(Recasts, adds jobless, retail sales, comment, background)
By Rosalba O‘Brien
SANTIAGO, Feb 27 (Reuters) - A mixed bag of Chilean data on Friday suggested that signs of a turnaround in the economy last month may have been a Christmas-induced blip, with unemployment rising, and factory output and retail sales weak in January.
Chilean manufacturing production rose 1.0 percent in January from a year ago, on increases in processed fruit and medicine output, government data showed.
The increase was broadly in line with estimates but less than the forecast-beating 3.1 percent rise in December, which alongside positive growth figures raised hopes that a slowdown that beset copper-dependent Chile last year may be ending.
Retail sales continued their recent weak trajectory in January, up 1.8 percent from a year ago, with new car sales falling 24 percent.
Unemployment rose to 6.2 percent from November to January, from 6.0 percent in the prior period, as joblessness in the construction industry rose further. An increase in maids being laid off for the first time in a year suggested that the Chilean upper classes may also be feeling the chill.
Putting that all together led to the conclusion that December’s positive data was likely a temporary phenomenon, said Felipe Ruiz, BCI Estudios economist.
“The figures have shades of disappointment and back our theory of a gradual recovery over the year, with greater force toward the second half,” he said.
Minutes from the central bank’s last monetary policy meeting on Feb. 12 backed that up, with some board members citing signs that the recent outperformance might not last.
The bank cut interest rates 200 basis points between October 2013 and October 2014 to stimulate the economy but has since kept them on hold until above-target inflation cools.
The peso opened down against the dollar, with traders pointing to external scenarios such as a drop in the price of copper as well as the downbeat data.
Editing by W Simon and Steve Orlofsky