SAO PAULO, Jan 2 (Reuters) – Latin American markets started 2018 on Tuesday on a strong footing as solid global economic growth data drove investors to unwind year-end hedges. China’s Caixin index of Chinese industry rose to a four-month high of 51.5 in December, confounding forecasts for a decline. The reading pointed to resilience for the world’s largest consumer of commodities even as Beijing cracks down on industrial pollution and engineers a cooling property market.

It also bolstered expectations of global economic strength for the first month of the year amid strong readings on manufacturing in the euro zone. Currencies from Brazil, Mexico, Chile , Colombia strengthened between 0.9 percent and 1.7 percent. Stock indexes were up throughout the region, with Brazil’s benchmark Bovespa leading gains as traders unwound bets on a credit downgrade. Brazilian policymakers met in December with rating agencies to stave off a downgrade after lawmakers delayed a key vote on a plan to streamline the social security system and curb government spending. “The market sought protection from what looked like an imminent sovereign downgrade, but that did not materialize,” H.Commcor brokerage trader Cleber Alessie said. Metal├║rgica Gerdau SA stock was the biggest gainer on the benchmark index after Commercial Metals Co agreed to acquire certain U.S. rebar assets owned by the Brazilian steelmaker.

Key Latin American stock indexes and currencies at 1720 GMT:

Stock indexes daily % YTD %

change change Latest

MSCI Emerging Markets 1175.55 1.56 -0.08 MSCI LatAm 2894.09 2.33 0 Brazil Bovespa 77653.30 1.64 1.64 Mexico S&P/BVM IPC 49622.44 0.54 0.54 Chile IPSA 5592.51 0.5 0.50 Chile IGPA 28111.30 0.47 0.47 Argentina MerVal 30475.44 1.36 1.36 Colombia IGBC 11421.38 -0.49 0.45 Venezuela IBC 1265.15 0.16 -96.01 Currencies daily % YTD %

change change

Latest

Brazil real 3.2641 1.51 -0.46 Mexico peso 19.5250 0.89 6.24 Chile peso 607.8 1.13 10.35 Colombia peso 2933.84 1.64 2.31 Argentina peso (interbank) 18.5800 0.38 -14.56 Argentina peso (parallel) 19.15 0.68 -12.17

(Reporting by Bruno Federowski in Sao Paulo; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)