(Adds statement not ruling out further intervention, updates peso)
By Miguel Gutierrez and Adriana Barrera
MEXICO CITY, Jan 5 (Reuters) - Mexico’s central bank sold dollars in Mexico and New York on Thursday to fight off the peso’s nose dive to record lows amid fears U.S. President-elect Donald Trump’s protectionist policies could further hammer Latin America’s second-biggest economy.
The central bank sold at least $1 billion in U.S. currency in morning trade, four traders told Reuters, asking not to be identified because they were not authorized to speak publicly.
The bank kept the amount confidential.
Mexico’s currency commission said in a separate statement that the move was aimed at providing liquidity and combating recent volatility in the peso, adding that it could not rule out further discretionary intervention to support the currency.
The dollar sales mark the bank’s first currency intervention since February 2016, when it sold $2 billion to prop up the sinking peso. The peso depreciated 20 percent last year alone and was among the world’s worst performing currencies.
Banco Base said in a report following the intervention that the decision was aimed at combating “speculative positions” that had built up against the peso.
Mexico’s peso strengthened after the intervention was reported, but trade was choppy and it pared gains to trade flat around 21.48 per dollar after Trump threatened Toyota Motor Corp with a “big border tax” if it followed through on plans to build a new factory in Mexico to build cars for the U.S. market.
The peso posted a record low at 21.624 per dollar on Wednesday after minutes from the U.S. Federal Reserve’s Dec. 13-14 meeting hinted that faster rate hikes could be needed under Trump.
Historically the impact of Mexico’s currency interventions have tended to be short-lived, and the peso has continued to trend lower.
Juan Garcia, director of national operations for the central bank, confirmed the surprise sales and said they would continue through the day, but he declined to specify volumes.
Prior to the February intervention, the Banco de Mexico had sold dollars in rules-based auctions since a deep slump in the peso in 2014. The February dollar sales were a major policy shift and marked the first time the bank opted for direct dollar sales since the 2009 financial crisis.
On Tuesday, the peso was rocked by Ford Motor Co’s decision to cancel a planned $1.6 billion investment in central Mexico.
Also, a major fuel price hike that took effect on Jan. 1 has stirred inflation fears and provoked numerous protests and some looting. President Enrique Pena Nieto on Wednesday defended the hike.
The currency fall continued on Wednesday and was compounded by the Fed’s minutes showing policymakers were concerned that quicker economic growth under Trump could require faster interest-rate increases in the United States.
Trump’s election win drove the Mexican currency steadily lower, with the sell-off fueled by his threats to scrap a trade deal between Mexico and the United States, and to levy punitive tariffs on Mexican-made goods.
On the campaign trail, Trump threatened to halt money transfers from Mexican nationals in the United States unless the country agreed to pay for the massive wall he has vowed to build on the U.S. southern border to keep out illegal immigrants. (Additional reporting by Roberto Aguilar, Paulina Osorio and David Alire Garcia; Writing by Simon Gardner; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe and Alan Crosby)