BUENOS AIRES, Feb 14 (Reuters) - Argentine stocks closed virtually unchanged on Thursday, reversing earlier gains after external markets fell when U.S. Federal Reserve chief Ben Bernanke said he saw sluggish economic growth ahead.
The MerVal index .MERV of 42 leading stocks closed down a slight 0.07 percent at 2,041.81 points, ending a series of three consecutive rises.
"The market was clearly influenced by Bernanke's speech after opening strong," said Guido Macchi, a broker at Julio Macchi brokerage.
Bernanke told the U.S. Senate Banking Committee the central bank will act as needed to help the struggling national economy, but said the Fed has to be mindful that growth should pick up later in the year.
Earlier in the session, the Merval had registered a maximum rise of 0.81 percent, driven by better-than-expected quarterly earnings for Grupo Financiero Galicia GFG.BA. The company's shares closed up 0.93 percent at 2.17 pesos a share.
Volume on the broad market totaled a healthy $45.8 million, with 41 issues advancing, 26 retreating and 10 unchanged.
On the local debt market, Argentina's main sovereign bonds <AR/BONOS> closed 0.5 percent lower on average.
The losers were led by dollar-denominated Par bonds, which fell 1.3 percent.
The peso currency ARS=RASL weakened 0.08 percent to end at 3.1550/3.1575 per dollar in formal interbank trade, where the central bank normally intervenes.
In informal trade between foreign exchange houses, as measured by Reuters, the peso ARSB= firmed 0.08 percent to end at 3.1750/3.1775 per dollar. (Reporting by Walter Bianchi; Writing by Gaspard Sebag; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)