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LATIN AMERICAN MARKETS: Mexico Stocks Fall As U.S. Economic Prospects Dim

By Carla Mozee Mexico's stocks and currency were among the Latin American assets that dropped Thursday, tracking a selloff on Wall Street after a number of dismal economic reports stoked fears that economic recovery is stalling. Its first loss in five, Mexico's IPC index fell 0.8% to 32,153.63, with stocks in all sectors soaked in red. The market frequently tracks movement on Wall Street as investors monitor data from the U.S. because of Mexico's close ties with the U.S. economy. Mexico sends roughly 80% of its products to the U.S. Decliners included cement maker Cemex (CX), which counts the U.S. as one of its top markets. Its shares fell 2.5%. Stock in baked-goods maker Grupo Bimbo lost 0.8% and copper miner Grupo Mexico slumped 1.1% as prices for copper, a gauge of economic health, fell 0.9% to $3.32 a pound. Mexico's currency fell to 12.691 pesos from Wednesday's level at 12.633 pesos, and among exchange-traded funds, the iShares MSCI Mexico Index Fund (EWW) pulled back 1.1%. In Brazil, the Bovespa lost 1.1% to 66,887.13, with shares of Petrobras (PBR) down 4%. Petrobras said it still plans to launch a long-anticipated share offer in September. Brazilian newspaper Valor Economico earlier Thursday reported the country's finance ministry may delay the offering until 2011. Petrobras also said that it's still working with the government to determine a price for the oil rights at the center of the proposed capitalization plan. Argentina's Merval closed 1.5% lower to 2,429.28. On Wall Street, stocks sank after a report showed factory activity in the Philadelphia region was unexpectedly weak in August, falling into negative territory for the first time in a year. The S&P 500 Index (SPX) closed down 1.7% to 1,075.63 and the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJI) tumbled 144 points, or 1.4%, to 10,271.21. Also, first-time filings for state unemployment benefits unexpectedly rose, jumping to a nine-month high, and the Conference Board, a private research group, said its index of leading economic indicators rose 0.1%, below the 0.2% expected by economists polled by MarketWatch. For the weekly jobless claims, although "there may be some census workers skewing up the numbers, there is a growing risk that we'll see a negative private payrolls print in August," wrote Jennifer Lee, senior economist at BMO Capital Markets, in a note Thursday. "We'll know for sure on Sept. 3rd. It would be the first such decline since December." The weak figures from the U.S. arrived a day before Mexico's central bank is scheduled to issue its latest interest-rate decision. The benchmark rate is widely expected to remain unchanged at 4.5%. Mexico's economy is currently recovering, with second-quarter gross domestic product likely to rise 7.5% from a year ago compared with growth of 4.3% in the first quarter, Win Thin, senior currency strategist at Brown Brothers Harriman, wrote to clients Thursday. But the peso, along with the Canadian dollar, are the two currencies "that are likely to suffer disproportionately from the recent U.S. double dip fears, and that appears to be holding up," with the peso, one of the worst performers among emerging-market currencies so far in the third quarter. "While the peso offers decent yields, the growth and fundamental backdrop is not as compelling as in other regional economies," Thin wrote. Chile on Wednesday said second-quarter gross domestic product rose 6.5%, the fastest rate of expansion in five years. In Santiago, the IPSA equity index dodged losses on Thursday, ending up 0.2% at 4,522.38, its second consecutive record closing high.

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