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SANTIAGO, April 29 (Reuters) - Manufacturing production in Chile fell in March, well below market forecasts, raising questions over how sustained an nascent economic recovery has been in the top copper exporter.
Factory output fell 2.8 percent in March from a year earlier, government data showed on Wednesday, compared with a Reuters poll forecast for a 0.7 percent rise.
Copper production was hit by floods in the north of the country, which led some projects to be suspended for days or even weeks.
But a wider spread of industries covered by the manufacturing reading also reported declines, according to the government data, including metals, hit by lower external demand, and salmon, affected by seasonal factors.
The decrease came despite an extra working day in March versus a year ago.
Retail sales were also weak, up 0.4 percent year on year. Formerly a key driver of the economy, growth in retail sales dropped sharply last year as wary consumers reined in spending.
Chile's economy grew at a five-year low of 1.9 percent in 2014, hurt, like other Latin American countries, by the global commodities slowdown.
The Chilean central bank has said it expects a gradual recovery in 2015, forecasting growth of between 2.5 percent and 3.5 percent.
Central bank governor Rodrigo Vergara cautioned last week that growth will not necessarily increase steadily, pointing to the impact of the floods in March.
Some analysts mirror that view.
"In total, these numbers confirm our view of slow dynamism in activity that will last for the first quarter, beyond the negative impact on economic activity caused by the (floods) catastrophe in the north," said economist Felipe Ruiz from BCI Estudios. (Reporting by Rosalba O'Brien; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)