Early November inflation spikes as Mexico central bank chief packs bags

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Mexico’s unexpected jump in inflation at the start of the month is casting a shadow over the central bank chief’s final days in office, with the bank raising more price concerns over fears the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) could crumble.

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Persisting uncertainty over NAFTA prompted the majority of Mexico’s central bank board to comment that risks to Mexico’s growth and inflation have grown worse, according to minutes of their Nov. 9 meeting released on Thursday.

A fifth round of talks to renegotiate the 23-year-old treaty wrapped up in Mexico City on Tuesday with little progress, sparking fears that it could collapse and cause the already volatile peso to plummet, driving inflation still higher.

Potential changes in U.S. monetary policy could also bring headwinds for Mexico, the majority of board members said in the minutes.

Adding to the atmosphere of uncertainty is central bank governor Agustin Carstens’ departure at the end of November, without an official successor yet named to take his position.

If no successor is named, Roberto Del Cueto, the bank’s longest serving board member, would automatically step into the role.

Prices for electricity, gas and agricultural products rose in the first half of November, fueling inflation faster than expected, the national statistics agency said on Thursday.

Inflation was 6.59 percent in the first two weeks of this month on an annualized basis, its highest level in three months.

A Reuters poll showed analysts had expected an annualized rate of 6.40 percent, which would have been a slower growth rate compared with 6.44 percent in the second half of October.

On a monthly basis, consumer prices MXCPHI=ECI rose by 0.92 percent, the data showed.

Energy prices rose 16.94 percent on an annualized basis, mostly due to the ending of a temporary summer subsidy for 10 cities in the country.

The closely watched core price index MXCPIH=ECI, which strips out some volatile food and energy prices, climbed 0.28 percent in early November.

Analysts at Goldman Sachs and Capital Economics said the unexpected inflation bump could prompt the central bank to adopt a hawkish policy bias over the coming months.

“Today’s data have increased the chances of an interest rate hike in the next couple of meetings,” said a report published on Thursday by Capital Economics economist Edward Glossop. “We think today’s data will have spooked the more hawkish members of the board.”

Reporting by Mexico City Newsroom; Writing by Daina Beth Solomon; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Rosalba O’Brien