* The board of Chile's central bank decided to keep the monetary policy interest rate at 2.5%, saying the risk of inflation inching closer to 3% has moderated, based on data. The central bank added its inflation expectations showed no big changes from data analyzed in the board's last meeting, although short-term expectations were adjusted downward.
* The Colombian central bank in a March 20 meeting held its benchmark rate at 4.5%, citing inflation indicators in the first two months of the year that fell more than expected. External demand, driven by both developed and major emerging economies, continues to recover. GDP growth is also estimated at 2.7% for 2018, coming from 1.8% in 2017.
* Moody's upgraded Banco BTG Pactual SA's long term local currency deposit rating to Ba2 from Ba3, its long-term national scale deposit rating to Aa2.br from A1.br, and its counterparty risk assessment to Ba1(cr) from Ba2(cr). The bank's stand-alone baseline credit assessment and adjusted baseline credit assessment were both raised to "ba2" from "ba3."
MEXICO AND CENTRAL AMERICA
* Grupo Financiero Banorte SAB de CV is seeking approval from banking regulator CNBV to offer some 50 billion Mexican pesos in various long-term debt instruments, El Financiero reported, citing a stock exchange request. The company did not specify a date for the planned offering, and terms for the debt may range from one to 40 years, the publication reported.
* Mexico's benchmark monetary policy rate is forecast to hit 7.5% at the end of 2018 before falling to 6.5% at the close of 2019, newswire Notimex reported, citing Banco Nacional de México SA Integrante del Grupo Financiero Banamex's survey of economists. Inflation is seen to dip to 4.07% by the end of 2018 and 3.60% by December 2019.
* Mexico's Instituto del Fondo Nacional de la Vivienda para los Trabajadores is launching a digital strategy including the use of biometrics, a mobile application, and a redesigned website which will benefit 60 million users, Director General David Penchyna Grub told El Economista.
* Panama's economy grew 4.60% year over year in January, with growth for full-year 2018 estimated at 5.6%, Reuters reported.
* Economists surveyed expect Brazil's central bank to further lower to 6.50% its benchmark Selic rate at a monetary policy meeting scheduled today, Reuters reported. The Selic is presently at 6.75%.
* Demand for credit among Brazilian companies sank by 15.4% in February from the previous month though it was up 1.2% year-over-year, Diário Comércio Indústria & Serviços reported, citing the latest corporate credit demand indicator released by Seresa Experian. Separately, Fitch Ratings and S&P Global Ratings said corporate financing was expected to recover at a modest pace this year due to persistent political uncertainty, Valor Econômico reported.
* Banco Nacional de Desenvolvimento Econômico e Social President Paulo Rabello de Castro denied that the bank was considering selling its 21% stake in scandal-plagued meatpacker JBS SA, Reuters reported. He added that the company was currently undervalued due to its management problems.
* BNDES also said it is working with the power utility industry to develop new forms of financing such as the secondary debenture market and the securitization of receivables into long-term loans, Valor Econômico reported.
* Itaú Unibanco Holding SA and Banco Bradesco SA, together with U.S.-based Bank of America Corp., are working to extend a loan that may reach up to $6 billion to a group of companies looking to bid on a natural gas pipeline network held by Brazilian state oil company Petroleo Brasileiro SA, Bloomberg News reported, citing "three people with knowledge of the matter." The loan may be denominated mostly if not entirely in reais, to avoid expensive currency hedging, one source added.
* The strong performance of Brazil's five biggest banks during the recession of recent years has shone a spotlight on their power to dominate the country's financial system, Valor Econômico reported. It noted that Itaú Unibanco Holding SA, Banco Bradesco SA, Banco do Brasil SA, Banco Santander (Brasil) SA and Caixa Econômica Federal had absorbed some 360 billion reais in non-performing loans since 2014 without any serious impact on their profitability.
* Peruvian opposition party Fuerza Popular released recordings wherein supporters of President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski allegedly offered public contracts to legislators in exchange for support against the president's impeachment, Reuters reported. The administration denied the allegations, but fired an official who was heard in the recordings.
* E-commerce is expected to take off in Peru this year as new technologies take off, Fernando Byrne, Mastercard's general manager for Peru and Bolivia, told El Comercio. He said the company was working on a number of pilot projects on online retail.
* Colombia's Asobancaria banking industry association has rejected a government proposal to eliminate three zeros from the Colombian peso, saying the measure would be costly and inefficient, and will complicate current payment systems, El Tiempo reported.
* HSBC Bank Argentina SA will offer two series of negotiable bonds on March 22, under a bond program worth up to US$1.00 billion or its equivalent in other currencies. The bank will auction 36-month series 9 bonds worth up to 2.00 billion Argentine pesos, expandable up to 5.00 billion pesos. It will also offer 18-month series 10 securities also worth up to 2.00 billion pesos, expandable up to 5.00 billion pesos.
* Argentina's government is confident it will conclude a free-trade agreement between the European Union and the Mercosur regional bloc within the next two months, La Nación reported.
* Swiss investment banks will return to Argentina once Congress passes a capital market reform law that will allow investment banking operations in the country, Swiss Finance Minister Ueli Maurer told La Nación in an interview.
* The British embassy in Argentina is advising Argentine fintech companies keen on expanding overseas to use the United Kingdom as a base, El Cronista reported, adding that several companies had already started operations in London.
* A new committee for the self-regulation of financial entities in Chile has failed to secure the participation of major players including the country's stock exchange operators, Pulso reported. It said only the brokerage firm and AGF, or the general administrator of funds, of state-run Banco del Estado de Chile and the AGF of Zurich Santander Seguros Generales Chile S.A. had pledged to take part.
* Manuel Olivares Rossetti, general manager at Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria Chile SA, is to leave his post at the bank but will remain as chief executive of FORUM Servicios Financieros SA, the lender's car financing business, Diario Financiero reported.
PAN LATIN AMERICA
* Banco Nacional de Desenvolvimento Econômico e Social said both Brazil and Venezuela are negotiating the resumption of loan payments to the development bank, Valor Econômico reported. Venezuela still owes BNDES $130.9 million, just over half the amount the Andean country borrowed from the development bank. Meanwhile, China may also further extend the grace period for Venezuela to repay interest on loans, but the Asian economic powerhouse may probably not lend any new amounts, Reuters reported separately. Venezuela owes China $19.3 billion.
IN OTHER PARTS OF THE WORLD
* Asia-Pacific: Chinese P2P lender prices US IPO; Sony Life hits roadblocks in Australian deal
* Middle East & Africa: Ghana's uniBank placed in administration; FAB gets nod for Saudi commercial biz
* Europe: Lloyd's of London, Alpha Bank post losses; Axa ups stake in German insurer
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Helen Popper contributed to this article.
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