* Minutes show members see need for vigilance on inflation
* Policymakers see risk of inflation in short term
* Majority see marginal increase in short-term growth risks
By Krista Hughes and Alexandra Alper
MEXICO CITY, Dec 14 (Reuters) - A warning by Mexico’s central bank that it might raise interest rates if inflation pressures increase again reflects only a majority view on the five-member board, the minutes of policymakers’ discussion showed on Friday.
All five members of the Banco de Mexico’s monetary policy board agreed the bank needed to remain vigilant about inflation after deciding unanimously to keep interest rates steady at 4.5 percent at their meeting two weeks ago.
But it appeared the board was not unanimous on the possible need for future increases, as the minutes referred to this section as a majority view, compared with a view held by all at the previous meeting in October.
“The majority stressed that despite the recent decline in inflation, the board must be careful to avoid risks of contamination of prices and, if the downward trend does not continue, it would be prudent to adjust the monetary stance to ensure this convergence,” the minutes said.
The division backs the view of traders and analysts that the central bank is unlikely to raise interest rates until mid-2014, given increasing concern about risks to growth.
“There’s really no reason to keep this neutral to hawkish tone; that line ‘if inflation picks up, we will hike,’ that has less punch for me,” said Benito Berber, an economist at Nomura in New York.
Inflation in Latin America’s no. 2 economy has been easing since it touched a 2-1/2 year high of 4.77 percent in September after an outbreak of avian flu and bad weather pushed up the price of eggs, chickens and crops.
The majority of members said they see inflation decreasing by the end of the year to 4 percent, the central bank’s ceiling that has been breached for six months running.
But most expressed concern that risk aversion, prompted in part by a weak global economy, could push up the peso exchange rate versus the dollar, weakening the currency and threatening the downward trend in inflation.
One member highlighted inflation risk from a possible cut-back in government gas subsidies, which analysts at Banorte estimate would cost $13 billion for 2012, according to Banorte.
The Ministry of Finance under new President Enrique Pena Nieto is projecting a $1.3 billion subsidy for 2013, which could signal a fuel price rise, Banorte said.
“We believe this is going to be something to pay close attention to, particularly in terms of its impact on CPI inflation,” Banorte said, referring to the consumer price index.
Inflation concerns were offset by a slight increase in risks to growth, the minutes said.
A majority of central bank board members said the downside risks for Mexican growth had gone up marginally in the short-term, citing weakness in manufacturing exports.
Mexico has been supported by U.S. demand for local exports, which has lowered unemployment and raised domestic demand, even as a global slowdown weighed heavily on regional rivals such as Brazil, which grew less than Mexico last year. But Mexican growth started to slow in the second half of the year, as demand for Mexican products abroad eased.
“The latest minutes confirm our view that it is less concerned about inflation and more worried about economic performance,” Barclays said in a client note.
Data out on Friday also showed that private spending rose 1.0 percent during the July-September period from the second quarter, the national statistics agency said.
Private spending was 2.2 percent higher than in the same period a year earlier, according to the data, while aggregate demand increased 0.7 percent from the second quarter . It was up 2.6 percent from the same quarter in 2011.