Brazil’s Current Account Deficit Likely Narrowed in February

The current account deficit likely narrowed to US$3.9 billion in February, from a deficit of US$5.4 billion in January, but widened compared to a deficit of US$3.3 billion in February 2010. A widening of the merchandize trade surplus to US$1.2 billion—driven by higher commodity prices—despite an expected narrowing in the net services deficit to US$5.3 billion, should explain the deterioration from January. This would mean that, on 12-months rolling basis, the current account shortfall shrank to US$49.3 billion in February from US$48.6 billion in the previous month. We highlight that FDI and portfolio inflows have been more than enough to cover the gap; however, the quality of the funding has deteriorated as portfolio, rather than FDI, becomes more prominent. We expect the current account to continue to deteriorate in 2011 to US$70 billion, or 3% of GDP, as domestic demand should continue to grow at a faster pace than external demand as the currency remains overvalued—though elevated commodity prices should help in avoiding a sharper deterioration.

Mexican Central Bank Keeps Benchmark Rate on Hold

Mexico’s central bank (Banxico) kept its benchmark rate unchanged at 4.5% at its March 4 meeting, in line with market consensus, including RGE’s expectations. In its communiqué, Banxico said that economic activity in advanced economies is now being driven by external demand and domestic consumption. With regards to global prices, the bank mentioned that numerous factors including high levels of liquidity, adverse weather conditions and the geopolitical conflicts in parts of the MENA region were driving costs upward and represent risks to the global economic recovery. In many emerging economies in particular, the rise in raw materials prices has increased the risk of inflation.

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Mexican Inflation (y/y) and Monetary Policy Rate Source: Banxico and RGE

Colombia: Central Bank Surprises Markets by Hiking Rates

Colombia’s central bank (Banrep) increased the benchmark rate by 25 basis points to 3.25% at its February 25 meeting, the first hike after maintaining the rate at 3% for nine consecutive months. The decision surprised the markets and RGE as expectations were tilted toward an unaltered monetary policy rate. In its communiqué, Banrep said that the conditions keeping the rate at a low level had changed as domestic demand and credit dynamics had improved, economic growth is approaching its long-term trend, inflation projections are close to the middle of the target range and inflation expectations have deteriorated. Still, Banrep maintains that the new rate level is supportive of economic and employment growth and helps to keep inflation within the target range.