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Venezuelan stocks plummet on Chavez plans

CARACAS, Venezuela, Jan. 9 (UPI) -- Venezuelan stocks fell almost 19 percent -- their biggest drop on record -- Tuesday after President Hugo Chavez pledged to nationalize the country's utilities.

The country's currency also lost a third of its value.

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The Caracas Stock Exchange's benchmark IBC index plunged 11,574 to 50,439, with shares of the country's largest telephone company, CANTV, falling 30 percent, their sharpest drop ever.

Trading of the nation's largest private power company, Electricidad de Caracas, was halted after its shares slid 20 percent.

The Venezuelan bolivar, pegged at 2,150 to the U.S. dollar, fell to 3,000 to 4,000 bolivar to the dollar on the black market, The Times of London reported.

Chavez, who begins another six-year term Wednesday, said Monday he planned to nationalize the country's phone and electric companies and four profitable oil projects now run by foreign companies.

He also said he would seek a constitutional amendment to strip Venezuela's central bank of its autonomy.

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