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31/05/2012 | Latin America to grow but needs anti-crisis plans: U.N

Reuters Staff

Latin America's economy will grow at least 3.7 percent this year, but the region has not recovered fiscally from the Lehman Brothers crisis and should prepare contingency plans that bolster credit and help lower interest rates, the United Nations said on Monday.

 

Policymakers should focus more on monetary rather fiscal policies to help mitigate fallout from Europe if need be, and a disorderly Greek exit from the euro zone could be very negative for the region, said Alicia Barcena, head of the UN's regional economic body, ECLAC.

"Our region is not better-prepared than in 2007 in terms of fiscal room," Barcena told the Reuters Latin American Investment Summit. "However, it has the capacity for counter-cyclical policies on the strength of low indebtedness and international reserve provisions."

Brazil and Chile have already drawn up anti-crisis plans, and others should follow suit, she said, adding Brazilian measures to speed up investment and strengthen credit could serve as an example for other nations to follow.

Latin America was hit hard by the financial crisis triggered by Lehman Brothers' collapse in 2008, hammering credit and liquidity and slashing prices for its linchpin commodity exports and growth.

However its financial systems are strong, banks well-capitalized, and Latin America would likely cope better than Europe if there is a significant downturn.

Barcena sees regional heavyweights Brazil and Mexico, as well as Colombia, Argentina and Peru driving the region's growth this year, and sees the Caribbean as the region's most vulnerable area.

Record international reserves and a more solid private sector have put Mexico in a better position to deal with a global crisis than in 2008, Mexican central bank governor Agustin Carstens said on Monday.

"A disorderly exit (of Greece) could have more negative consequences than what happened with Lehman Brothers, and that scenario cannot be ruled out," Barcena added.

GREEK TRAGEDY NO.1 RISK

Fears Greece could abandon the euro zone's single currency have pummeled global financial markets in recent weeks, and raised worries of contagion across Europe.

Sergio Tricio, head of research at the Forex Chile brokerage in Santiago, said the main risk for Latin America would be a Greek exit that hits global demand, cuts growth and raises unemployment.

"The region has been affected by falling commodity prices, but so far it has been pretty controlled," Tricio said, adding he believed the region was in better shape than before Lehman. "Today there is room to apply more expansive monetary policies."

ECLAC believes Latin American inflation is under control and does not foresee price pressure problems, Barcena said.

Spain's bank sector woes could also hurt Latin America if banks decide to sell assets and pull out, though the banking sector in Mexico, Brazil and Chile could absorb such sales if need be, she said.

Investors increasingly fear weak banks in Spain, undermined by the collapse four years ago of a decade-long property boom, as well as deeply indebted regions, could force Spain to seek an international bailout which the euro zone can barely afford.

"A worsening of the situation in Spain could have a negative effect, not because Latin American banks depend on bank headquarters there for funds, but because they could reduce their exposure to markets like Latin America," Barcena said.

A deeper slowdown in major trade partner and top commodities consumer China poses another risk for Latin America, a leading producer of soy, copper and grains. Slower global growth could also hit foreign direct investment flows into Latin America.

"A Chinese slowdown can affect demand for basic goods, though it hasn't yet," Barcena said. "If there is a fall in demand, and lower prices, obviously our region can suffer a deterioration in its terms of trade."

"That could have a significant effect on the current account, public accounts and regional growth."

Reuters (Estados Unidos)

 


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