Opinion

The Great Debate

Mexico’s reversal of fortune

In Latin America, this looks to be the year of Brazil — thanks to the impending World Cup and presidential elections. But with another lackluster year looming in emerging markets, fans of transformation, growth and investment potential should instead look to Mexico.

Brazil’s president, Dilma Rousseff, is expected to win a second term this year, and its soccer team stands a good shot at victory. But growth has slowed considerably. In the world’s seventh largest economy, reforms are stagnating and the country faces a possible ratings downgrade.

Mexico, by contrast, is in the throes of serious reforms. It will likely lead Latin America with at least 4 percent growth this year and an improving investment outlook. Standard & Poor’s recently boosted Mexico’s credit ratings because of energy reforms that the rating company trumpeted last month as a “watershed moment” for the country. It is becoming a story of inverted fortunes, as Michael Shifter and Cameron Combs of the Inter-American Dialogue recently wrote.

After years of stagnation and violence, a new reform government is positioning Mexico for significant growth. It should leave many emerging markets, including fellow Latin American economic power Brazil, in its wake. Jobs are increasing, inflation is lower, growth is higher and the returns on Mexican equities are multiples of what they have been in Brazil.

“Mexico may quickly swing from the region’s worst to best performer,” emerging markets economist David Rees from Capital Economics wrote in a research note to clients late last year.

Argentine leader’s health recovering, as her dynasty ebbs

As Argentina’s Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner convalesces in the presidential residence after surgery, a poor prognosis for her political and economic agenda awaits her outside. Yet the populist leader is unlikely to respond with major policy initiatives as she enters a prolonged lame duck period.

Fernandez faces big losses in Sunday’s mid-term congressional elections, which will likely determine how much legislative clout she can muster. Hope for her third presidential mandate is all but extinguished. Under her administration, Latin America’s third largest economy is slipping further behind the region’s top two — Brazil and Mexico — and looking ever more like the laggard Venezuela.

The 60-year-old Peronist leader was ordered to rest after an emergency operation to remove blood from the surface of her brain, sidelining her from the campaigning she led earlier to keep “Kirchnerismo” alive.

The short and long of emerging markets

Fickle investors have spurned emerging markets in recent weeks, but this rout has obscured a more alluring vista out on the horizon.

Developing economies now account for 50 percent of global output and 80 percent of economic expansion and are projected to continue growing far faster than developed nations. They are expected to possess an even larger share of global growth, wealth and investment opportunities in years to come. So much so that the labels investors use to classify some of these nations will change as the developing develop and the emerging emerge into more potent economic powers

But this long-term view has been lost on many of those who look to emerging market assets for a higher yield in the short term. Their ardor cooled when the Federal Reserve signaled it may soon ease the stimulus that has kept credit cheap, signaling higher interest rates ahead. That was coupled with signs of slower growth in key emerging markets like China and Brazil.

from David Rohde:

The global middle class awakens

People stand during a silent protest at Taksim Square in Istanbul June 18, 2013.  REUTERS/Marko Djurica

Alper, a 26-year-old Turkish corporate lawyer, has benefited enormously from Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s rule. He is one of millions of young Turks who rode the country’s economic boom to a lifestyle his grandparents could scarcely imagine.

Yet he loathes Erdogan, participated in the Taksim Square demonstrations and is taking part in the new “standing man” protests in Istanbul.

Brazil’s protests are not just about the economy

More than a million Brazilians have taken to the streets this past week in the largest mass demonstrations since the impeachment of President Fernando Collor de Mello in 1992. It began as a modest protest movement in Sao Paulo against a seemingly routine 20 cent bus fare increase, but has quickly transformed into a broader and more diffuse protest against a range of grievances: political corruption; the dismal performance of public services such as transportation, health and education; and even excessive spending in preparation for the World Cup. The mostly peaceful protests have spread to dozens of cities across the country while capturing the world’s attention.

Explanations for this outburst of angst are varied. Some analysts point to Brazil’s economic woes and suggest that two and a half years of low growth, and signs that the consumption-led credit boom is coming to an end, are finally catching up politically, prompting popular discontent. Others see the protests as a manifestation of the government’s inability to meet basic needs, and potentially, as an indication that governance challenges are on the rise in Brazil in a more meaningful way.

All of these explanations have a kernel of truth but are ultimately incomplete. To be sure, the current macroeconomic cycle has generated an environment more prone to discontent, but that doesn’t explain the outburst on the streets. Something deeper and more structural is going on, and it has to do with how a cycle of economic enrichment over the past ten years is changing the public’s expectations of its politicians.

from David Rohde:

Prosperity without power

A woman walking near the headquarters (L) of the Federal Security Service, in central Moscow, May 14, 2013. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov

In Moscow, they are “non-Soviet Russians.” In New Delhi, they are a “political Goliath” that may soon awake. In Beijing and São Paolo, they are lawyers and other professionals who complain about glacial government bureaucracies and endemic graft.

Prosperity is spreading in many emerging market nations, but political change is not.

With Chavez gone, what of ‘Chavismo’?

“The End of the Chávez Era” That was the headline on Colombia’s major newspaper, El Tiempo, the day after Hugo Chávez’s death.

True, Chávez’s controversial and colorful 14-year rule has ended, and Venezuela has lost a president who evoked uncommonly intense passions among followers and detractors.   Venezuelans will not easily forget a leader who, for better or worse, was the consummate showman and left an indelible mark on a highly polarized society.

Yet Chavez also followed in a long line of caudillos, or strongmen, who have been a notable feature in Latin America’s political history. Indeed, Venezuela has had its fair share. As the acute observer Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Colombia’s Nobel Prize-winning writer, noted soon after Chávez’s 1998 election, the new president’s seductive rhetoric recalled so many of the region’s other leading political figures — but he could well end up as yet another Latin American despot.

Who will be Rockefellers of BRIC nations?

John D. Rockefeller’s immense wealth made “rich as a Rockefeller” part of the lexicon. But his legacy rests not on what he earned. As the founder of Standard Oil and the richest person in history, Rockefeller donated so much money during his life that he needed a team of philanthropy specialists to distribute it. The result was the Rockefeller Foundation, chartered in 1913 “to promote the well-being of mankind throughout the world.”

Much as the Gilded Age in the United States created titans like Andrew Carnegie, Cornelius Vanderbilt and Rockefeller, the economic success of emerging powers has produced a new class of multimillionaires and multibillionaires. Brazil, Russia, India and China are home to 276 billionaires, according to the most recent Forbes list, almost a quarter of the world’s total. Many have begun to focus on what Carnegie called “the business of benevolence.” This nascent trend is poised to grow. But it requires support if philanthropy is to meet its potential to tackle the developing world’s socioeconomic challenges.

Philanthropy is a powerful tool because its contributions can go well beyond money. Many emerging donors are prominent citizens because of their business success. This gives them familiarity with their countries’ economic and policy issues as well as an ability to influence the national agenda. They can invest not just financial resources but also expertise and connections that can bolster the projects they support.

America’s path to alternative energy runs through Brazil

Mitt Romney alone can no longer be saddled with the label of most obvious flip-flopper among this year’s presidential candidates. That honor instead belongs to Barack Obama, whose 180 on the Keystone XL pipeline construction last week was sufficient to induce whiplash among oil industry executives and green advocates alike.

In an effort to actually make good on his “all of the above” energy policy, promoting both fossil fuel and renewable energy, President Obama had no choice but to pull off a neck-twisting reversal. Five months ago he postponed a decision on whether to build a controversial $7 billion pipeline to bring Canadian oil sands fuel down to Texas refineries. But it turns out that was only a temporary sop to the activists who see the structure as both an environmental threat as well as the embodiment of reckless Big Oil greed.

Now, with his opponents falsely equating current high oil prices with Obama’s perceived inaction on domestic energy development, Obama is acting differently. He’s scrambling to counter them by not only reconsidering the earlier postponement but actually accelerating the pipeline’s build as a national priority.

Brazil’s attack on Chevron is a dangerous error

A truly bizarre international incident has gone largely unnoticed, even though it is one of the most shameless shakedowns of an American company by another country in recent memory. What is happening now in Brazil could easily scare off U.S. companies that may be looking to do business overseas.

What happened was that a small amount of oil seeped from cracks in the ocean floor near an oil well that was operated by Chevron off Brazil’s coast. This oil seep occurred some 200 miles offshore, was successfully stopped in four days, has been fully contained, and caused no harm to the environment, wildlife or human health. The amount of oil that leaked from the cracks in the ocean floor was less than 0.1 percent the size of the BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Instead of sitting down with Chevron in candid talks to find preventive measures against future incidents, discuss reasonable reparations and additional cleanup, Brazil’s prosecutors went after Chevron like a rabid hound lunging after a hotdog.

  •