* Annual inflation rate 3.76 percent -statistics agency
* Drop in mobile phone charges helps contain prices
* Jobless rate rises to highest since March
MEXICO CITY, Dec 21 Mexican inflation eased more
than expected in early December as consumer prices cool from a
recent spike, and a drop below the central bank's upper limit
backs expectations that interest rates will remain steady next
Mexico's annual inflation rate eased to 3.76 percent in the
12 months through the first half of December, the national
statistics agency said on Friday, down from 4.18 percent in
November. A Reuters poll saw a 3.96 percent rate.
A surge in food costs drove Mexican inflation to a 2-1/2
year high in September, but costs have moderated since then. The
inflation rate in early December fell below the central bank's 4
percent limit for the first time since May.
Policymakers are watching slowing growth in Latin America's
No. 2 economy and another report on Friday showed Mexico's
unemployment rate rose more than expected in November.
Marco Oviedo, an analyst at Barclays Capital, said the data
for early December suggested that the annual inflation rate
would likely cool to 3.6 percent by the end of the year.
"This should leave (the central bank) very comfortable in
maintaining interest rates flat," he wrote in a note.
Analysts noted easing inflation pressures would give
policymakers room to lower borrowing costs if the economic
Banco de Mexico, which has kept its benchmark interest rate
on hold at 4.5 percent since mid-2009, has backed away from a
warning in early November that it could raise borrowing costs if
inflation failed to decline.
Yields on Mexican interest rate swaps edged down
after the data as investors added to bets that policymakers will
not raise borrowing costs until early 2014.
A drop in mobile telephone rates had the most impact in
curbing price gains in early December, the statistics agency
said in a report.
Consumer prices rose 0.27 percent in the first
half of December, below the 0.79 percent notched in the first
half of November, and compared to an expected 0.46 percent.
Core inflation, which strips out volatile goods
like energy and food, rose 0.26 percent, above the 0.18 percent
in early November and compared to an expected 0.34 percent.
Another report from the statistics agency showed Mexico's
jobless rate rose for the second month in a row in November to
its highest since March.
The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate rose
to 5.13 percent in November, the national statistics agency
said, compared to a 4.83 percent rate in the previous month. A
Reuters poll expected a 4.83 percent rate.
Unemployment has fallen from near 6 percent seen during a
deep recession in 2009 to its lowest level in nearly four years
in September. However, the renewed rise in the jobless rate
curbs pressure on inflation from the tighter labor market.
Mexico's economy is expected to grow 3.9 percent in 2012 and
slow next year to 3.5 percent.
The headline unadjusted jobless rate was 5.12
percent compared to a 5.04 percent in October and a 4.84 percent
expected in the poll.