EMERGING MARKETS-Latam currencies gain on Greece austerity vote

Wed Jun 29, 2011 12:40pm EDT

Related Topics

* Greek vote clears way for bailout aid, avoid July default

* Foreign bets Brazil real will rise reach record high

* Japanese investors seen boosting bets on real's gains

By Jeb Blount

RIO DE JANEIRO, June 29 (Reuters) - Latin American currencies gained against the U.S. dollar on Wednesday after Greek lawmakers passed an austerity package aimed at staving off the euro-area's first-ever sovereign default.

The package of spending cuts, tax increases and plans to sell state companies passed 155-138, opening the way for the European Union and International Monetary Fund to extend new bailout cash needed to help Greece refinance debt due in July. For more information see [ID:nL6E7HT0PS]

Without the new cash, Greece will default on 340 billion euros ($490 billion) of debt, an event that could push Portugal, Ireland and other euro-area countries toward bankruptcy, saddle major banks with losses and limit capital for world growth.[ID:nL6E7HO1IG]

"The Greek vote, while expected, is good news," said Pedro Tuesta, Latin America economist with 4Cast Inc. in Washington. "It reduces risk, but in the longer run, we all know this only puts off the inevitable. Most people realize that Greece can't pay its debts."

Mexico's peso, MXN=MXN=D2 the region's most-traded currency, firmed 0.4 percent to 11.7703 reais to the dollar, its strongest in a week.

Brazil's real BRL=BRBY, the region's second most-traded currency, gained 0.4 percent to 1.5720 to the dollar.

If Greece defaults and restructures debt, the Mexican peso, Brazilian real and other Latin American currencies are likely to face sharp declines, Tuesta said.

Unlike in previous international financial crises, he expects the currencies to make up much of their initial losses as investors weigh the higher bond yields and growth levels offered in Latin America compared with traditional "safe-havens" such as the United States.

"In the first instance, they'll take a hit," Tuesta said. "But after that, where are people going to put their money, in the U.S. where rates are near zero and growth sluggish? I don't think so."

Despite continuing concern about the potential of a Greek default to roil the world financial system, foreign investors boosted their bets to a record high that Brazil's real will continue gaining against the dollar.

Foreign speculative "real net longs" rose 2.9 percent to a notional value of $21.3 billion on Tuesday from $20.7 billion on Monday, according to the BM&F Web site and Reuters. The previous record was $20.9 billion on June 22.[ID:nN1E75S0CQ]

The dollar futures contract for Sept. 20 settlement DOLc4, one of the five most-traded dollar futures, fell 1.8 percent to 1.6095 to the dollar, it's lowest ever.

When this dollar contract falls it shows firming expectation for the real's value at the end of September.

The increase in bets were aided by a large inflow to Brazil from Japanese investors, said Luis Otavio de Souza Leal, chief economist at Banco ABC Brasil in Sao Paulo.

"This is a pretty risky situation for investors if Greece has problems," said Carlos Gandolfo, partner at Pioneer, a Sao Paulo currency brokerage. "Brazilian rates are high and greed always trumps reason."

Chile's peso CLP= gained 0.4 percent to 470.90 to the dollar. Colombia's peso COP= was little changed, gaining 0.1 percent to 1,780 to the dollar. Peru's sol gained 0.2 percent to 2.753.

(Editing by Andrew Hay)

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