing by W Simon and J Benkoe)