Upbeat Finance Minister Sees Brazil Growing 5% in 2006

Latin American stocks were mixed, with Brazilian stocks extending yesterday’s losses in light trading ahead of the Christmas holiday. Meanwhile, Mexican shares climbed, as investors were cheered by upbeat reports on U.S. durable goods and consumer sentiment.

Brazil’s Bovespa Index dropped 181.60 points, or 0.54%. Mexico’s benchmark Bolsa Index added 33.38 points, or 0.19%, while Argentina’s Merval Index rose 12.88 points, or 0.85%.

Brazilian stocks slumped again today, as investors continued taking some profits following recent strong gains on optimism about the economy and interest rates.

Finance Minister Antonio Palocci said today that declining interest rates and improved investor sentiment will help 2006 economic growth repeat its performance from 2004, when the economy expanded 4.9%.

"The conditions for strong growth are there. I believe the scenario for that is being created for 2006 is very close to that seen in 2003 and 2004," he said.

Palocci also cited low inflation, improved sovereign debt risk, a growing foreign trade surplus, improving consumer income, and growing domestic credit and sales as indications of solid economic growth next year.

Recent central bank surveys have given a less optimistic outlook, however, for growth of 3.5% in 2006.

In economic data, the central bank said Brazil’s November primary budget surplus was 3.55 billion Brazilian reais, down from 8.55 billion reais in October. The year-to-date surplus was 96.8 billion reais, which represents 5.58% of gross domestic product.

On the corporate front, steelmaker Arcelor Brasil made its trading debut on the Brazilian Stock Exchange. Arcelor Brasil is the holding company for No. 2 global steelmaker Arcelor’s Brazilian assets.

Low-cost airline Gol announced a further move into the South American market, saying it will offer flights to the Argentine cities of Cordoba and Rosario in early January.

Mining company Companhia Vale do Rio Doce confirmed that it is negotiating its entry into the controlling group of shareholders at steelmaker Usinas Siderúrgicas de Minas Gerais.

Mexican issues edged higher in light holiday trading. U.S. shares showed similar limited movement, but some upbeat U.S. economic data boosted Mexico, which sends the vast majority of exports across the border.

New orders for U.S.-made durable goods increased 4.4% in November to a record high level of $223 billion. Meanwhile, the University of Michigan’s December consumer sentiment survey came in with a reading of 91.5, well above forecasts.

In corporate reports, Pemex’s chief executive said the firm hopes to sell shares on the local stock market in 2006, if a proposal to grant the state-run firm autonomy is approved by Congress.

Argentine trading, meanwhile, was strongly positive. Last night, the Senate approved the government’s budget for 2006. The budget assumes inflation at 10% and sets spending at US$ 31 billion. Economic expansion is forecast at 4%.

Thomson Financial Corporate Group – www.thomsonfinancial.com

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