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UPDATE 2-Chile's economy grows for first time since start of pandemic, central bank says

(Updates with minister, analyst comments)

SANTIAGO, Jan 4 (Reuters) - Chile’s economic activity grew in November for the first time since the start of the coronavirus pandemic in the South American nation, the central bank said on Monday.

The bank’s IMACEC economic activity index rose 0.3% in November versus a year earlier, it said in a statement. The index encompasses about 90% of the economy tallied in gross domestic product figures.

Chilean Finance Minister Ignacio Briones called the return to growth the first “good news” of 2021, but analysts warned against putting to much faith in the numbers.

“The increase is largely explained by a low base of comparison,” said Sebastián Díaz, a macroeconomic analyst at Pacífico Research, noting that mass protests in Santiago and elsewhere in Chile in November, 2019, had led to an economic contraction.

The protests were immediately followed by the onset of the coronavirus outbreak in March, a one-two punch that has slashed expectations for growth in what was once the region’s most stable nation.

The central bank nonetheless noted several bright spots in November, including a 15.3% jump in commerce as Chileans, recently freed from quarantines, flocked to stores ahead of the end-of-year holidays. But the bank said the production of goods and services continued to lag compared with the same month in 2019.

Mining, a key industry in Chile, the world’s top producer of copper, fell 1.1% in November, holding back more vigorous growth, the central bank said.

Copper shipments account for around half of the country’s export revenue. (Reporting by Dave Sherwood; Editing by Kevin Liffey, Toby Chopra and Paul Simao)

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