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Latin American stock markets roundup

By BRADLEY BROOKS   |   Dec. 2, 2004 at 12:39 PM
NEW YORK, Dec. 2 (UPI) -- Stocks were mostly up across Latin America this week, as strong economic indicators buoyed investors.

While those numbers look good now, the International Monetary Fund's Managing Director Rodrigo Rato said this week that growth in Latin America will slow next year.

That after an optimistic 2004 in which the region is forecast to have grown 4.5 percent.

"Certainly many countries have very substantial external financing needs and therefore remain exposed to external shocks," Rato said.

One of the biggest external shocks that Rato sees ahead for the region are higher interest rates in the United States and Europe.

When interest rates climb in industrialized nations, it tends to draw investor capital away from emerging market countries, like those in Latin America.

While the returns remain higher in emerging market nations, investors place more value on the security of industrialized nations' securities once returns in those nations rises to a reasonable level.

Rato also said that public debt still poses a problem for Latin America.

"Even with the recent fiscal consolidation, the average public debt for the region is around 55 percent of gross domestic product, far above levels at the end of the 1990s," he said.

Rato didn't provide specific projections on what Latin America's growth would be next year.

Brazil's economy grew 6.1 percent in the third quarter, as compared to the same period the previous year.

Additionally, the government said investment in the country jumped 20.1 percent in the third quarter, which could indicate that the growth will be sustainable.

The gross domestic product growth, while slightly under market forecasts, is still good news for the government, as citizens have become restless with the job promises President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva made when he came into office.

Lula and the central bank have come under attack for maintaining high interest rates in the country, which has dampened GDP and job growth. But government officials say they're sticking with their tough line, indicating that inflation remains one of their chief concerns.

For the week, Brazil's Bovespa stock index shot up 867 points to close Wednesday at 25,235 points.

Argentina's President Nestor Kirchner said this week he wants the IMF to stop issuing its tough demands on the country.

"They left us with millions of poor and indigent people," Kirchner said. "Now is the time to stop playing with the poor of Argentina."

Kirchner has in the past made similar caustic comments, but they have been shelved of late as the country got down to serious work on restructuring its debt.

Kirchner said at a campaign rally -- which goes a long way in explaining the comments, as IMF bashing scores nice political points with the populace -- that Argentina wouldn't accept any more impositions from the IMF.

The Fund is currently withholding Argentina's credit line. They have said they will not renew loan payments until the country finalizes its debt restructuring, which is tentatively thought to come to an end in mid-January.

The IMF is indicating that it will stick to the demands it has made on Argentina before any lending program is renewed. Chief among these demands is reform to how the federal government shares money with the provinces.

Argentina's Merval stock index gained 39 points to end at 1,221.

The Bank of Mexico said Wednesday that inflation expectations for 2004 are rising.

The Bank, which takes a monthly survey of private economists, said that the forecast rose to 5.36 percent from 5.18 percent in October.

The Bank's target for this year is 3 percent.

Additionally, the forecast for next year is up. Economists polled for the Bank's survey put inflation in 2005 at 4.29 percent, up from 4.19 percent a month earlier.

The Bank said it drew upon the survey when it decided late last week to undergo monetary tightening, the eighth time it has done so this year.

Annual GDP growth is also queried in the survey. Economists put growth this year at 4.07 percent, up from 4.02 percent in October, while the forecast for 2005 stood at 3.76 percent, up from 3.72 percent the previous month.

For the week, Mexico's IPC stock index added 327 points to close at 12,234.

Industrial production in Chile jumped 5.2 percent in October as compared to the same month the previous year, the government statistics agency said this week.

That is substantially lower than September's big jump of 12 percent, but government officials were quick to point out that there were three fewer working days in October than September.

Industrial sales were also up, rising 4 percent.

Meanwhile, Chile's finance minister said that GDP growth for this year should be between 5.5 percent and 6 percent.

The government had earlier set 5.5 percent as its upper target, but now indicates that forecast was a bit short.

The IPSA stock index gained 39 points to close at 1,809.

Unemployment in Venezuela fell to 13.7 percent in October, officials said this week. That is down from 16.7 percent unemployment in the same month the previous year.

During the last 12 months, the government said that 774,400 people had found work in the formal job sector.

In Venezuela, like all Latin American nations, the informal job sector -- such as selling goods on the streets -- is how a large percentage of the population survives.

But government statistics indicate that informal sector employment dropped 6.2 percent during the past 12 months, but that it still makes up 46.6 percent of the workforce.

For the week, the IBC stock index lost 219 points to close at 29,613.

Colombia's Congress passed a bill that will allow the popular President Alvaro Uribe to run for re-election.

Uribe has pulled off a double feat in the country. He has instilled confidence in Colombians that he is making progress on the war against leftist rebels. He has also given Wall Street hope with his strong relations with the United States and his desire to lead the country down an orthodox economic path.

The bill to allow Uribe's re-election still faces one more hurdle in the country's constitutional court.

Current law doesn't allow a president to serve two consecutive terms.

But Uribe -- who scores a 75-percent approval rating with constituents -- has relatively easily pushed his bid for a second term through the legislative system.

As for stocks, the IGBC index gained 99 points to close at 4,300.

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