BUENOS AIRES, March 17 (Reuters) - Argentine stocks plummeted on Monday in line with regional markets amid a credit crisis that has shaken investor confidence worldwide.
The benchmark MerVal index .MERV closed down 2.84 percent to 2,056.96 points, after dropping as much as 4.06 percent.
"The MerVal is following the trend created by the climate of mistrust in the U.S. financial system," said Claudio Szlaien, an analyst at Marlon Recursos Financieros brokerage.
The MerVal sank just after trade opened due to the worsening of the credit crisis in the United States.
But it pared losses after the Dow Jones industrial average .DJI recovered late in the session, as investors took comfort in the U.S. Federal Reserve's efforts to ease fallout from the demise of investment bank Bear Stearns BSC.N and provide more cash for the financial system.
The Fed cut the discount rate it charges on direct loans to banks to 3.25 percent from 3.50 percent and set up a new program to provide cash to a wider range of big financial firms previously unable to borrow directly from the central bank.
In Argentina, the session's losers included BBVA Banco Frances (FRA.BA), shedding 4.56 percent to 7.75 pesos per share, and Brazil's Petrobras APBR.BA, which fell 4.28 percent to 166.45 pesos.
On the broad market, volume was a healthy $40.7 million. Of the active issues, 89 declined, 14 advanced and 10 ended unchanged.
Meanwhile, government debt prices <AR/BONOS> fell 1.3 percent on average, led by a 2.2 percent drop in the dollar-denominated Discount bond and a 1.1 percent in the Par bond, also denominated in dollars.
With the dollar in free-fall against the euro, the peso EURCC=RASL hit another all-time low against that currency in the informal market, ending at 4.94/5.04 pesos per euro.
Against the dollar, the peso weakened 0.16 percent to 3.1475/3.1500 ARS=RASL in formal interbank trade, where the central bank normally intervenes.
In informal trade between foreign exchange houses, as measured by Reuters, the peso ARSB= ended unchanged at 3.1825/3.1850 per dollar. (Reporting by Walter Bianchi and Jorge Otaola; Writing by Gaspard Sebag; Editing by Leslie Adler)