Brazilian real leads Latam FX higher on China lockdown easing

* South Africa's central bank hikes rates, rand up 1%

* Mexican economy likely grew 0.4% in April versus March

* Chile's SQM profit jumps on high lithium price

* U.S. imports of Latin American oil soar

By Bansari Mayur Kamdar and Anisha Sircar

May 19 (Reuters) - Currencies in Latin America strengthened on Thursday as the dollar dropped and metal prices rebounded, with the Brazilian real leading gains on the prospect of lockdowns being lifted in top commodities consumer China.

Latam stocks .MILA00000PUS rose 2.3% while currencies .MILA00000CUS gained 1%, supported by a weak dollar as the dollar currency index =USD hit a fresh two-week low. It was last down 1%.

The Brazilian real BRBY , BRL= rose 1.8% against the dollar after Chinese authorities set out more plans for exiting the city-wide COVID-19 lockdown in Shanghai.

"This improvement that we've seen over the past couple of days on the real is related to signs of improvement on the COVID-19 pandemic in China," said TS Lombard economist Wilson Ferrarezi.

"And as long as this improvement continues, it will probably provide some relief for Brazilian assets."

Brazil's Economy Ministry will hold its economic growth outlook at 1.5% for 2022 and 2.5% for 2023, sources told Reuters, forecasting activity to be ahead of market projections due to labor market strength and growing private investments.

Mexico's peso MXN= added 0.8% after a preliminary estimate from national statistics agency INEGI showed that the country's economy likely grew by 0.4% in April versus March.

"It's still our view that the economy will continue to grow at the margin in the coming months," Ferrarezi said.

Currencies of oil producing nations have benefited this year from high crude prices and a rise in demand, with U.S. refiners importing about 1.3 million barrels per day (bpd) of crude and fuel oil from Latin America in April, the highest in seven months, according to U.S. Customs data.

Chile's peso CLP= and Peru's sol PEN= gained 2% and 0.9%, respectively, tracking higher copper prices.

Among stocks, shares of Chilean miner and major lithium producer SQM SQMa.SN , rose 2.7% after it reported on Wednesday nearly a twelve-fold rise in its quarterly profit.

Brazil's Vale SA VALE3.SA and Petrobras PETR4.SA climbed about 2% each, boosting the commodity-heavy Bovespa index .BVSP .

Elsewhere, Russia's rouble RUBUTSTN=MCX rose against the dollar, propped up by capital controls and looming tax payments that usually require extra conversion of foreign currency to roubles.

South Africa's rand ZAR= gained 1.3% as the central bank increased its main lending rate by 50 basis points to 4.75%, in line with expectations.

Latin American stock indexes and currencies at 1853 GMT:

Stock indexes

Latest Daily %

change MSCI Emerging Markets .MSCIEF


-1.44 MSCI LatAm .MILA00000PUS


2.35 Brazil Bovespa



0.75 Mexico IPC



2.24 Chile IPSA



0.78 Argentina MerVal


89002.50 -1.983 Colombia COLCAP





Latest Daily %

change Brazil real



1.78 Mexico peso



0.67 Chile peso



1.92 Colombia peso COP=


0.45 Peru sol



0.96 Argentina peso (interbank)


-0.22 ARS=RASL

Argentina peso (parallel) ARSB=



Brazil v. Mexico Link

Reporting by Bansari Mayur Kamdar, Anisha Sircar and Shreyashi
Sanyal in Bengaluru; Editing by Paul Simao and Grant McCool

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