FiNETIK – Asia and Latin America – Market News Network

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Mexico, The Emerging Latin American Powerhouse

TABB Forum:  For the past few years, coverage of Mexico in the U.S. media has largely been dominated by stories of violence stemming from the country’s drug cartels. Lately though, the media have increasingly been turning their attention to the story of Mexico’s booming economy, and new president Enrique Peña Nieto’s bold moves to radically reshape it. This robust growth in Mexico looks set to continue for some time, which has led the Financial Times to label Mexico as the “Aztec Tiger.”1

MexDer, the nation’s only futures exchange, has been taking steps to ensure that it grows apace with the nation’s economy by making substantial upgrades to its matching engine, while continuing to make it easier for foreign investors to access the market. As a result of these changes, as of yesterday, April 14, north-to-south routing to MexDer via CME Group’s Globex® platform is available on Trading Technologies. You can read the details in the news release that we published today and on  TradingTechnology website.

The Aztec Tiger 

A perfect storm of positive influences is coming together to make Mexico one of the world’s emerging economic powerhouses. Mexico has a young and growing population, low levels of government debt and low inflation. The country is developing into a leading exporter due in part to widespread implementation of new manufacturing processes, but also due to the fact that Mexico has free trade pacts with 44 countries—more than any other nation on earth.These forces have combined to make Mexico’s economy one of the few bright spots in a global economy still working off the hangover resulting from the credit bubble. Mexico’s economy grew at around four percent in 2012, quadruple the growth rate of Latin America’s largest economy, Brazil.2 The Mexican peso hit a 19-month high against the U.S. dollar in March, and has outpaced 16 other major world currencies over the last month.3

With its growth track record and favorable conditions for growth to continue, a Nomura Equity Research report in July 2012 predicted that Mexico would overtake Brazil to become the largest Latin American economy within the next decade.4 In addition, Standard & Poor’s and Fitch have indicated that in the near future, they are likely to upgrade Mexico’s debt, which is already investment grade.5

A Pact for Mexico, An Open Door for Growth

Much of the optimism for Mexico’s future can be traced back to its new president, Enrique Peña Nieto. He hails from the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which ruled Mexico uninterrupted for 71 years and was identified with corruption and inefficient bureaucracy. That being said, President Nieto is quickly making himself known as a risk taker, willing to take on fights in which none of his predecessors seemed willing to engage.

Within two days of his swearing-in last December, Nieto’s PRI signed a “Pact for Mexico”6 with the opposition National Action Party (PAN). This pact outlines 95 proposals to modernize and liberalize Mexico’s economy. Nieto began by taking on the richest man in the world, Carlos Slim, by announcing plans to foster competition in the telecommunication and television industries, which are currently dominated by monopolies. Later this year, Nieto is expected to propose his most significant change, opening up Mexico’s energy market and allowing the state-run oil concern Pemex to work with the world’s largest oil companies. It’s expected that these reforms, once enacted, will increase Mexico’s GDP growth from four percent to six percent a year.7

Making MoNeT

In parallel, MexDer and the Mexican government have done quite a bit to attract foreign investors, and to make it easy for them to access the market. Perhaps one of the most significant changes has been the development of the MoNeT matching engine, which went live on Bolsa Mexicana de Valores (BMV), the equities segment, last fall.

The MoNeT matching engine was designed to attract high-frequency traders, mainly from the U.S. and Europe. It boasts internal latencies of 90 microseconds, which is faster than the 110 microseconds of NASDAQ or 125 microseconds at the London Stock Exchange.8 BMV volumes have increased 30 percent to 40 percent since the launch of the new matching engine.9For international traders and investors, accessing MexDer is straightforward. The north-to-south routing available via CME Globex allows any TT customer with an existing CME infrastructure to route orders to MexDer’s matching engine. MexDer is also accessible now in TT’s MultiBroker environment, which is currently available in beta. Additional information regarding how CME users can access MexDer is posted on the CME website.There are a number of other reasons why doing business in Mexico is easier than most other Latin American countries. Unlike Brazil, there is no withholding tax of any kind on foreign investment. The Mexican peso is a freely traded and easily convertible currency, and MexDer’s clearing house, Asigna, accepts U.S. dollar-denominated collateral.

La Oportunidad Está En Todas Partes

Owing to the fact that the U.S. does $1.5 billion per day in trade with Mexico,10 the Mexican markets are, predictably, highly correlated with America’s. North-to-south customers trading MexDer via Globex have access to a number of financial futures that allow for arbitrage opportunities against their American counterparts.

MexDer lists the IPC index of the BMV, which in general tracks closely to the S&P 500. The full Mexican yield curve is available on MexDer, from one-month bills to 30-year bonds, and it converges with the U.S. yield curve. Finally, MexDer lists a Mexican peso/U.S. dollar FX future, one of the 20 biggest FX futures contracts in the world by volume, which sets up arbitrage opportunities with the CME’s equally liquid peso/U.S. dollar future. In a recent MarketsWiki interview, MexDer CEO Jorge Alegria indicated that going forward, the exchange would likely look to list commodity futures linked to similar contracts listed on CME Group.

BMV IPC vs. S&P 500
Chart obtained from Yahoo! Finance

The ascent of the Aztec Tiger is no sure thing. There is always the danger of President Nieto’s PRI party losing its appetite for reform and returning to its old ways. There’s the chance that the hiccups in the U.S. economic recovery may impact Mexico, given that 30 percent of the Mexican economy is tied to U.S. exports. There may even be signs that Mexico’s economy is stalling already, which led the central bank to reduce interest rates for the first time since March 2009. Either way, TT users now have the ability to participate in one of today’s most interesting markets.

1 Thomson, Adam. “Mexico: Aztec tiger.” Financial Times. January 30, 2013.
2 Rathbone, John-Paul. “Mexico’s reform plan lifts hopes for greater prosperity.” Financial Times. March 20, 2013
3 Kwan Yuk, Pan. “Mexican peso hits 19 month high”. Financial Times. March 14, 2013.

Filed under: BMV - Mexico, Exchanges, Latin America, Mexico, News, Trading Technology, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Latin America: Investor News Letter 21.September 2012


Analysis: China worries spur Mexico stock market flows

MEXICO CITY – Mexico has been on the wrong side of China’s economic boom for the last decade, but is now seeing an upturn in its fortunes as the Asian powerhouse’s economy slows and international stock pickers look to hedge their bets.

Can Mexico live up to its investment potential?
Deutsche Bank Downbeat On Brazil In Wake of Intervention; Mexico Retail Sales Up

Mexico, the “Forgotten” Emerging Market


Brazil mulls raising Mexico car trade quota – sources

Brazil is considering raising a three-year bilateral auto trade pact quota it agreed to with Mexico in March, potentially allowing Mexican exporters to sell around $350 million worth of additional vehicles to the Brazilian market annually.

Brazil: PE cools in Brazil, warmes in Mexico and Andes

US urges Brazil in “clear terms’ not to hike tariffs

Brazil reacts to US stimuli saying it will keep the Real ‘devalued’ and competitive

Brazil ethanol returns to US as biofuel rules pave way

Goldman Sachs Plans Private-Equity Comeback in Brazil

Latin America

Colombia rapidly becoming another “positive surprise” from Latinamerica

Uruguay’s economy suffers slight deceleration in 2Q but on track to the 4% target

IMF calls on Argentina to implement measures on the quality of official data

Moody’s changes Argentina rating outlook to negative from stable

Deal Analysis: Panama City Metro Line 1

Gazprom in talks with Argentina’s YPF on LNG supplies

Private equity in LatAm: less new money, more deals

Shadow banking to dominate in LatAm projects

Cuba struggles with foreign investment, growth

China Steps Up Push Into Latin America

Korean Art fair highlights Latin American art

Filed under: Argentina, Banking, Brazil, Central America, Chile, China, Colombia, Energy & Environment, Events, Latin America, Mexico, Peru, Risk Management, Wealth Management, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Emerging Markets: Energy or Enigma? Mexico, Brazil & China – Dan Watkins

Emerging market trading strategies should remain closely aligned with inter-country trade relations, or so one would think.

A professional stock investor’s interest in a company, after all, coincides with that company’s vision and operational policies. Would such a metric be appropriate in trading an entire economy? Interestingly, popular opinion leans toward headlines rather than fundamentals as being the key determining factor.

That raises a question: Can a market investor be expected to trade a country’s equity, commodity or currency without being able to derive its true value on a balance sheet?

One would gather from the latest international finance journals that China and its markets dominate the emerging markets dialogue. Sure, China and the U.S. have strong trade programs in place but there are issues such as currency valuation headaches that must be considered.

The BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) countries all have exponential growth potential both short-term and long-term and can be considered underdeveloped vs. their population participation. Capital market returns usually delineate the leader of the pack so among the “fantastic-four” BRIC countries, Brazil reigns supreme.

Brazil has had unrelenting stamina in moving high-energy, high-value energy companies’ stocks higher over the last half decade. One reason for Brazil’s success is its massive capital markets restructuring in policy, participation and innovation. Of course the first thing Brazil had to do was stabilize its currency from its inflation plague so that the Real could sustain itself against economic and political monetary fatigue.

Brazil is on top of asset manager and retirement account lists in equity, equity options, futures contracts and fixed income because of the basis of its economic stability and strong natural resources. So while Brazil has brought equilibrium to its markets, Russia, India and China deal with inflation. But trading Brazil can also be worrisome due to inter-country trade relations with the U.S. being less-than-favorable.

Those issues raise an interesting question: What market doesn’t make the news but is hot, has been hot and continues to sizzle like fajitas-picante?   MEXICO

News stories on Mexico cover drug war violence, immigration and tourism, but is that the end of the story? Washington – and therefore public discourse – has focused on the $100 billion in trade to China over the last year. What most don’t hear is that the U.S. has exported nearly $400 billion to Mexico during the same time period. Compare all BRIC countries with Mexico and Mexico tops them all collectively.

Mexico reached 4 percent annual GDP growth rate last year, helped by direct investments from the U.S. and China. On the day the U.S. Federal Reserve announced that it would maintain its low interest rate policy through 2014, the Mexican peso rose 0.6 percent, marking a 7 percent climb for the month of January. How many other markets can be traded as strongly in response to a U.S. Treasury policy announcement?

If Mexico were to equitize or make public its oil production industry as Brazil has, by publicly trading leading oil company Petroleos Mexicanos, also known as Pemex, for example, a major trade explosion in Mexico’s capital markets would quickly follow. Pemex is a Mexican state-owned company worth over $415 billion – that’s $100 billion in assets more than Brazil’s giant Petrobras.

Mexico worth more than Brazil and China long term? Mexico reaches higher ground four times that in trade over the entire BRIC countries. One of Mexico’s oil companies is four times the size in assets over Brazil’s all-star Petrobras. What’s more, Mexico’s inflation is under 5 percent while Brazil, Russia, India and China all have inflation rates closer to 7 percent.

A reflection of U.S. involvement and stabilizing influence in Mexico can be seen in the Mexican stock market with more than 1,000 symbols, many of which are high value and liquid ADRs from the New York Stock Exchange and Nasdaq OMX.

Why not follow the money? Taking a look at the presence of Wall Street on La Reforma in Mexico City, where the Bolsa Mexicana de Valores (the Mexican Stock Exchange) is, you’ll find BMV members such a Citigroup, JPMC, Credit Suisse, Barclays, Deutsche Bank, Merrill Lynch, HSBC, Scotia, ING and UBS. No small potatoes there.

The top players and astute institutional investors are solidly positioned in Mexico. They monitor and believe they can best forecast movement in the market by keeping an eye on U.S. and Chinese import/exports with Mexico. A closer eye is kept on the cash equity ADRs and the Mexican bond markets. Many investors tend to believe that Mexico is just undervalued and other emerging markets are overvalued. But one more thing to remember, the U.S./Mexico trade policy should provide Mexico with lots of energy to outlast the steam of the emerging markets chatter.

Perhaps we should start thinking about MBRICs?

By Dan  Watkins, CC-Speed (

Sourc: TABB Forum, 07.03.2012

Filed under: BM&FBOVESPA, BMV - Mexico, Brazil, China, Exchanges, Mexico, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

China and Mexico: Strategic Partners or Competitors? 中国与墨西哥: 战略伙伴关系还是竞争对手?.

China and Mexico’s bilateral relationship is the subject of an ongoing debate, characterized, in general, by strongly conflicting views. On one hand, there are the ones that quite often quote unfair trade practices from China, or Chinese companies who have suffered losses of time, energy and money when entering the Mexican market.

It is quite common to listen at business meetings that after months of negotiations, companies found out that their potential local partner was not the most adequate. Sadly, cross-cultural misunderstandings often contributed to break the potential association, since the local partner didn’t have the financial strengths nor was knowledgeable enough of the local market, etc. On the other hand, bad experiences are not a must. It is also possible to identify success stories from companies establishing in China, and vice-versa, doing business profitably. The examples include small and medium size companies on trading, sourcing, and exporting to and from China; but also large corporations with standalone investments or join ventures with local players.

At Mexican malls you can buy electronic products with a Chinese brand manufactured in Mexico; in China, flour made “tacos” have paved their way to gain preferences in the Chinese middle class.

Even tough for many specialists the investment and trade flow between China and Mexico is not significant in terms of value and diversity of industries; there are some figures that are worth keeping in mind. Based on official statistics in 1990, Mexico exported nine million USD and imported around fifteen million USD from China. For 2010, the bilateral trade reached almost fifty billion USD, while the bilateral trade between India and China reached about sixty billion USD in that same year. This is an impressive amount if we consider Mexico does not share borders with India, and Mexican population is around ten times smaller than the Indian.

On December 11, 2011; the agreed program between Mexico and China on compensatory import duties will come to an end. It is expected for this to reinvigorate the debate on trade and business practices. Nevertheless, it would be worth it to keep in mind that in a twenty years period, Mexico’s exports to China had a compound annual growth rate of over 36 per cent (CAGR), while imports from China to Mexico registered a CAGR of 49 percent. Moreover, although exports from China are generally associated to end products, during the last decade, imports such as intermediate products have increased significantly.

Therefore, if you are doing business between both countries, it would be relevant to review if your company is growing two digits too. Although there is no “fail-safe” recipe for doing business between China and Mexico, the more informed the company is, the greater its chances are of succeeding. On this issue, you can review complimentary articles on innovation, resource allocation, and metrics, among many other factors to be considered in a successful market expansion strategy.

At Deloitte, from Tijuana to Shenzhen and from Hong Kong to Monterrey, we have highly experienced professionals ready to help you succeed in China and Mexico. For more information on our services email us at:

Source: Deloitte Mexico, 25.11.2011 –  José Luis Enciso

Filed under: Asia, China, Latin America, Mexico, News, , , , , , , , ,

Mexico the NEW China ?

When it comes to global manufacturing, Mexico is quickly emerging as the “new” China.

According to corporate consultant AlixPartners, Mexico has leapfrogged China to be ranked as the cheapest country in the world for companies looking to manufacture products for the U.S. market. India is now No. 2, followed by China and then Brazil.

In fact, Mexico’s cost advantages and has become so cheap that even Chinese companies are moving there to capitalize on the trade advantages that come from geographic proximity.

The influx of Chinese manufacturers began early in the decade, as China-based firms in the cellular telephone, television, textile and automobile sectors began to establish maquiladora operations in Mexico. By 2005, there were 20-25 Chinese manufacturers operating in such Mexican states Chihuahua, Tamaulipas and Baja.

The investments were generally small, but the operations had managed to create nearly 4,000 jobs, Enrique Castro Septien, president of the Consejo Nacional de la Industria Maquiladora de Exportacion (CNIME), told the SourceMex news portal in a 2005 interview.

China’s push into Mexico became more concentrated, with China-based automakers Zhongxing Automobile Co., First Automotive Works (in partnership with Mexican retail/media heavyweight Grupo Salinas), Geely Automobile Holdings (PINK: GELYF) and ChangAn Automobile Group Co. Ltd. (the Chinese partner of Ford Motor Co. (NYSE: F) and Suzuki Motor Corp.), all announced plans to place automaking factories in Mexico.

Not all the plans would come to fruition. But Geely’s plan called for a three-phase project that would ultimately involve a $270 million investment and have a total annual capacity of 300,000 vehicles. ChangAn wants to churn out 50,000 vehicles a year. Both companies are taking these steps with the ultimate goal of selling cars to U.S. consumers.

Mexico’s allure as a production site that can serve the U.S. market isn’t limited to China-based suitors. U.S. companies are increasingly realizing that Mexico is a better option than China. Analysts are calling it “nearshoring” or “reverse globalization.” But the reality is this: With wages on the rise in China, ongoing worries about whipsaw energy and commodity prices, and a dollar-yuan relationship that’s destined to get much uglier before it has a chance of improving, manufacturers with an eye on the American market are increasingly realizing that Mexico trumps China in virtually every equation the producers run.

“China was like a recent graduate, hitting the job market for the first time and willing to work for next to nothing,” Mexico-manufacturing consultant German Dominguez told the Christian Science Monitor in an interview last year. But now China is experiencing “the perfect storm … it’s making Mexico – a country that had been the ugly duckling when it came to costs – look a lot better.”

The real eye opener was a 2008 speculative frenzy that sent crude oil prices up to a record level in excess of $147 a barrel – an escalation that caused shipping prices to soar. Suddenly, the labor cost advantage China enjoyed wasn’t enough to overcome the costs of shipping finished goods thousands of miles from Asia to North America. And that reality kick-started the concept of “nearshoring,” concluded an investment research report by Canadian investment bank CIBC World Markets Inc. (NYSE: CM)

“In a world of triple-digit oil prices, distance costs money,” the CIBC research analysts wrote. “And while trade liberalization and technology may have flattened the world, rising transport prices will once again make it rounder.”

Indeed, four factors are at work here.

Mexico’s “Fab Four”

  • The U.S.-Mexico Connection: There’s no question that China’s role in the post-financial-crisis world economy will continue to grow in importance. But contrary to the conventional wisdom, U.S. firms still export three times as much to Mexico as they do to China. Mexico gets 75% of its foreign direct investment from the United States, and sends 85% of its exports back across U.S. borders. As China’s cost and currency advantages dissipate, the fact that the United States and Mexico are right next to one another makes it logical to keep the factories in this hemisphere – if for no other reason that to shorten the supply chain and to hold down shipping costs. This is particularly important for companies like Johnson & Johnson (NYSE: JNJ), Whirlpool Corp. (NYSE: WHR) and even the beleaguered auto parts maker Delphi Corp. (PINK: DPHIQ) which are involved in just-in-time manufacturing that requires parts be delivered only as fast as they are needed.
  • The Lost Cost Advantage: A decade or more ago, in any discussion of manufactured product costs, Asia was hands-down the low-cost producer. That’s a given no more. Recent reports – including the analysis by AlixPartners – show that Asia’s production costs are 15% or 20% higher than they were just four years ago. A U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics report from March reaches the same conclusion. Compensation costs in East Asia – a region that includes China but excludes Japan – rose from 32% of U.S. wages in 2002 to 43% in 2007, the most recent statistics available. And since wages are advancing at a rate of 8% to 9% a year, and many types of taxes are escalating, too, East Asia’s overall costs have no doubt escalated even more in the two years since the BLS figures were reported.
  • The Creeping Currency Crisis: For the past few years, U.S. elected officials and corporate executives alike have groused that China keeps its currency artificially low to boost its exports, while also reducing U.S. imports. The U.S. trade deficit with China has soared, growing by $20.2 billion in August alone to reach $143 billion so far this year. The currency debate will be part of the discussion when U.S. President Barack Obama visits China starting Monday. Because China’s yuan has strengthened so much, goods made in China may not be the bargain they once were. Those currency crosscurrents aren’t a problem with the U.S. and Mexico, however. As of Monday, the dollar was down about 15% from its March 2009 high. At the same time, however, the Mexican peso had dropped 20% versus the dollar. So while the yuan was getting stronger as the dollar got cheaper, the peso was getting even cheaper versus the dollar.
  • Trade Alliance Central: Everyone’s familiar with the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).  But not everyone understands the impact that NAFTA has had. It isn’t just window-dressing: Mexico’s trade with the United States and Canada has tripled since NAFTA was enacted in 1994. What’s more, Mexico has 12 free-trade agreements that involve more than 40 countries – more than any other country and enough to cover more than 90% of the country’s foreign trade. Its goods can be exported – duty-free – to the United States, Canada, the European Union, most of Central and Latin America, and to Japan.

In the global scheme of things, what I am telling you here probably won’t be a game-changer when it comes to China. That country is an economic juggernaut and is a market that U.S. investors cannot afford to ignore.  Given China’s emerging strength and its increasingly dominant financial position, it’s going to have its own consumer markets to service for decades to come.

Two Profit Play Candidates

From a regional standpoint, these developments all show that we’re in the earliest stages of what could be an even-closer Mexican/American relationship – enhancing the existing trade partnership in ways that benefit companies on both sides of the border (even companies that hail from other parts of the world).

In the meantime, we’ll be watching for signs of a resurgent Mexican manufacturing industry that’s ultimately driven by Chinese companies – because we know the American companies doing business with them will enjoy the fruits of their labor.

Since this is an early stage opportunity best for investors capable of stomaching some serious volatility, we’ll be watching for those Mexican companies likely to benefit from the capital that’s being newly deployed in their backyard.

Two of my favorite choices include:

  • Wal Mart de Mexico SAB de CV (OTC ADR: WMMVY): Also known as “Walmex,” this retailer has all the advantages of investing in its U.S. counterpart – albeit with a couple of twists. Walmex’s third-quarter profits were up 18% and the company just started accepting bank deposits, a service that should boost store traffic. And while the U.S. retail market is highly saturated – which limits growth opportunities – there are still plenty of places to build Walmex stores south of the border. After all, somebody has to sell products to all those thousands of workers likely to be involved in the growing maquiladora sector.
  • Coca-Cola FEMSA SAB de CV (NYSE ADR: KOF): Things truly do go better with Coke – especially higher wages and an improved lifestyle. According to Reuters, Mexicans now consume more Coca-Cola beverages per capita than any other nation in the world. The company just posted a 25% jump in its third-quarter net earnings, aided by a strong 21% jump in revenue. Coca-Cola FEMSA continues to experience strong growth from its Oxxo convenience stores, and strong beer sales, too. And all three product groups are logical beneficiaries of strong maquiladora development and the growing incomes and rising family wealth that will translate into higher consumer spending in the immediately surrounding areas.

Source: Money Morning, 13.11.2009 by Keith Fitz-Gerald, Chief Investment Strategist,  Money Morning/The Money Map Report

Filed under: Brazil, China, Countries, India, Latin America, Mexico, News, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Why China and Japan Need an East Asia Bloc

Withering exports and asset bubbles have forced Asians – especially China and Japan — to work harder at free trade pacts.

All kinds of proposals have been floated about creating an Asian bloc a la European Union. Bilateral and multilateral free trade agreements (FTA) have been suggested for various combinations of Asian countries. Lately, there’s been a flurry of new ideas as Japan’s recently installed DPJ government seeks to differentiate from the ousted LDP.

By promoting ideas that lean toward Asia, DPJ’s leadership is signaling that Japan wants less dependence on the United States. This position offers a hope for the future to Japanese people, whose economy has been comatose for two decades. Closer integration with Asian neighbors could restore growth in Japan.

Whenever global trade gets into trouble, Asian countries talk about regional cooperation as an alternative growth driver. But typically these talks die out as soon as global trade recovers. Today’s chatter is following the same old pattern, although this time global trade is not on track to recover to previous levels and sustain East Asia’s export model. Thus, some sort of regional integration is needed to revive regional growth.

Which regional organization is in a position to lead an integration movement? Certainly not ASEAN, which is too small, nor APEC, which is too big. Something more is needed – like a bloc rooted in a trade pact between Japan and China.

ASEAN’s members are 10 countries in Southeast Asia with a population exceeding 600 million and a combined GDP of US$ 1.5 trillion in 2008. The group embraced an FTA process called AFTA in 1992, which accelerated after the 1997-’98 Asian Financial Crisis and competition with China heated up. When AFTA began, few gave it much chance for success, given the region’s huge disparities in per capita income and economic systems. Today AFTA is almost a reality, which is certainly a miracle.

ASEAN has succeeded beyond its wildest dreams. These days China, Japan, and South Korea join annual meetings as dialogue partners, while the European Union and United States participate in regional forums and bilateral discussions.

China and ASEAN completed FTA negotiations last year, demonstrating that they can function as an economic bloc. Now, China is ASEAN’s third largest trading partner. Indeed, there is a great upside for economic cooperation between the two.

Before the Asian Financial Crisis, the ASEAN region was touted as a “miracle” by international financial institutions for maintaining high GDP growth rates for more than two decades. But some of that growth was built on a bubble that diverted business away from production and toward asset speculation. This developed after credit expansion, driven by the pegging of regional currencies to the U.S. dollar, encouraged land speculation. ASEAN’s emerging economies absorbed massive cross-border capital due to a weak dollar, which slumped after the Federal Reserve responded to a U.S. banking crisis in the early 1990s by maintaining low interest rates.

Back then, I visited companies in the region that produced goods for export. I found that, despite all the talk of miracles, many were making money on financial games — not business. At that time, China was building an export sector that had started exerting downward pressure on tradable goods prices. Instead of focusing on competitiveness, the region hid behind a financial bubble and postponed a resolution. Indeed, ASEAN’s GDP was higher than China’s before the Asian financial crunch; now China’s GDP is three times ASEAN’s.

China today faces challenges similar to those confronting ASEAN before the crisis. While visiting manufacturers in China, I’ve often been discovering that their profits come from property development, lending or outright speculation. While asset prices rise, these practices are effectively subsidizing manufacturing operations – an asset game that can work wonderfully in the short term, as the U.S. experience demonstrates. When property and stock markets are worth more than twice GDP, 20 percent appreciation would be equivalent to four years of business profits in a normal economy. You can’t blame businesses for shifting their attention to the asset game in a bubbly environment. Yet as they focus on finance rather than manufacturing, their competitiveness erodes. And you know where that leads.

I digress from the main focus for this article — regional integration, not China’s bubble challenge.

So let’s look again at ASEAN’s success. In part, this reflects its soft image: Other major players do not view ASEAN as a competitive threat. Rather, the FTA with China has put pressure on majors such as India and Japan to pursue their own FTAs with ASEAN. Another dimension is that the region’s annual meetings have become important occasions for representatives from China, Japan and South Korea to sit down together.

In contrast to ASEAN’s success, APEC has been an abject failure.
Today, it’s simply a photo opportunity for leaders of member countries from the Americas, Oceania, Russia and Asia. APEC was set up after the Soviet bloc collapsed, and served a psychological purpose during the post-Cold War transition. It was reassuring for the global community to see leaders of former enemy countries shaking hands.

However, APEC is just too big and diverse to provide a foundation for building a trade structure. So general is the scope that anything APEC members agree upon would probably pass the United Nations. Now, two decades after end of the Cold War, APEC has clearly outlived its usefulness and is withering, although it may never shut down. APEC’s annual summit still offers leaders of member countries a venue for meetings on the sidelines to discuss bilateral issues. Maybe the group is useful in this way, offering an efficient venue for multiple summits concurrently.

Although ASEAN has succeeded with its own agenda, and achieved considerable success in relation to non-member countries, it clearly cannot assume the same role as the European Union. Besides, should Asia have an EU-like organization? Asia, by definition, clearly cannot. It’s a geographic region that includes the sub-continent, Middle East and central Asia. Any organization that encompasses Asia as a whole would be as unwieldy as APEC.

I am always puzzled by the word “Asia,” which the Greeks coined. In his classic work Histories, it seems ancient Greek historian Herodotus primarily referred to Asia Minor — today’s Turkey, and perhaps Syria — as Asia. I haven’t read much Greek, but I don’t recall India being included in ancient Greek references. So as far as I can determine, there is no internal logic to treating Asia as a region. It seems to encompass all places that are neither European nor African. Africa is a coherent continent, and Europe has a shared cultural past. Asia belongs to neither, so it shouldn’t be considered an organic entity.

Malaysia’s former prime minister Tun Mahathir bin Mohamad Mahathir was a strong supporter of an East Asia Economic Caucus (EAEC) which would have been comprised of ASEAN nations plus China, Japan and South Korea. But because Japan refused to participate in an organization that excluded the United States, the idea failed.

Yet there is some logic to Mahathir’s proposal. East Asia has a shared history, and intra-regional trade goes back centuries. Population movements have been significant, and as tourism takes off, regional relations should strengthen. One could envision a future marked by free-flowing capital, goods and labor in the region.

Yet differences among the region’s countries are much greater than in Europe. ASEAN’s overall per capita income is US$ 2,000, while it’s US$ 3,500 in China and US$ 40,000 in Japan. China, Japan, South Korea and Vietnam share Confucianism and Mahayana Buddhism, while most Southeast Asian countries embrace Islam or Hinayana Buddhism, and generally are more religious. I think an EU-like organization in East Asia would be very hard to establish, but something less restrictive would be possible.

Because Japan turned down Mahathir’s EAEC idea, there was a lot of interest when recently elected Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama’s proposed something similar – an East Asia Community — at a recent ASEAN summit. Hatoyama failed to clarify the role of the United States in any such organization. If the United States is included, it would not fly, as it would be too similar to APEC. Nor could such an organization be like the EU. But if Japan is fully committed, the new group could assume substance over time.

The Japanese probably proposed the community idea for domestic political reasons. Yet the fundamental case for Japan to increase integration with the rest of Asia and away from the United States grows stronger every day. Despite high per capita income, Japan remains an export-oriented economy, having missed an opportunity to develop a consumption-led economy in the 1980s and ’90s. In the foolish belief that rising property prices would spread wealth beyond the industrial heartland in the Tokyo-Osaka corridor, the government of former Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka pursued a high-price land policy, discouraging the middle class from pursuing a consumer lifestyle as they saved for property purchases.

Even more seriously, high property prices have been a major reason for Japan’s rapidly declining birth rate, as land prices inflated living costs. Now, facing a declining population and public debt twice GDP, Japan has few options for rejuvenating the economy by promoting domestic demand. It needs trade if it hopes to achieve any growth at all. Without growth, Japan will sooner or later suffer a public debt crisis.

Japan’s property experience offers a major lesson for China. Every Chinese city is copying the Hong Kong model — raising money from an increasingly expensive land market to fund urban development, leading to rapid urbanization. But this is borrowing growth from the future. Rising land prices lead to rising costs and, hence, slower growth and the same rapid decline in the birth rate that Japan experienced. Unless China reverses its high-land price policy, the consequences will be even more disastrous than in Japan or Hong Kong, as China shifted to the asset game much earlier in its development.

Yet I digress again. The point is that Japan has a strong and genuine case that favors more integration with East Asia. The United States is unlikely to recover soon and with enough strength to feed Japan’s export machine again. There is no more room for fiscal stimulus. Devaluing the yen to gain market share is not an option as long as Washington pursues a weak dollar policy. Without a new source of trade, Japan’s economy is doomed. Closer integration with East Asia is the only way out.

In addition to Hatoyama’s EAC proposal, a study jointly sponsored by China, Japan and South Korea is considering the possibility of a FTA. Of course, ASEAN could offer a template for any new East Asian bloc. ASEAN has signed an FTA with China and is talking with Japan and South Korea. If they all sign, regional integration would be halfway completed.

Whatever proposals for East Asian integration, the key issue is a possible FTA between China and Japan. Adding other parties avoids this main issue. China and Japan together are six times ASEAN’s size and 10 times South Korea’s. Without a China-Japan FTA, no combination in East Asia would truly support regional integration.

Five years ago, I wrote an op-ed piece for the Financial Times entitled China and Japan: Natural Partners. At the time, a prevailing sentiment was that China and Japan were antithetical: Both were still manufacturing export-led economies and could only gain at the other’s expense. I saw complementary demographics and capital: Japan had a declining labor force and China needed to employ tens of millions of youths migrating to cities from the countryside. China needed capital and Japan had surplus capital. And their trade relations indeed tightened, as Japan had increased the Chinese share of its overall trade to 17.4 percent in 2008 from 10.4 percent in ’04.

Today, the situation has changed. China has a capital surplus rather than a shortage. Demographic complementarity is still good and could last another decade. As China shifts its development model from resource intensive to environmentally friendly, a new complementarity is emerging. Japan has already made the transition, and its technologies that supported the transition need a new market such as China’s. So even without a new trade agreement, bilateral trade will continue growing.

An FTA between China and Japan would significantly accelerate their trade, resulting in an efficiency gain of more than US$ 1 trillion. Japan’s aging population lends urgency to increasing the investment returns. On the other hand, as China prepares to make a numerical commitment to limiting greenhouse gas emissions at the upcoming Copenhagen summit on global warming, heavy investment and rapid restructuring are needed for its economy. Japanese technology could come in quite handy.

More importantly, a China-Japan FTA would lay a foundation for an East Asian free trade bloc. The region has a population of 2.1 billion and a GDP of US$ 13 trillion, rivaling the European Union and United States. Blessed with a low base, plenty of capital, sound technology and a huge market, the region’s GDP could easily double in a decade.

Trade and technology are twin engines of growth and prosperity. No boom is sustained without one or the other. And when they come together, the boom can be massive. Prosperity seen over the past decade, for example, is due to information technology along with the opening up of China and other former planned economies. But these factors have been absorbed, forcing the world to find another engine. An integration of East Asian economies would be significant enough to play this role.

The best approach would be for China and Japan to negotiate a comprehensive FTA that encompasses free-flowing goods, services and capital. This task may appear too difficult, but recent changes have made it possible. The two countries should give it a try.

It would be wrong to begin by working out an FTA that includes China, Japan and South Korea. That would triple the task’s level of difficulty, especially since South Korea doesn’t have a meaningful FTA with any country. To imagine that the Seoul government would cut a deal with China or Japan is naive. China and Japan should negotiate bilaterally.

A key issue is that China and Japan should put economics before politics. If the DPJ government wants to gain popularity by increasing international influence rather than boosting the economy, then all the current speculation and discussion about an East Asia bloc would be for nothing. But if DPJ wants to sustain power by rejuvenating Japan’s moribund economy, chances for a deal are good.

While Japan is talking, China should be doing. China should aggressively initiate the FTA process with Japan. Regardless of China’s current difficulties, its growth potential and vast market are what Japan will never have at home nor anywhere else. Hence, China would be able to compromise from a position of strength.

Some may say a free trade area for East Asia is beyond reach. However, history belongs to the daring. The world has changed enough to make it possible. China and Japan should seize the opportunity.

Source: Caijing, 10.11.2009 by Andy Xie, guest economist to Caijing and a board member of Rosetta Stone Advisors Ltd.

Full article in Chinese

Filed under: Asia, China, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, News, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Mexico the 2nd largest exporter of high technology to the U.S.

Mexico October 30, 2009. Mexico was the country with largest exports of high technology products to the U.S. during the first half of 2009, overtaken by China only.

According to the TechAmerica Foundation report, an association of worldwide innovative companies, Mexico has become the second most important supplier country for the United States.

Only in the early months of this year, the U.S. imported goods from Mexico for an amount exceeding $51.1 billion dollars, almost half of what China sells to the country.

Other U.S. suppliers were the European Union, with $34.4 billion dollars, Japan with $30.3 billion dollars, and Malaysia with 22.5 billion dollars.

In counterpart, the main markets for U.S. technology products were, in that order, the 1.European Union, 2.Canada and 3.Mexico. The market purchased goods worth $27.7 billion dollars during the first half of this year.

TechAmerica Foundation report notes that the fastest growing markets for U.S. exports are Brazil, Colombia, Belgium, Costa Rica , Venezuela, Argentina and Chile, in that order.

Source:E-Mid, 30.10.2009

Filed under: Argentina, Asia, Brazil, Central America, Chile, China, Colombia, Latin America, Mexico, News, Venezuela, , , , , , , , , ,

Enhancing China-Latin America Economic Relations

Amid increased Chinese investment in Latin America, investment volume remains low. Exploring the economic relationship begins with an understanding of complementarity in export and import supply and demand between the two regions.

( China’s rapidly expanding trade and investment relationships with the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean have created many recent headlines.  From a point of negligible ties less than just a decade ago, China has now become the number one market for Chilean and Brazilian exports and the number two destination for exports from Argentina, Peru, Costa Rica and Cuba. Indeed, China’s overall trade with Latin America has expanded at an average of 40% since 2003.  Latin America has also become a major destination for overseas investment from Chinese firms, especially in important upstream petroleum and iron ore sources.  To underscore the importance of the relationship, especially in the midst of the ongoing financial crisis, Latin American exports to China have only fallen by slightly over 4%, whereas they have fallen by over 35% to the United States and over 36% to Europe.

However, even with all of the daily news headlines touting the importance of the burgeoning trade and investment relationship between China and Latin America, it’s important to step back and evaluate the larger contours of the relationship.  Indeed, although there remains vast untapped potential to further increase trade and investment between China and Latin America, there are also key challenges that must be confronted.  Despite the rapid growth of trade and investment relations between China and Latin America, both sides must seek methods to deepen mutual understanding to take advantage of the remaining vast potential for cooperation and development.


The opportunities for further enhancing the already rapidly expanding commercial and investment relations between Latin America and China fall into three categories.  First, China and Latin America share key complementarities in terms of supply and demand.  Since the early part of this decade, China’s demand for a range of natural resources including petroleum and iron ore, among others, has expanded rapidly.  Latin America has these natural resources in abundance.  Trade figures have borne out this complementarity as over 80% of China’s imports from Latin America have been made up of primary products and natural resource manufactures.  Latin America’s abundance of natural resources is an excellent fit for China’s large and increasing demand for those resources.  At the same time, Chinese manufactured exports are making up an increasingly large percentage of Latin American imports, ranking 1st or 2nd in total imports for at least 6 major countries in the region.

The second area of opportunity lies in China not only as a market for Latin American exports but also as a source of finance and investment.  As the UN Economic Commission on Latin America and the Caribbean recently reported, this Chinese demand for raw materials to fuel the country’s rapid growth has been a key factor in sustaining Latin American exports to China even in the midst of the current economic crisis.  Moreover, China’s investments in Latin America have been rapidly expanding, growing by 80% per year since 2003.  In fact, Latin America has become China’s largest destination for foreign direct investment outside of Asia.

The third area of opportunity is directly related to the previous two. Despite the complementarity in export and import supply and demand between the two regions, as well as the rapid rise in trade and investment relations, there is still vast room for increases in both trade and investment between China and Latin America.  The rapid growth in trade and investment between Latin America and China is indeed impressive, but the starting point for this expansion was very limited.  There remains vast potential for increased export of a range of goods from a host of Latin American countries, including commodities and natural resources from countries who are already exporting to China and those who are just beginning to tap into Chinese demand.  In fact, unsatisfied Chinese demand for Latin American products is almost 100% or more (as a share of bilateral Latin American exports) of Andean, Southern Cone and Caribbean exports.


While there are a great number of opportunities to further enhance the already burgeoning trade and investment relationship between China and Latin America there are also a number of important challenges that remain.  The first of these challenges is directly related to the complementarity in supply and demand structures across the two regions.  While it is true that China’s large and increasing demand for natural resources and commodities is driving much of the recent expansion in trade and investment with Latin America, there remain concerns that Latin American reliance on exports of primary products may prove too prone to market fluctuations.  In order to confront this challenge both China and Latin America need to seek ways to diversify not only the range of goods and products that are traded but also to expand opportunities for investment in services that facilitate trade.  Two areas that stand out here are in enhanced transportation logistics services as well increased financial integration between the two regions.

The second challenge facing China-Latin American economic ties involves the cultural differences between the two sides.  While there are some long-standing connections between China and Latin America, including large numbers of Chinese migrants in various Latin American countries, the economic relationship has only really taken off in the last decade.  As a result, differences in language, history, business culture as well as labor-management relations all present challenges to a deeper and more solid relationship.  Both sides are making concerted efforts to confront these various challenges to mutual understanding through enhanced educational exchange and as the result of increased direct experience.  However, these efforts will need to be redoubled on both sides in order to take advantage of the many opportunities manifest in the relationship.

The third and final challenge confronting China and Latin America relates to the often confusing connection between government and business on both sides.  On the Chinese side, the connection between government policy and state-affiliated multinational corporations involved in many of the largest trade and investment deals remains unclear, especially to those looking in from the outside.  This can lead to confusion and anxiety on the part of Latin American governments, business partners and citizens.  Equally, from the perspective of the Chinese government and international businesses, often burdensome government bureaucracy as well as underdeveloped infrastructure in Latin America can create obstacles to enhanced cooperation.  Greater transparency at both the government and corporate levels are necessary on both sides to overcome these obstacles.

Source:, 20.10.2009 by Matt Ferchen and Alicia Garcia-Herrero

Matt Ferchen is a professor in the Department of International Relations at Tsinghua University.  Alicia Garcia-Herrero is the Chief Economist for Emerging Markets at the Spanish bank BBVA.

Filed under: Argentina, Asia, Brazil, Central America, Chile, China, Energy & Environment, Latin America, Mexico, News, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

China chooses Mexico as its main foreign investment destination

Mexico is now the place with the highest number of investment projects of Chinese companies outside China. Currently, about 109 development plans are carried out throughout the Mexican territory.

The most attractive sectors for Asian firms are manufacturing — assembly plants, mining, agriculture and even the assembly of cars, drilling and oil exploration.

According to studies of international consultants, Mexico currently offers to the United States better manufacturing costs than China, Chinas manufacturing costs have increased in the past 3 years  and are just 6% below manufacturing costs of some U.S. locations, while the Aztec country remains 25% lower compared to its northern neighbor.

Approximately 57 Chinese companies have set up in Mexico since they consider it as the ideal place for cheaper production, due to the low cost of Mexican manpower; the avoidance of elevated tax duty on Chinese products since Mexico is part of NAFTA plus the close proximity and having  the world”s largest consumer market: the United States, as a business partner.

This has allowed Mexico to be in the sights of more Chinese enterprises. The company Hon Hai, the largest electronics manufacturing contractor in the world, decided to establish a manufacturing plant in Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua, in northern Mexico, which will employ 20,000 people.

In Sonora, the Chinese textile company Sinatex invested $92 million dollars in the installation of a maquiladora plant, from which it will supply about 25% of total imports of threads to the U.S.

The mining sector in Mexico has also drawn the attention of Asian investors; the company Jinchuan Group Ltd. spent $25 million dollars on exploration of the Bahuerachi mining project, in the state of Chihuahua, to produce zinc, copper, molybdenum and silver.

The companies Sinopec and PetroChina are currently engaged in drilling and exploration in the Gulf of Mexico for its counterpart, Petroleos Mexicanos.

Xintian-Mexico integrated company in agriculture and trade in certain scale, bought in 1998 1,050 hectares of farmland in Campeche to start with agricultural development that has allowed to have a fixed asset of more than $10 million dollars.

Among the future Chinese investment in Mexico, are the Foton Mexico, auto Assembly Company, which plans to invest over $250 million dollars and generate about 1,000 direct jobs and 3,500 indirect jobs in the state of Michoacan, and Lenovo, technology manufacturer, that will invest $40 million dollars to produce laptops in Mexico, this is its largest investment of the company outside of China.

Source: E-mid, 28.09.2009

Filed under: China, Energy & Environment, Mexico, News, , , , , , , , ,

Latin American Outlook, Profit Potential and Risks in 2009

The “right” Latin America will thrive in the New Year, fueled by ts own growth – with an assist from the continued hot growth from China – while the “wrong” Latin America will get left behind.

The second phase of emerging markets expansion is well on its way – a period of self-sustaining growth, driven by consumer growth and infrastructure spending.  And Latin America, following China and other Asian economies, is one of the key global pillars of growth that will save the global economy and the U.S. financial system from total collapse. But not all the countries in Latin America will go on to prosper.  There is a wide gulf in the policies that will continue to separate the winners from the losers.

Let me explain.

In a recent article in our affiliated monthly newsletter,  The Money Map Report, Money Morning Investment Director Keith Fitz-Gerald made three important points:

* The emerging markets (of which Latin America is the second-most-important leg) will play a growing role in the continued long-term growth of the world economy.
* The U.S. economy will continue to grow long-term, but its relative importance in the world economy will continue to decline.
* In the near term, the emerging markets could well play a determining role in keeping the overall global economy – and the U.S. financial system – from dropping into a depression-like funk that we won’t be free of for years. Emerging economies in Asia and parts of Latin America have huge cash reserves, much of which will be invested in infrastructure projects over the next 20 years.

In the next three years, China, alone will invest as much as $725 billion in infrastructure, while Brazil will invest $225 billion for the same purpose.
This is important to remember, given that the dramatic sell-off the emerging markets have experienced has many investors doubting the ability of these countries to “decouple” from the global economy.  The reality of the situation is that most investors and pundits are failing to differentiate between economic decoupling and market decoupling.

The Gloomy Present

While growth in emerging economies has dropped slightly, the prices of securities and currencies in emerging markets has fallen drastically.   Many investors think that the U.S. economic crash will lead to a dramatic drop in U.S. orders of emerging-market products, which will cause those economies to drop off. That, in turn, would squeeze the profits and market valuations of the companies that operate in these economies.

But that’s a mistaken assumption. And here’s why.

In Brazil, for instance, exports account for a mere 13% of gross domestic product (GDP). In China, exports are just 10% of GDP. So some contraction in U.S. and European orders can easily be counterbalanced by fiscal and monetary stimulus in these countries.

On Oct. 27, in the depths of a rabid, indiscriminate sell-off, I published an extremely bullish piece on Brazil. Since that article was published, Brazil went on to rally as much as 47%. As of Friday’s close – even after some subsequent profit-taking – the exchange traded fund (ETF) that represents the Brazilian market (EWZ) is still up 21% (and has risen as much as 42% since my recommendation).

And most emerging markets economies have plenty of fiscal and monetary maneuvering room. Leading the pack is China, which accounted for some 27% of global growth last year, and which has continued to use both fiscal and monetary tools to keep itself on a solid growth path.

It recently slashed interest rates again, down to 6.66% (a lucky number in the Chinese culture, meaning “things (are) going smoothly”).  With record foreign reserves of $1.9 trillion, China also approved a “fast and heavy-handed” $586 billion stimulus, mainly in housing and infrastructure, to be implemented through 2010.  And the Chinese yuan will drop almost 7% vis-a-vis the U.S. dollar to cushion losses in trade.  It has also lowered taxes on investments in capital goods.  And in a key move that’s been almost totally overlooked by the media, China has made huge market-oriented reforms in agriculture.

China has just allowed its 780 million farmers to rent, transfer or utilize as collateral their rights to their lands and eliminated all taxes on agricultural production and to farmers.  This will allow for a massive increase in the scale of production by consolidating companies.  In this way, China will keep its 120 million hectares dedicated to agriculture exclusively, with no possibility of urbanization, while at the same time allowing the millions of small farmers to sell out, and get capital to move to the cities.  This will not only increase the productivity of Chinese farming dramatically by allowing for economies of scale to work and attracting billions in investments, it also will create a huge incentive for these millions of farmers to move to the cities, boosting housing and infrastructure demand.

Brazil’s plans are very similar to those of China. There’s a:

* Strong fiscal stimulus, allowing a drop in the value of the real currency (a decline that’s already been substantial) in order to cushion exports.
* An easing of capital requirements to Brazil’s strong banking system, which will incentivize housing and car loans.
* Export financing.
* And huge local infrastructure projects.

There is another little-understood phenomenon that cushions the blows for emerging economies: Intra-emerging market trade has become increasingly important.  By now everybody understands that iron ore from Brazil and coal and oil from other emerging markets is flowing into China in order to fuel China’s massive infrastructure buildup and growing consumer demand.

The Breakdown on Brazil

Increasingly, a growing proportion of the infrastructure needs of industrial goods being bought by emerging economies are goods produced by other emerging economies.  Trade between Latin America and China has increased by 13 times since 1995, from $8.4 billion to $100 billion.  And China, now the second-most-important commercial partner to the region after the United States, has finally been accepted as a member of the Inter-American Development Bank, committing itself to contribute $350 million to the bank. As an example of this growth in industrial trade, Argentina just bought 279 subway cars from China’s CITIC Group.

However, not all trade with China has been successful, due to China’s notable deficiencies in quality control, especially in health standards.  For example, Latin American imports of medicines manufactured in China had catastrophic results in Panama two years ago, where more than 100 people died and hundreds more became ill from medications containing toxic Chinese glycerine.  Recently, Panama detected toxic chemicals in imported Chinese sweets and crackers and Argentina’s customs recently seized Chinese 20,000 thermos containers for having elevated content of toxic chemicals.

And all of this means that there is a market disconnect between the prices of Brazilian shares and those elsewhere in Latin American equities and the fundamentals of the underlying companies, that we will see played out in the next and subsequent years.  Why?

Just because huge financial losses by banks precipitated a massive de-leveraging cycle, which means they had to sell their holdings, regardless of merit. And that included big sell-offs in preferred investments, including the hugely promising and profitable Petroleo Brasileiro SA (Petrobras) (ADR: PBR), Vale (ADR: RIO), and many others.

And what is worse, their sales hit the stop losses of major hedge funds, who were also leveraged in such favorite plays as commodities, steel, coal, agro, emerging markets and even defensive stocks such as the U.S.-based Pepsico Inc. (PEP).

When you have the proprietary positions of banks and hedge funds all trying to get out of the same door at the same time because of risk management issues, you get the current disconnect between market fundamentals and pricing.

Another impact that we have to understand is that the ongoing dramatic interest rate drops in all major G7 economies and the more than $3 trillion in G7 fiscal programs will have a marked impact on growth next year, containing what would have been a much nastier economic contraction.  But while G7 countries will barely grow between negative 0.5% and a positive 1% in 2009, with the worst contraction front-loaded and recovering in the second half, emerging economies will grow at a minimum of 4%, and in the case of China maybe as high as 10%.

In my October Brazil analysis, I detailed the massive stress that Brazil came under in 1995 because of another exogenous shock: The Mexican devaluation, the so-called “Tequila effect,” which ricocheted around the world, and which caught Brazil in 1995 in a much weaker position than it is in today. Back then, Brazil had a much higher level of debt, much lower reserves, a fiscal sector that needed huge reform, and a much lower capacity for exports.  Brazil dealt with this massive stress effectively and went on to work at each one of its weaknesses in the next 13 years, getting itself into a position of strength today.

While having the temptation and the perfect excuse for a default right at hand, Brazil proved its seriousness back then by taking the hard, but certain road to progress, keeping its international commitments and gradually affecting strong structural reforms.  Since then, it has become a net creditor to the world; it controlled inflation, and avoided an overheating of its economy with tight fiscal and monetary policies during the recent run-up in commodity prices.

This is paying off strongly today.  The policies, run day to day by a sophisticated technocracy led by top economists and international bankers, many of which held top positions in leading international banks, has allowed Brazil to move forward and to anticipate GDP growth of 4% to 5% for the New Year.
Hence, Brazil is by far my favorite Latin American play for 2009.

Checking Out Chile

Following closely behind, and hindered only by its small size, is the poster child of fiscal and monetary prudence: Chile.

Chile, which came out of its 1970s default by eliminating its foreign debt and successfully restructuring its banking system, has made every effort to maintain very prudent fiscal and monetary policies and to diversify its exports away from copper, which, being the largest exporter of the metal in the world, still accounted for 38% of its GDP.

Today, Chile exports many diversified products, including agricultural products, wine, fertilizers and industrial wares.  And because it’s situated on the Pacific Coast, it is geographically well positioned to trade with the fastest-growing markets in the world – China and the other emerging Asian tigers.

But Chile, in order to minimize the cyclical nature of its economy due to the wide fluctuation in the price of copper, decided years ago to start a “rainy-day” fund, which would accumulate wealth in the good years and be used to soften the blow in the bad ones.  Now, Chile boasts a $28 billion sovereign wealth fund, accumulated almost completely from its copper profits.  That’s almost equal to a staggering 14% of the country’s GDP in cash savings!  This will enable Chile to implement counter-cyclical policies to keep growing at 3.5% to 4% next year – or about the current rate of growth, even with the worldwide meltdown.

Chile already has started to deploy this capital, having passed a $1.15 billion government plan on top of last month’s $850 million to stimulate housing and small-business lending, injecting that capital into a government bank that will make available loans for small businesses.

Avoid Argentina

Chile’s fiscal prudence is in direct contrast to Argentina’s lack of discipline.  Argentina’s Peronist government, which squandered the agricultural commodities bonanza in fiscal spending, is now is trying to use its majority in both houses in Congress to pass the nationalization of the privatized pension funds under the excuse of “protecting them from market volatility.”

These funds, which now have successfully grown to more than $30 billion in size, or 73% of the government’s budget and have returned an average of more than 13% a year since inception will allow the government to cover its fiscal gap and debt maturities next year and to financed public works and consumption projects.  The government, at the same time, is suffering from an important loss of confidence, as evidenced by its need to resort to police controls in order to prevent the illegal purchase of U.S. Dollars.  Argentina might end 2009 with growth of negative 2% and unemployment of 10%.  Stay away.

A “Maybe” for Mexico

Mexico, given its strong links to the United States, is receiving a heavy dose of external shocks on many economic and financial fronts – especially where the United States is concerned: It’s being hit by a drop in exports (the United States is the main component), the drop in oil prices, lower tourism (its largest proportion of travelers is from the United States), falling U.S. investments in Mexico, and reduced remittances from Mexicans working in the United States back to their Mexican relatives.

In addition, many companies suffered strong losses in their derivatives hedges, banks have had to reduce lending due to reduced liquidity and the Mexican peso has lost some 22% of its value against the U.S. dollar.  Mexico’s growth in the New Year may fall to about 1% from 2008’s 2.4% pace, and the country is on its way to approving the first budget with a fiscal deficit in four years.  The government’s target will be negative 1.8% of GDP, in order to stimulate the economy.  Mexico, seeing its oil production declining, is seen moving soon towards opening some oil areas for exploration and development, which some estimate could add another 1% to GDP.

Once the U.S. markets have stabilized, Mexico’s stocks will be an incredible buy once more, since they discount a very bad scenario at these prices.

A Case Against Colombia

Colombia, another country that has merited a lot of attention, given its staunch support of U.S. anti-drug and anti-money-laundering efforts, has seen its free trade agreement with the United States inexplicably delayed.

The country foresees a tightening of credit conditions, so it is moving up its peso-based borrowing to this year.  Next year it will issue only $1 billion in foreign bonds and tap $1.4 billion from multi-lateral lenders.  So the refinancing risk for Colombia is muted, given the small amounts involved, and the country’s economy should expand a minimum of 1% in the New Year, even in the worst economic scenario. However, Colombia could grow as much as 4% under a moderate scenario.

That would represent a big drop from the 8% growth recorded this year.

The story in Colombia has been the curbing of inflation, and how far behind the curve the central bank has been, at least as recently as July, when it boosted rates up to 10% and then kept them there.

These ultra-high interest rates, combined with the global slowdown, have blunted demand for consumer products in Colombia. Since the passage of the trade pact is a situation in flux, I want to wait and see right now.

I will not go into the economies of Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador, which, with massive intervention by their governments and advances against property rights, are experiencing severe economic and political stress, and which do not offer the guarantees needed for foreign investment.

Source: Money Morning, by Horacio Marquez, 15.12.2008

Filed under: Argentina, Banking, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Energy & Environment, Exchanges, Mexico, News, Peru, Venezuela, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,