Brazilian stocks were up and Latin American stocks were mostly higher as well, as a positive assessment of the U.S. economy’s growth outlook from the new U.S. Federal Reserve chairman helped to buoy investor sentiment.

    Gains in Mexico’s bolsa were limited by data showing slower-than-expected economic growth in Mexico in the fourth quarter.

    Brazil’s Bovespa Index jumped 612.42 points, or 1.67%. Mexico’s benchmark Bolsa Index climbed 146.15 points, or 0.81%, while Argentina’s Merval Index dipped 0.53 point, or 0.03%.

    Brazilian stocks posted robust gains, as investors were heartened by comments from U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke that suggested the U.S. economy is on solid footing and inflation concerns are not growing.

    In his first semi-annual testimony before the U.S. Congress, Fed chairman Ben Bernanke gave an upbeat assessment of the economy’s growth prospects and suggested that further interest-rate hikes may be necessary.

    Bernanke said long-term inflation expectations appear "well anchored," while the latest employment and consumer spending data "suggests that the economic expansion remains on track."

    He also said higher energy prices could still spill over into wider price inflation, and strong demand could cause output to "overshoot," putting further upward pressure on prices.

    "In these circumstances, the FOMC judged that some further firming of monetary policy may be necessary, an assessment with which I concur," Bernanke said in prepared remarks.

    Investors were somewhat relieved that Bernanke’s assessment of the economy and inflation did not stray significantly from the tone of previous commentary from former Fed Chief Alan Greenspan.

    In corporate news, mining giant Companhia Vale do Rio Doce (CVRD) received an upgrade by an influential investment bank to "outperform" from "peer perform" on expectations of a higher-than-anticipated increase in iron-ore prices in 2006 contract negotiations.

    "Given our new estimates and the recent nearly 10% pullback in the shares, we are upgrading our recommendation to outperform from peer perform," the bank said.

    A state government spokesman confirmed that electric utility Companhia Paranaense de Energia SA (Copel) has offered El Paso Corp. US$ 190 million for a 60% stake in UEG Araucária.

    Late yesterday, supermarket chain CBD said its nominal same-store sales inched up 0.3% in January compared with the same month a year ago. Same-store sales when adjusted for inflation dropped 5.1% in January from a year earlier.

    Mexican shares continued to move higher today, despite some disappointment in the GDP figures. Mexico’s gross domestic product growth slowed to 3% in 2005 from 2004’s 4.2% growth rate.

    Fourth-quarter GDP advanced 2.7% from a year ago, below analyst expectations, and advanced 0.59% from the third quarter on a non-annualized, seasonally-adjusted basis.

    In earnings news, paper products firm Kimberly Clark de Mexico SA’s fourth-quarter net profit declined to 926.3 million pesos from 986.7 million pesos a year ago, partly due to the strong domestic currency increasing financial costs. Sales advanced to 5.61 billion pesos from 5.23 billion pesos, while operating profit rose to 1.40 billion pesos from 1.32 billion pesos.

    Argentina was just about unchanged on the day, as investors continue to await the arrival of corporate earnings before committing money to the market.

    On the earnings front, financial services provider Grupo Galicia said that its net profit for the fourth quarter arrived at 27.5 million pesos, reversing a year-earlier loss of 35.7 million pesos. For the full year, the firm’s net profit was 107.2 million pesos, up from a loss of 109.9 million pesos in 2004.

    Telefonica de Argentina signed a letter of understanding with the government today, which could eventually solidify a new long-term contract. That firm, along with Telecom Argentina, has been negotiating contracts for more than two years.

    Thomson Financial – www.thomsonfinancial.com

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