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By Carolyn Cohn and Jamie McGeever
Sept 11 (Reuters) - The Chilean peso’s 6 percent fall this year is a healthy correction from its strong path in 2012 and it may weaken further once the U.S. Fed cuts back monetary stimulus, Chile’s finance minister said on Wednesday.
Many emerging economies have been concerned about a sharp fall in their currencies in the past few months, on expectations the U.S. Federal Reserve will scale back a bond-buying programme which has driven demand for riskier assets.
But Felipe Larrain said Chile had suffered less than other economies. A fall in its currency would help exporters, he said, particularly after the Fed’s programme forced up the value of the peso last year.
“I regard this as a healthy correction,” he told Reuters and Reuters Insider in interviews.
The peso is trading at 502 to the dollar, after hitting 14-month lows of 520 per dollar last month.
“An exchange rate above 500 is relatively healthy - this is a reasonable level for the exchange rate,” Larrain said.
Investors are expecting the Fed to start tapering the $85-billion-a-month programme as early as next week, but are divided as to whether its full impact has already been factored in by the markets.
Larrain said a further fall in the peso was likely.
“When tapering starts to happen (we) will probably get some additional depreciation of the currency, but with reasonable terms.”
Larrain echoed concern from other emerging economies about the clarity and speed of the Fed’s plans.
“I still think they are not clear about what to do. When a patient starts to get addicted to the medicine, you need to be able to take it out in adequate doses.”
Chile faces presidential elections in November with a possible run-off in December, and centre-leftist Michelle Bachelet is the front runner to replace Sebastian Pinera.
Larrain said the country’s 4.5 percent growth target for 2013 was achievable.
“4.5 percent is possible, I think ... the average so far in the first 7 months is 4.5 percent, so it’s feasible to end at 4.5.”
Chile, the world’s largest copper producer, has been hit by a slowdown in China, Larrain added.
“We have to get used to a China that grows at 7-7.5 percent and not the 9-9.5 percent that we saw before.”
Chile has $23 billion in sovereign wealth fund assets and Larrain said its reserve pension fund had diversified currency investments into yen and Swiss francs.
Over half of Chile’s exports are in copper. It also exports fruit, wine, wood and paper. (Additional reporting by Sujata Rao; Editing by Ruth Pitchford)