viernes, 27 de diciembre de 2013

Bonus Track – BRAZIL

Bonus Track – BRAZIL, one of the BIG FIVE, to come
Brazil has made its share of bad decisions… and suffered its share of bad policies. Generals, dictators, repression, depression and hyperinflation – Brazil has seen it all. In the 1980s, Brazil’s consumer price increases went wild. In constant currency, a taxi ride that might have cost 4 cruzeiros in 1980 would have cost 5 trillion cruzeiros in 1994. In the meantime, the government tried to head off inflation by introducing a new currency, the cruzado. Then came the new cruzado. Then the cruzeiro came back. And finally, the real.

“It wasn’t quite as bad as it sounds,” explained a colleague here in Sao Paulo. “The government tried to neutralize inflation by indexing prices to inflation. So, people were not wiped out as fast as you would think.”
But with prices rising so rapidly, it was impossible for investors and business people to make reasonable projections. The economists’ phrase “rational expectations” had no meaning in a world where nothing seemed rational at all.

Naturally, investment and output suffered as government spending continued to grow. How could the Brazilian feds finance their old programs – let alone new ones – when the real economy was shrinking? They printed more money! What is most interesting about this is that the government did not massively increase the money supply to set off  hyperinflation. It merely covered its deficits. In the late ‘70s, Brazil’s economy seemed to be doing well. The only hitch was that the government was spending twice as much money as it raised in taxes. Economists were surprised when prices began rising sharply. Then, inflation forced the government to print much more money to cover much bigger deficits. And finally, it was printing up new pieces of paper with lots of zeros on them. But that was then. This is now. Inflation rates came down after 1994. The economy not only recovered, it took off! Now, it’s the world’s 5th largest… and if what we see in Sao Paulo is any indication, there’s a lot more to come.

Around 400 companies are listed on Brazil's main exchange, the Bovespa, for about US$1.2 trillion of market cap. By far the biggest are iron-miner Vale and Petrobras, the national, state- controlled oil company. Those two and 27 other Brazilian stocks are traded in the US. They've historically always traded at a discount to their foreign peers because of the country's well-known problems – high taxes, intense bureaucracy, onerous import restrictions and duties, high crime rate, uneducated population and sub-par infrastructure.

As well as Brazil has done, it's been a laggard by comparison to its peers in Latin America. In the last 10 years, corporate earnings in Latin America have grown on average by 18% annually. The countries that have recorded the highest earnings growth rates are Peru (28%), Colombia (23%), Chile (13%) and Mexico (12%). Brazil trails the list with 11% growth. Most expensive (but deservedly so, as by far the most liberal economy in the region) was Chile at 15, followed by Mexico, Colombia and Peru with P/Es of 12. Brazil has historically traded cheaper, with an average P/E of 8. According to the World Bank's "Doing Business" 2011 report, Brazil is ranked 127th out of 183 countries for business friendliness. Mexico ranks 35th and Chile 43rd. Brazil scores particularly badly in categories related to starting a business, registering property, paying taxes and closing a business. It's Kafkaesque here, as in many other Third World countries, in that they make it nearly impossible to open a business, and a war to keep it open. Anyhow, we guess we should all bet it will be a land to admire, not today, but it is coming to stay.

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