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Fears Over New US Fed Chief Shake Brazil’s Stock Market

Brazilian stocks sank into the red Monday, February 13, as investors anxiously awaited the new U.S. Federal Reserve chairman’s congressional testimony later this week for improved clarity on the outlook for U.S. interest rates. Continued profit taking following January’s robust gains also weighed.

Brazil’s Bovespa Index fell 861.32 points, or 2.33%. Mexico’s benchmark Bolsa Index dropped 414.95 points, or 2.27%, while Argentina’s Merval Index declined 22.45 points, or 1.32%.

Brazilian stocks tumbled, as investors took a cautious stance ahead of congressional testimony Wednesday from new U.S. Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke.

Some investors fear that indications the Fed might continue its monetary tightening cycle longer than expected could diminish the strong foreign investment inflows that have boosted the Bovespa in recent months.

Higher interest rates in developed countries like the U.S. tend to divert investment flows away from emerging markets like Brazil.

On the corporate front, Petrobras was in focus after indicating there is a possibility it may invest about US$ 5 billion in Bolivia depending on the outcome of negotiations with the Andean country’s government. However, no definitive agreements have been reached in Bolivia, the company said.

Meanwhile, a major investment bank raised its price targets for several Brazilian telecoms, citing lower country risk premium. "We remain bullish on the wireless sector as we expect a more rational competitive environment and…focus on profitability in 2006," the bank said.

In earnings news, online retailer Submarino SA reported a fourth-quarter net profit of 12.6 million reais, up sharply from 3.9 million reais in the year-ago period. Also, gross revenue rose to 191 million reais from 126 million reais a year earlier.

Also reporting, airline TAM’s fourth quarter net profit fell to 65.3 million reais from 83.3 million reais in the year-ago period due to higher fuel, marketing and operational costs. Revenues climbed 17.6% to 1.58 billion reais due to improved demand following reduced operations at some other local carriers.

Mexican issues remained depressed, as the key IPC index has fallen five out of the past six sessions. Meanwhile, investors are also awaiting testimony from the new U.S. Fed Chief Ben Bernanke, when he addresses the U.S. Congress in semi-annual testimony later this week. Closer to home, Telmex’s financial results are due sometime this evening.

In economic reports, the Finance Ministry said that industrial production rose 2.7% in December from a year ago, bolstered by an increase in construction activity and an improvement in the auto sector. For the full year 2005, production gained 1.6%.

In Argentina, shares followed the broader region into the red. Volume was weak on the day. Investors are also awaiting the expiration of options contracts, which begins this Thursday.

Textile manufacturer Alpargatas announced that it was not for sale, contrary to local reports that said several Brazilian firms were interested in the Argentine company.

In earnings news, BBVA Banco Frances posted a quarterly net profit of 31 million pesos, reversing a year-earlier net loss of 13.2 million pesos. For 2005, the bank posted a net profit of 117.2 million pesos, after posting a net loss of 54 million pesos in 2004.

Thomson Financial – www.thomsonfinancial.com

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