* Hungary's forint firm after unexpectedly bigger rate hike * IMF lowers Brazil, Mexico economic growth forecasts By Susan Mathew and Anisha Sircar Jan 25 (Reuters) - Most emerging market currencies weakened on Tuesday as the Ukraine crisis and anxiety around U.S. monetary policy sent investors fleeing to the safety of the dollar, while Hungary's forint rallied after a larger-than-expected interest rate hike. Russia's volatile rouble was flat at 79 per dollar, staying near 14-month lows. As the West reinforces troops in Eastern Europe and readies sanctions in case of a Russian invasion of its neighbor, the rouble has lost more than 5% this month. Hungary's forint gave up session losses to rise 0.4% against the euro after the country's central bank raised its base rate by 50 basis points to 2.9%, the highest in eight years, to fight inflation which is forecast to be at its highest level in a decade this year. Expectations were for the central bank to hike by 30 basis points. Most emerging markets are in an interest rate hiking cycle as surging inflation and likely tighter monetary policy in developed markets piles pressure on EM central banks. Brazil has been the most aggressive in the world, with its central bank having hiked the key interest rate by 725 basis points last year. JPMorgan strategists see another 150-basis-point hike in Brazil in February, followed by another 100-basis-point increase in March. That would take the policy rate to 11.75%. As investors fretted about how hawkish the Federal Reserve might be when its two-day policy meeting ends on Wednesday, the dollar hit more than two-week highs. While a 25-basis-point Fed hike in March is fully priced in, bets that it could be brought forward to this week unnerved markets. Brazil's real gave up session losses, while Mexico's peso fell 0.4%, shrugging off data that showed Mexican economic activity advanced by 0.3% in November from October, partly narrowing the risk that the economy fell into recession in the second half of 2021. The International Monetary Fund lowered its 2022 economic growth forecasts for the region's two largest economies - Brazil and Mexico - citing inflation, tighter monetary policy and a lower growth estimate for the United States. Peru's finance minister on Monday revised down the country's economic growth forecast to between 3.5% and 4% in 2022, from an earlier forecast of 4.8%. In Chile, markets awaited the appointment of a new central bank chief after the current head was picked as the finance minister in President-elect Gabriel Boric's Cabinet. Key Latin American stock indexes and currencies at 1416 GMT: Stock indexes Latest Daily % change MSCI Emerging Markets 1209.52 -1.03 MSCI LatAm 2188.84 0.07 Brazil Bovespa 108178.02 0.22 Mexico IPC - - Chile IPSA 4496.96 -0.14 Argentina MerVal - - Colombia COLCAP 1522.12 -0.09 Currencies Latest Daily % change Brazil real 5.4969 0.17 Mexico peso 20.6684 -0.52 Chile peso 807.60 -0.16 Colombia peso 3999.41 -0.69 Peru sol 3.849 -0.22 Argentina peso 104.5900 -0.06 (interbank) (Reporting by Susan Mathew and Anisha Sircar in Bengaluru;)
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