EMERGING MARKETS-Brazil real little changed, eyes on policy shifts

Mon Feb 18, 2013 9:34am EST

* Traders evaluating Mantega comments, Fri central bank action

* U.S. holiday keeps trading volumes thin

* Mexican and Chilean pesos weaken slightly

By Asher Levine and Natalia Cacioli

SAO PAULO, Feb 18 (Reuters) - The Brazilian real was little changed on Monday as investors weighed signals about the government's preferred exchange rate, while a holiday in the United States kept trading volumes low.

The Mexican and Chilean pesos both weakened slightly against the U.S. dollar. Investors in Brazil took a break to re-evaluate their trading strategies after the local currency, the real , swung widely in the previous session.

On Friday, hawkish comments by Finance Minister Guido Mantega led traders to step up bets on tighter monetary policy this year. The real trimmed gains, however, after the central bank intervened to stop the currency from strengthening past 1.95 per dollar.

The real weakened slightly on Monday, losing 0.23 percent to 1.960 per U.S. dollar.

"As long as the inflation target is being held up as a priority, the dollar will hold at levels that I don't consider realistic," said Italo dos Santos, a currency specialist at ICAP Corretora in Sao Paulo.

"With little volatility, the market should slowly begin to head for 1.95," he said. "But the central bank's rationale changes, the numbers change and we can't assume this level is here to stay."

Brazil's central bank targets an inflation rate of 4.5 percent, with a 2 percent tolerance band in either direction. Trailing 12-month inflation reached 6.15 percent in January.

Policymakers from the world's 20 biggest economies promised on Saturday not to devalue their currencies to boost exports, although Brazilian analysts said the meeting had little impact on the real, with investors more focused on internal politics.

"The market is still trying to figure out what exchange rate the government wants," said Jose Carlos Amado, a trader with brokerage Renascenca in Sao Paulo. "After what Mantega said last week, the market will continue testing a weaker dollar."

The Mexican peso weakened 0.14 percent to 12.6914 per U.S. dollar, while Chile's peso traded 0.17 percent weaker at 471.80 per dollar.

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