EMERGING MARKETS-Latam stocks, FX on course for worst quarter in a year

    * Brazil set for a near 9% decline in Q1
    * Latam FX gains on the day as dollar weakens
    * Cielo soar after Brazil greenlights WhatsApp payments

    By Sruthi Shankar
    March 31 (Reuters) - Latin American currencies and stocks
were on course to close out their worst quarter in a year on
Wednesday as bets of a faster U.S. economic recovery lifted the
dollar and a worsening coronavirus crisis in Brazil hit regional
    The real, among the worst performing EM currencies so
far this year with losses of almost 9%, rose 1.2%.  
    Other regional peers including the the Mexican peso,
the Colombian peso and the Chilean peso all rose
in a reversal of this year's trend as the dollar weakened.

    Hawkish signals from the central bank and recent moves by
President Jair Bolsonaro to win support from allies in Congress
amid criticism over his government's handling of the pandemic
supported Brazil's markets recently. 
    However, with the country reporting record COVID-19 deaths,
its public finances and economic activity have taken a heavy
    Data showed the number of people officially out of work in
the three months to January hit its highest since comparable
records began in 2012, while another set showed national debt
rose to a new all-time high of 90% of GDP in February. 

    "We maintain our worse-than-consensus fiscal scenario where
total public spending surpasses the Spending Cap by BRL75
billion (1.0% of GDP) in 2021, but warn that the risks of a
larger fiscal ease are increasing due to the tough Covid-19
situation," Citi analysts wrote in a note.
    The Chilean peso rose after the central bank on Tuesday kept
its benchmark interest rate steady at 0.5%, in line with
    The central bank also said the economy would grow 6% to 7%
in 2021, a greater expansion than previously predicted, buoyed
by one of the world´s most successful vaccination drives.

    Still, the MSCI index of Latin American currencies
 was on course for a 6% drop in the first
quarter, while its equities counterpart was set
for a 6.5% decline - their worst quarterly losses since March
    Brazil's main Bovespa index slipped after hitting a
one-month high in the previous session as banks weighed.  
    Payment processing company Cielo SA soared 6.2%
after Brazil's central bank allowed Facebook to process
payments through the WhatsApp messaging service, which Cielo has
a partnership with.
    Key Latin American stock indexes and currencies:
                                       Latest       Daily %
 MSCI Emerging Markets                    1319.48           0
 MSCI LatAm                               2294.16        0.79
 Brazil Bovespa                         116599.45       -0.21
 Mexico IPC                              47393.34       -1.07
 Chile IPSA                               4917.82       -0.21
 Argentina MerVal                        48172.21        0.17
 Colombia COLCAP                          1325.28       -0.15 Currencies                  Latest       Daily %
 Brazil real                               5.6885        1.22
 Mexico peso                              20.4400        0.64
 Chile peso                                 719.5        1.25
 Colombia peso                            3671.25        1.53
 Peru sol                                  3.7628        0.21
 Argentina peso (interbank)               91.9800       -0.02

 (Reporting by Sruthi Shankar in Bengaluru
Editing by Alistair Bell)