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EMERGING MARKETS-Surging coronavirus cases roil Latam FX, economic fears mount

Shreyashi Sanyal

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* Brazilian real slides to new record low

* Brazil central bank intervenes thrice in FX market

* Colombia peso tracks declines in oil prices

(Adds comments, updates prices) March 5 (Reuters) - Latin American currencies tumbled on Thursday, with Brazil's real touching new lows, as the rapid spread of the coronavirus outside China pushed investors away from riskier assets on growing worries about the scale of the economic damage. Brazil's real continued its slide, falling 1.4% to a fresh low of 4.6663 to the dollar, while Mexico's peso lost more than 1.7% heading for its third straight session of losses. "The market is getting more concerned about the impact to growth globally and what you are seeing is that a slowdown in global growth creates concerns for growth in emerging market economies," said Jeff Grills, head of emerging markets debt at Aegon Asset Management. "Currency weakness is one way you can see that slowdown being expressed." Colombia's currency slid nearly 2%, tracking losses in oil prices, while Chile's peso touched a three-month low despite a rise in its main export good, copper.

The weakness in regional currencies was in line with broader emerging market peers and came even as the dollar languishes at two-month lows as investors bet the U.S. Federal Reserve will reduce lending rates further after delivering an emergency interest rate cut on Tuesday. Hopes have risen that other central banks might follow suit as the virus spreads aggressively across the globe, forcing whole cities to shut down and bringing economic activity in those areas to a standstill. The number of infected cases globally is fast approaching 100,000, and the death toll has climbed to over 3,300. In Brazil, the deteriorating economic outlook for 2020 exacerbated in recent days by coronavirus fears, raised bets the central bank will cut interest rates for the sixth time since the beginning of its easing cycle in 2019, at its March 17-18 meeting to a new low of 4%. The central bank of Brazil intervened in the FX derivatives market three times on Thursday, selling a total of $3 billion swaps contracts, but the pressure is mounting on the central bank to tap its $360 billion stockpile of FX reserves and sell dollars outright to ease the pressure on the real. "They (Brazil central bank) will eventually get to a point where if it approaches 5 reais to the dollar, that is where they can get a lot more success. That is when people will realize that the currency has moved too far relative to general expectations for fair value," Grills said. Sao Paulo stocks shed almost 4%, led lower by carriers Gol and Azul because airlines have been one of the worst hit by the outbreak as travel curbs restrict demand. Key Latin American stock indexes and currencies at 1937 GMT:

Stock indexes Latest Daily % changeMSCI Emerging Markets 1037.54 -0.03MSCI LatAm 2383.61 -4.94Brazil Bovespa 103011.63 -3.93Mexico IPC 42518.26 -2.04Chile IPSA 4324.09 -0.97Argentina MerVal 36771.53 -1.267Colombia COLCAP 1543.79 -0.05Currencies Latest Daily % changeBrazil real 4.6459 -1.43Mexico peso 19.8910 -1.82Chile peso 823.2 -0.80Colombia peso 3537 -1.75Peru sol 3.4587 -1.18Argentina peso 62.4175 -0.09

(interbank)

(Reporting by Shreyashi Sanyal and Susan Mathew in Bengaluru; editing by Jonathan Oatis and Lisa Shumaker)