(Recasts lead paragraph with annualized inflation details; adds analyst's comments) MEXICO CITY, Oct 24 (Reuters) - Mexico's inflation eased slightly on an annualized basis in the first half of October, in line with expectations, data from the national statistics agency showed on Tuesday, offering fresh evidence of a gradual cooling in price pressures. Inflation was 6.30 percent in the first two weeks of this month, compared with a reading of 6.35 percent for the year through September. On a monthly basis, consumer prices rose The early October data exactly matched the consensus forecast of a Reuters poll of analysts this week. September was the first month in which the annual rate had eased in Latin America's second biggest economy since June 2016. The latest data may come as a relief to policymakers, who hiked interest rates to multi-year highs earlier this year to contain inflation. Mexico's benchmark interest rate is at its highest level since early 2009, with consumer price inflation running well above the central bank's 3 percent target. The bank expects inflation to ease in the coming months and head to its target in the second half of 2018. Goldman Sachs economist Alberto Ramos said in a note to clients that headline inflation seemed to have peaked in the second half of August, when it reached 6.74 percent. "We forecast headline inflation to end the year slightly above 6.0 percent, and to return to within the inflation target band by mid-2018 given the combination of a tight monetary and fiscal stance, the expectation of a stable exchange rate, subdued domestic demand ... and likely, some further mean-reversion of the recent food price negative shock," he said. Considering the still-high level of annual headline and core inflation and external risk factors, such as the ongoing renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement, the central bank is likely to keep its benchmark interest rate on hold in the near term, Ramos added.
The closely watched core price index , which
strips out some volatile food and energy prices, climbed by 0.21 percent in early October.
(Reporting by Anthony Esposito; Editing by Paul Simao)