Chile’s economy grew 0.3 per cent in January from December, slowing its pace from the immediately prior month, the central bank said on Monday, reinforcing expectations the bank will hold its benchmark interest rate this month amid a gradual slowdown. Year-on-year, the IMACEC indicator of economic activity in the world’s top copper producer Chile rose 5.5 per cent in January, outpacing expectations for a 4.3 per cent increase, led by retail, communications and transport. “Clearly today’s data increases the chances that the central bank will hold interest rates at its next meeting in March,” said Mario Arend, chief economist at investment bank Celfin Capital. Chile’s IMACEC index rose 1.3 per cent in December versus November, according to central bank data released last month. However, January’s year-on-year growth was slightly above December’s 5.3 per cent. Chile’s central bank is largely seen holding rates at 5.0 per cent next week -following a surprise cut in January and then a pause in February -as concerns about Europe’s debt crisis and the economic health of the US have eased slightly, analysts have said. The bank board said holding its key interest rate steady at 5.0 per cent last month was coherent and pointed to a gradual and paused process of rate moves, minutes of the bank’s rate-setting meeting showed. A feared economic slowdown in Chile has been softer than forecast in the export-dependent country, the central bank and Finance Minister Felipe Larrain have said recently. “The interesting part of the 0.3 per cent (expansion in January from December) is that it highlights the good cyclical position of the Chilean economy, though it points to cooling, ratifying a gradual deceleration since the end of 2011,” said BCI Estudios in a note to clients. “Together, domestic demand and inflation will likely keep the key interest rate from being cut in the short term,” BCI added. Chile’s consumer price index rose 0.1 per cent in January, coming in slightly below market expectations, while inflation in the 12 months to January rose 4.2 per cent, holding above the 4.0 per cent ceiling of the central bank’s tolerance range.