* December manufactured exports rise 1.25 percent vs Nov
* 2012 sees first trade surplus in 15 years
* Imports ease points to weaker domestic demand
By Alexandra Alper
MEXICO CITY, Jan 25 Mexican manufactured exports
rose to an all time high in December on strong U.S demand, while
imports dipped, helping Latin America's no.2 economy notch its
first annual trade surplus in 15 years.
Manufactured exports picked up 1.25 percent last month from
November to a record $26.1 billion, the national statistics
agency said on Friday.
Lower imports were a sign of flagging domestic demand, with
non-oil imports down 1.29 percent in the month.
"It's a mixed signal," said Marco Oviedo, an economist at
Barclays Capital in Mexico City. Despite the dip in imports,
export strength "shows that perhaps the slowdown that came from
outside, principally from the U.S., ended, at least, in
Demand for Mexican-made cars and TVs in the United States
has helped bolster Latin America's second-biggest economy amid a
wider global slowdown, allowing the country to post an annual
trade surplus of $163 million last year, its first since 1997.
"These figures attest to gains in external competitiveness
achieved by Mexico in recent years," Goldman Sachs economist
Alberto Ramos said in a client note.
However, the central bank said last week it was concerned
about slowing exports and local demand.
Mexico's economic growth is seen slowing from an estimated
3.9 percent rate in 2012 to a 3.5 percent rate this year, a
Reuters poll showed this week.
The December figures are "a surprise for the wrong reasons,"
said Pedro Tuesta, an economist at 4cast in Washington,
referring to the weaker than expected import data. "If it
becomes a trend, it's telling you that economic activity may
start to soften."
The import of non-oil goods used by factories to make other
products fell only 0.08 percent, month-on-month, but imports of
capital goods waned 5.38 percent.
Data released on Thursday showed annual inflation eased to
the lowest level in more than a year in early January, nearing
the central bank's target and bolstering bets that the central
bank will focus more closely on risks to growth.
Mexican auto exports and production hit an all-time in 2012,
and the Mexican Auto Industry Association (AMIA) has predicted
even stronger growth in both areas for 2013.
December exports of autos declined 1.43 percent while
non-auto manufactured goods rose 2.37 percent month-on-month.
Roughly 80 percent of Mexico's exports go to the United States.
Volkswagen on Friday announced it would begin assembling its
"Golf" model in Mexico next year, in a further sign of growing
automotive muscle in Latin America's no. 2 economy.
Mexico posted a $552 million trade surplus in
December, when adjusted for seasonal swings, and a non-
seasonally adjusted trade surplus of $962 million.