May 5, 2008 / 9:50 PM / 12 years ago

Argentine stocks lack direction, close stable

BUENOS AIRES, May 5 (Reuters) - Argentine stocks closed flat on Monday in a session lacking direction, with gains by energy-related firms canceled out by sharp losses for banks.

The MerVal index .MERV of leading stocks ended down just 0.09 percent at 2,105.57 points. Volume on the broad market was moderate at $34 million and of active issues, 68 declined, 38 advanced and 16 were unchanged.

“Different factors produced a lackluster MerVal session, because Wall Street’s weakness was added to a lack of agreement between the farmers and the government,” said Leopoldo Olivari, a trader at the Bacque brokerage, referring to a dispute over grains export taxes that sparked a three-week strike in March.

The day’s biggest losers were banks, as investors reshuffled portfolios after Brazil earned an investment grade rating last week, traders said. Banco Hipotecario’s BHI.BA stock slid 4.58 percent to 1.46 pesos per share.

Gains by energy companies were not enough to haul the MerVal into positive territory.

Shares in index heavyweight and steelmaker Tenaris TENA.BA — the world’s leading producer of seamless steel tubes for the energy industry — rose 2.33 percent to 88 pesos per share due to optimism about its first-quarter earnings, due on Tuesday.

Argentina’s locally traded bonds <AR/BONOS> slipped 0.3 percent on average on Monday due to late profit-taking on gains registered earlier in the session.

“Investors are doing quick deals with permanent profit-taking going on,” said one trader. “It’s a totally short-term market.”

Monday’s losers on the debt market were headed by the peso-denominated Discount bond, which fell 1 percent in over-the-counter trade.

Some of Argentina’s peso-denominated bonds had recovered on Friday after recent losses linked to a conflict between the government and the agricultural sector.

On the foreign exchange market, the peso edged down 0.08 percent to 3.1725/3.175 per dollar ARS=RASL in formal interbank trade.

In informal trade between foreign exchange houses, as measured by Reuters, the peso firmed by the same margin to 3.2225/3.2250 per dollar <ARSB=.

About 40 percent of currency trade takes place informally between foreign exchange houses. (Reporting by Jorge Otaola and Walter Bianchi; Writing by Helen Popper; Editing by Dan Grebler)

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