(Recasts, adds comments from President Bachelet, economist)
By Anthony Esposito
SANTIAGO, April 29 (Reuters) - Economic data published on Friday painted a mixed picture for Chile’s economy, the world’s No. 1 copper producer, as factory output and copper production jumped while retail sales remained soft and the national jobless rate rose.
“This is data that reflects the complexities faced by the economy and we have to address this,” said President Michelle Bachelet. “The government has taken measures to promote investments, elevate our productivity ... We are all called to help out with this task,” Bachelet added.
Manufacturing production rose 2.7 percent in March from a year earlier, its fastest pace in 16 months, on the back of the production of chemical, non-metallic and common metallic products, the government’s INE statistics agency said on Friday.
The increase was higher than a Reuters poll forecast for a 1.1 percent increase.
The key mining sector produced 488,759 tonnes of copper in March, a 3 percent increase from the year before, due to a low base of comparison in March 2015.
“March activity data for Chile were a mixed bag but taken together with last month’s strong figures, they suggest that GDP growth picked up to over 2.0 pct y/y in Q1,” said Adam Collins, an economist at Capital Economics.
“Nonetheless, we don’t expect the economy to accelerate much further this year.”
Economic growth in 2015 of 2.1 percent was slightly higher than the five-year low of 1.9 percent seen in 2014 but continued weakness in mining investment due to cooling demand in China and falling copper prices has held back a rebound.
Up until now one of the bright spots of Chile’s economy has been a low jobless rate but data may be pointing to a deterioration of the labor market.
The jobless rate for the January-to-March period rose to 6.3 percent, above forecasts and the first time it has reached that level since October 2015.
Earlier this week, Rodrigo Vergara, the central bank president, said a sharp jump in the jobless rate in Chile’s capital city Santiago may be a sign the national labor market is weakening at a faster clip than previously anticipated.
Retail sales grew 1.4 percent in March from a year ago, the slowest pace since March 2015 and substantially lower than the 7.3 percent expansion posted in February. (Reporting and writing by Anthony Esposito; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Bill Trott)