* Brazil restarts currency intervention after Fed
* Speculation that Chile, Colombia could follow
* Mexico's QE3 enthusiasm stands out from crowd
By Krista Hughes and Michael O'Boyle
MEXICO CITY, Sept 14 The U.S. Federal Reserve's
latest round of stimulus spotlights a gulf between Mexico and
its Latin American neighbors as the region girds itself for a
likely revival of the "currency war."
While Mexico embraced the Fed's decision to start a third
round of bond-buying, Brazil vowed to unleash an arsenal of new
measures to combat what it fears could be a sharp appreciation
in its currency.
A stronger real could not come at a worse time for Brazil,
which is battling slowing growth with a raft of measures to
boost the domestic economy. This contrasts with Mexico, which is
growing roughly twice as quickly as its rival and has been
fretting about a weak peso pushing up prices. Close links
to the United States give it a big stake in stronger U.S.
"Mexico is clearly one of the few countries in Latin America
where you don't have any resistance to peso strength, and you
are unlikely to do so, because the central bank prefers a
hands-off attitude," said Clyde Wardle, a strategist at HSBC in
New York. "That does set Mexico apart."
Latin American currencies surged to new highs after the
Fed's news, with Chile's peso hitting a one-year high against
the U.S. dollar and Mexico's rising to a five-month peak on bets
that yield-seeking investors will flood to the region, driving
asset prices higher.
During the Fed's second round of bond buying in late 2010
and the first half of 2011, a rush of capital pushed the
Brazilian real up 12 percent against the dollar while the
Mexican and Chilean pesos both gained 8 percent.
Economists said a fresh round of currency intervention was
in the cards, with Brazil kicking off o n F riday with two central
bank interventions in two hours. Speculation is mounting about
increased efforts in Chile and Colombia as well.
South American officials, worried that a rise in their
currencies will price their exports out of the market and drag
on growth, have a history of intervening to limit currency
But in Mexico, policymakers face a different dynamic as the
peso - one of the most liquid emerging market currencies and
often used as a hedge for emerging market risk - has weakened
about 30 percent since before the financial crisis.
Mexican central bank Governor Agustin Carstens told Reuters
the Fed's new bond buying program, dubbed QE3, would help the
economy, giving no sign policymakers would try to stem the
In fact, Carstens said the stronger peso would help limit
inflation by making imported goods cheaper - a much-needed break
for the Banco de Mexico, which is confronting a spike in
inflation to its highest level in more than two years due to
fresh food prices.
MEXICO AT ODDS
Mexico's laissez-faire stance will put it in a different
class from Latin American counterparts that intervene to cap
currency gains, like Brazil, which also fears competition from
Asian powerhouse China and its yuan.
Countries that keep their currencies cheap will face higher
prices for imported goods at the same time a flush of cheap
money probably drives commodity prices higher, economists said.
Although price pressures are subdued in Chile, Colombia and
Peru - meaning their central banks may not worry too much about
the downside of intervention - inflation accelerated to 5.24
percent in Brazil last month.
"QE3 will end up having two different kinds of effects on
inflation," said BNP Paribas economist Nader Nazmi.
"In countries that fight against appreciation... the price
of commodities will increase. This could lead to higher
inflation in countries that do not allow their exchange rate to
Reacting to higher inflation by raising interest rates would
make currencies even more expensive, a policy Catch-22 that the
region faced during the Fed's previous stimulus, when Brazilian
Finance Minister Guido Mantega coined the term "currency war."
The phrase has been adopted by officials in Colombia, whose
peso has been the fourth-biggest gainer worldwide this year,
firming 7 percent since January despite back-to-back interest
rate cuts. The peso rose 0.4 percent on Friday.
"This shows that we should not remain silent in Colombia and
that we will have to respond to these kinds of decisions from
the United States," Finance Minister Mauricio Cardenas said.
Chile's Finance Minister Felipe Larrain had said even before
the Fed's Thursday announcement that the country was worried
about another round of stimulus, and the peso is approaching
levels that have sparked intervention in the past.
"These levels for the peso are a concern for authorities.
Although we don't expect imminent action, such as an outright
intervention, we do expect to see in the short-term, over the
next 30 days, verbal interventions or announcements that try to
contain the currency's appreciation," said Ruben Catalan, senior
analyst at Bci in Santiago.