Chile Economy Dodges Contraction in 2023 as Slow Recovery Takes Hold

(Bloomberg) -- Chile’s economy unexpectedly posted a full-year gain for 2023 as upward revisions offset a weak fourth quarter, when a drop in mining compounded the drag from high interest rates and uneven demand.

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Gross domestic product rose 0.1% in the October-December period compared with the prior three months, less than the 0.2% median estimate from analysts in a Bloomberg survey, according to the central bank. Revisions to third-quarter growth however meant the economy expanded 0.2% last year, outperforming the median forecast of economists polled by Bloomberg for a drop of 0.1%.

The report represents mixed news for President Gabriel Boric who is trying to turn the page on last year’s weak growth caused by factors including the highest interest rate in over two decades and subdued confidence. Signs including rising energy consumption and a recent increase in retail sales indicate the economy may be turning the corner. Analysts surveyed by Bloomberg see Chile expanding faster than the Latin American average in 2024.

What Bloomberg Economics Says

“Chile’s fourth-quarter GDP data showed weak growth and falling domestic demand — below central bank forecasts and consistent with a widening negative output gap. The print supports the central bank’s quick rate cuts and dovish tone late last year and early in 2024. Leading indicators this year point to a strong rebound in 1Q, with activity rising above central bank projections.”

— Felipe Hernandez, Latin America economist

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Mining output dropped 2.9% in the fourth quarter compared with the prior three-month period, the central bank reported. The rest of the economy rose 0.6%.

Growth prospects are getting a boost from the central bank’s interest rate reductions, which have shaved 400 points from borrowing costs since late July. Annual inflation is seen slowing toward the 3% target in coming months.

Read more: Chile Rate Cut Bets Shift Again With Smaller Reduction Now Seen

Chile’s government is more optimistic than many private-sector economists in expecting GDP to expand 2.5% in 2024. A recovery in growth will help improve the business environment as the government lures investments in sectors such as lithium, Economy Minister Nicolas Grau said in a March 14 interview.

Still, the administration has made little headway on key reforms, prolonging doubts for investors over possible tax and pension changes.

For millions of common citizens, the real economy remains stuck. There are so many apartments sitting empty in Chile that the government is considering stepping in to buy some, and unemployment is running at 8.4%, well above the pre-pandemic levels near 7%.

Read more: Homes That Buyers Won’t Touch Show Deepening Crisis in Chile

--With assistance from Giovanna Serafim.

(Updates with economist quotes in fourth paragraph)

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