(Recasts, adds detail, context, comments)
SANTIAGO, April 5 Chile's economic activity in
February slid 1.3 percent from a year ago, the central bank said
Wednesday, its worst performance since the 2009 financial
crisis, largely due to a strike at a major copper mine.
The IMACEC economic activity index - equivalent
to some 90 percent of the economy - came in broadly in line with
a Reuters forecast for a slide of 1.2 percent.
The reading was dragged down by an around 17-percent fall in
mining activity. Escondida, the BHP Billiton
operated copper mine in northern Chile that is by far the
world's biggest, was halted the entire month due to a strike.
Workers returned to their posts from March 25, but the
company has warned that it will take some time for operations to
get back to full capacity.
Chile's finance minister Rodrigo Valdes said Wednesday that,
while he did not expect "amazing" growth in March from the
likely continued impact of the strike, the effect was transitory
and a gradual recovery should happen over coming months.
February's reading was also affected by calendar factors and
devastating wildfires that hurt the country's important forestry
Although one-off events, they have hit the world's top
copper exporter at a time when economic growth and investment
were already struggling.
The central bank has cut the benchmark interest rate
twice this year as it seeks to stimulate the
economy, and has indicated more easing may be on the cards.
"With this reading and with what is expected in March, it's
almost a certainty that the central bank should deliver more
monetary stimulus in the second quarter," said Scotiabank
economist Benjamin Sierra.
In comparison with January, economic activity decreased a
seasonally adjusted 0.7 pct.
(Reporting by Rosalba O'Brien and Antonio de la Jara Editing by
W Simon and Nick Zieminski)