Triangulating Latin America

Conclusions/Topics:

  • Qe3 Is a Risk to Latin American Growth via The Bernank Tax
  • Quantifying the YTD Froth Across Emerging Market Asset Classes
  • Brazil Takes a Step Forward Towards Sustainable Long-term Economic Development… And Then a Step Backward

Current Virtual Portfolio Positions in Latin America: None

 

Qe3 Is a Risk to Latin American Growth via The Bernank Tax

As we highlighted in our Friday note titled “Triangulating Asia”, we view the implementation of Qe3 as a downside risk to real GDP growth across Latin America, largely supported by the following equation – at least until global food and energy prices stop being priced in U.S. dollars:

 

Quantitative Easing = accelerating inflation [globally] = monetary policy tightening [globally] = slower growth [globally]

 

While our quantitative signals are not yet in confirmation from a DXY perspective, we think it is an acute risk to monitor, given the academic dogma, short-term political resolve, and career risk management of the current Federal Reserve Chairman ahead of the 2012 presidential election. We’re in the process of quantifying how Bernanke can help ensure his “boss” gets reelected come NOV and preliminary indications is that the S&P 500 leads Obama’s probability of getting reelected with a fairly high r². We’ll be out with more on this in the coming weeks.

 

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Turning back to Latin America specifically, we saw YoY inflation readings across the region peak on a median basis in DEC, falling -20bps sequentially +4.2% in JAN. A near +200bps increase in median inflation rates across the region since Jackson Hole ’10 has coincided with a +200bps increase benchmark monetary policy rates across the region, a linkage highlighted by the aforementioned equation.

 

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In our view, further slowing from here in Latin American inflation readings is largely USD-dependent, given its omnipotent role in determining global commodity prices and the [rightful] heavy weightings of food and energy prices in EM CPI readings. As of now, Latin American interest rate markets are taking the Bernank’s word for it, pricing in less monetary easing/more monetary tightening in recent weeks (with the lone exception being Brazil, where political pressure to lower nominal interest rates in the country remains the #1 factor).

 

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All told, we continue to be in wait-and-see mode for further signs of the duration of the latest Inflation Trade. We’d be remiss to not call out the added liquidity from short-term E.U. sovereign debt crisis aversion as positive in the short-to-intermediate term for Latin American equities and FX. In the intermediate-to-long-term, however, centrally-planned Policies to Inflate will negatively impact this region from a growth perspective just as it did in late 2010 through 2011. It’s no wonder Brazil’s Bovespa Index – the regional benchmark equity index – peaked in early NOV 2010 as a leading indicator for the stagflation that largely ensued across Latin American economies in 2011.

 

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Quantifying the YTD Froth Across Emerging Market Asset Classes

Speaking of the added benefits of liquidity, capital flows have been very supportive for EM assets in the YTD. So much so that the MSCI EM Equity Index is already up +13.7% YTD – the highest YTD return (through FEB 13) in over 15 years! The MSCI Latin America Equity Index is off to a similar start, closing today up +15.3% YTD – also a 15yr-plus high.

 

Looking to EM currencies (using UBS’ Carry Trade Index and JPM’s Global FX Volatility Index as proxies), we see that carry-trading strategies have returned +5.5% in the YTD – the best start to the year since 2001. On a vol. basis, the -20% YTD decline in global FX volatility – also a 15yr-plus high – has been incrementally supportive of capital flows to emerging markets, like Latin America.

 

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One of the ways higher exchange rates and lower exchange rate volatility helps to inflate EM assets is through global capital flows – particularly as investors in developed markets rush to embark on a global search for investment yield.

 

To help “quantify the froth”, we use Brazil as a proxy, given its allure of G20-high real interest rates and its marketability as a “BRIC” economy, we see that debt capital flows are indeed flooding back to emerging markets after a quiet 2H11 where deals were hard to price amid heightened volatility. Using the USD as the funding currency, global investors have financed $16.6B in Brazilian debt issuance in the YTD, up from just $6B in the entirety of 2H12.

 

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Looking at Bovespa Stock Exchange data, international investors pumped a net R$7.2B into Brazilian equities in the month of JAN alone – an all-time high using the 4yr data set – and is on pace to top that in FEB.

 

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So what does this all mean? For one thing, it’s quite clear the global investors: a) took the opportunity of lower cross-asset volatility to load up on their favorite EM equity/fixed-income/FX plays at depressed prices; and b) the Federal Reserve’s implicit pledge to maintain ZIRP in near perpetuity is supportive of cross-border investment flows out of U.S. assets, on the margin, and into higher-yielding EM assets for the foreseeable future (not at every price, of course).

 

What could get this trend to reverse? A marginal shift in the direction towards sober fiscal and monetary policy in the U.S. could get both domestic and international investors to become increasingly comfortable holding U.S. assets on the margin, which would be supportive of the USD. Moreover, a stronger dollar backed by marginally hawkish monetary policy would depress the real yield advantage of emerging markets by allowing them to lower interest rates as inflation falls sustainably.

 

Do we see any of this happening? Certainly not in the near term, as the DXY is broken from an immediate-term TRADE perspective (see chart above). Bullish TAIL, however, we view this as a long-term tail risk, given where we are in the U.S. political cycle.

 

Brazil Takes a Step Forward Towards Sustainable Long-term Economic Development… And Then a Step Backward

Last week, Brazil auctioned licenses to the private sector for the right to operate airports in three of the nation’s busiest travel hubs. The licenses sold for R$24.5B ($14B) – or nearly five times the minimum bid – and each carries a mandate to invest R$16.1B into expanding capacity in the airports in time for the 2014 World Cup (500,000+ visitors expected) and 2016 Summer Olympics. The three airports involved accounted for ~33% of the country’s 179 million passengers last year and 57% of its air cargo.

 

Brazilian airports, which are notoriously overcrowded and operating well over capacity (12% of flights delayed in 2011 and 5% canceled outright), have seen passenger traffic increase +118% since 2003, making Brazil third in volume of domestic air travel behind the U.S. and China.

 

While the Brazilian government plans to maintain a 49% stake in each consortium (paid for by borrowing from the state bank BNDES – which the gov’t itself funds!), we view the increased private-sector participation as bullish for Brazilian GDP growth in the short run as the goals underpinning these infrastructure projects shift from utility maximization to profit maximization, meaning delays and circumventing bureaucracy are less of a risk going forward.

 

And now, the bad news (from Moshe Silver, our resident Portuguese-speaking translator of the Brazilian local press):

 

“Rousseff looks to curb bank profits – President Rousseff has asked her economic team for proposals to narrow lending spreads and reduce bank profits, which she says have been excessive. At a time when the central bank is lowering the SELIC rate, she says, banks should not continue to profit from exaggerated spreads.

 

Pressure will be put on financial institutions to lower their lending rates, especially on credit cards, as consumer credit is seen as a critical driver of economic activity this year. The government has a broad list of options to consider, including caps on profitability and possible tax reductions on credit operations, and reduction of bank reserve requirements.”

 

Net-net, Brazil continues to define the term “emerging” market quite well, offering promises of robust growth opportunities with the occasional hiccup along the way, usually in some form of anti-private sector interventionist policy. We’ll keep you posted on any further developments regarding the bank profits story, as it has clear implication for Brazil’s short-to-intermediate-term GDP growth.

 

Fundamental Price Data

All % moves week-over-week unless otherwise specified.

  • EQUITIES:
    • Median: +0.5%
    • High: Venezuela +9.4%
    • Low: Peru -2.1%
    • Callout: Latin American equity markets are up +13.6% YTD on a median basis
  • FX (vs. USD):
    • Median: +0.1%
    • High: Brazilian real +0.5%
    • Low: Argentine, Mexican peso both -0.2%
    • Callout: Argentine peso -0.9% YTD vs. a regional median of +8.6%
  • S/T SOVEREIGN DEBT (2YR YIELD):
    • High: Colombia +8bps
    • Low: Brazil -29bps
    • Callout: Brazil -80bps YTD vs. Colombia +4bps
  • L/T SOVEREIGN DEBT (10YR YIELD):
    • High: Mexico +10bps
    • Low: Brazil -12bps
    • Callout: Brazil +4bps YTD vs. Mexico -30bps
  • SOVEREIGN YIELD SPREADS (10s-2s):
    • High: Brazil +17bps
    • Low: Colombia -4bps
    • Callout: Brazil +85bps YTD vs. Colombia -34bps
  • 5YR CDS:
    • Median: +0.3%
    • High: Argentina +7.6%
    • Low: Chile -3.6%
    • Callout: Argentina +2.7% over the last six months vs. a regional median of -12.4%
  • 1YR O/S INTEREST RATE SWAPS:
    • High: Colombia +6bps
    • Low: Brazil -13bps
    • Callout: Brazilian swaps market pricing in -116bps of cuts over the NTM
  • O/N INTERBANK RATES:
    • High: Mexico +2bps
    • Low: Brazil -2bps
    • Callout: Brazil -59bps YTD vs. Colombia +18bps
  • CORRELATION RISK: The liquidity trade prevails for now, with the MSCI Latin American Equity Index trading with a -0.86 correlation vs. the DXY on a 30-day basis, up from flat on a 90-day basis.

Darius Dale

Senior Analyst

 

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