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LATIN AMERICAN MARKETS: Brazil Stocks Close Higher After Carnival Break

By Carla Mozee Brazilian stocks climbed Wednesday, with investors returning to the market after a holiday break to find data about economic improvement in the U.S. and nerves somewhat calmed over the debt troubles plaguing Greece. Brazil's Bovespa rose 2.2% to 67,284.57, its best finish in nearly a month. Consumer discretionary, manufacturing and mining stocks were among the best performers during the session, led by a 5.8% jump in shares of brewer AmBev (ABV). Shares of MMX Mineracao e Metalicos, the steel producer whose controlling shareholder is billionaire Eike Batista, led advancers among steel stocks, rising 5.4%, while shares of iron ore heavyweight Vale (RIO) climbed 3.6%. Elsewhere, shares of pulp and paper producer Fibria Celulose (FBR) rose 4.1% and oil giant Petrobras (PBR) rose 1.3% as oil prices picked up 0.4% to $77.33 a barrel despite a stronger U.S. dollar against the euro. A stronger greenback tends to put downward pressure on dollar-denominated commodity prices. Oil prices jumped 4% in the previous session. Equity decliners on Wednesday were mostly concentrated in the telecom group, with shares of Oi (TNE) down 1.1% and wireless services provider Vivo (VIV) down 0.9%. Trading in Sao Paulo was closed on Monday and Tuesday in observance of the Carnival holiday. Investors had to play catch-up to news earlier this week that the European Union has given Greece one month to show that its moves to ease its fiscal troubles are working. European finance ministers have told Greece that if its plans do not bear fruit, they will impose tougher budget cuts. That development appeared to soothe equities on Wall Street and in emerging markets, which have been hurt in recent weeks on concerns that problems in Greece will damage conditions within the E.U. Investors also returned to reports from the U.S. that housing starts rose to their highest level in seven months, while the prices of goods imported into the United States jumped 1.4% in January. Output from U.S. factories, mines and utilities also rose 0.9% last month. The S&P 500 Index (SPX) rose 0.4% and the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJI) rose 40 points to 10,309, following rallies on Tuesday. Investors in Brazilian assets on Wednesday also assessed a survey that showed economists and analysts have, on average, pushed up their inflation expectations for the year. In a weekly survey released by the Brazilian central bank, analysts now expect the key inflation index to rise to 5.47%, compared with the previous forecast of 5.35%. The government's inflation target is 4.5%. Mexican stocks finished higher, leaving the IPC index up 0.9% at 31,892.12. Argentina's Merval rose 0.8% to 2,325.75 and Chile's IPSA closed up 1.1% to 3,860.71.

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