BUENOS AIRES, Jan 14 (Reuters) - Argentine stocks closed sharply lower on Wednesday, tracking losses in global markets, after bleak economic data in the United States, traders said.
The benchmark MerVal index .MERV shed 3.91 percent to end at 1,087.61, cutting gains since Jan. 1 to a meager 0.74 percent.
Volume was low at $11.7 million. Of active issues, 4 advanced, 43 declined and 10 were unchanged.
"The MerVal was hit by the huge downturn in world markets sparked by economic data that continues reflecting a recession in many economies, mainly the United States," said Diego Zavaleta, a trader at Besfamille brokerage.
U.S. government data showed a sharp decline in retail sales in December when stores count on holiday purchases to turn profits. The report suggested greater weakness in fourth-quarter U.S. gross domestic product.
Bellwether issue Tenaris (TENA.BA), which is weighted as more than a third of the MerVal, plunged 6.6 percent to 36.20 pesos per share. Tenaris, which makes steel pipes for the energy industry, often moves in tandem with U.S. crude futures, which fell on Wednesday.
Argentine government bonds traded over the counter in Buenos Aires closed down 0.4 percent on average, led by a 2.9 percent fall in the dollar-denominated 2033 Discount bond ARDISCD=RASL to an ask price of 33.40.
Volume was thin as investors await news of a pending government swap to lengthen debt maturities, traders said.
The peso currency, which the central bank controls through a managed float, closed weaker on Wednesday.
In formal trade between banks, the peso ended down 0.07 percent at 3.45/3.4525 per dollar ARS=RASL. In informal trade between foreign exchange houses, as measured by Reuters, it slumped 0.35 percent to end at 3.5275/3.5325 ARSB=. (Reporting by Jorge Otaola and Walter Bianchi; Writing by Hilary Burke; Editing by Kenneth Barry0