(Adds historical comparisons, import data, unemployment)
MEXICO CITY, April 27 (Reuters) - Mexican factory-made exports rose in March in a sign of strengthening external demand, while non-oil consumer imports fell, pointing to still-sluggish domestic demand in Latin America’s No. 2 economy.
Manufactured exports rose 1 percent in March compared with February in seasonally adjusted terms, the national statistics institute said on Monday.
Auto exports surged 5.66 percent, marking their fastest pace of expansion since October. However, shipments of other factory-made goods fell 1.24 percent.
Mexico’s economy is fueled largely by manufactured exports, such as televisions and cars, versus reliance on raw material exports elsewhere in the region. Nearly 80 percent of exports head to the United States.
The data showed non-oil consumer imports in March fell 1.64 percent from February, its biggest dip since September, signaling weakening consumer demand, hammered by a sharp slump in the peso.
Imports of non-oil intermediate goods rose 1.1 percent, while non-oil capital goods imports climbed 5.5 percent, partially offsetting contractions in both indicators in February.
Mexico’s economy picked up a bit at the end of 2014, when it expanded 2.1 percent. Economists polled by the central bank expect the economy to grow just under 3 percent this year.
Mexico posted a $577 million trade deficit in March when adjusted for seasonal swings. In non-seasonally adjusted terms, Mexico posted a trade surplus of $480 million .
A separate report on Monday showed that the unemployment rate fell to 4.24 percent in March, the lowest in over two years, from 4.4 percent the prior month. In non-seasonally adjusted terms, the rate fell to 3.86 percent, from 4.33 percent in February, marking its lowest level since December. (Reporting By Alexandra Alper; Editing by Meredith Mazzilli and W Simon)