Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Economics in play -- mixed messages from South American commodity producers

The current economic crisis has hit commodity producers in South America hard. All the talk about decoupling, booming domestic demand and well planned budgets will be tested as commodity exports plummet.

The big names in financial news (Reuters, Bloomberg, FT) reported this morning Brazil, Colombia and Chile have plans to sell bonds in international markets. All three of these economies depend heavily on revenue which is derived from commodity exports The recent tumble in commodity prices is not welcome news for these countries, which until just recently where some of the fastest growing emerging markets in the world.

Bloomberg LP reports Brazil will sell $1 billion of 10 year-notes, Colombia plans to raise what it calls a “benchmark offering” of roughly $500 million, and Chile has yet to release a figure on how much it will raise but its finance minister has confirmed it is very plausible the country will indeed issue its first foreign bonds since 2003 in order to help fun its fiscal stimulus plan.

(click here to access the full article from Bloomberg LP)

More bad news was released this morning when Brazil reported Industrial output dropped the most in 7 years. This is not a good sign. Internal demand from consumers in countries like Brazil and China remains high, but is not sufficient to keep these economies growing at the rates they have enjoyed during the past few years.

According to economists at Bloomberg, Brazil will expand at its slowest pace this year since 2003. Growth forecasts made by the Central Bank of Brazil are being cut in half for 2008 and economists are now predicting interest rate cuts later in January.

(click here to read more on this topic from Bloomberg LP)

One bit of good news comes from Braskem SA, Latin America's largest petrochemical company. It is currently in the midst of a 4-day rally in Sao Paulo trading. The gain comes as Peru announced plans to construct a new petrochemical plant in the southern port of Marcona.

Braskem, has been actively seeking natural gas and raw materials at competitive prices in South America. Peru has lined up $8 billion for its energy industry. Additionally, Braskem already had plans to build a plant in Peru that would be supplied by the Camisea gas fields.

(click here to access the full article from Bloomberg LP)

Recent developments in Peru seem to have bolstered investor confidence in the company which had previously been exploring natural gas investments in Bolivia and Venezuela. In both cases, there were various difficulties that emerged in working with the governments of Morales and Chavez. It seems, Braskem's new choice of opting to work in Peru is being interpreted by the market as the correct one.

I find it pretty interesting, that the mere construction of a Petrochemical plant in Peru, can turn the heads of investors and cause a petrochemical company trading in Brazil to go on a 4-day rally. It just shows how markets can move based on people's perception of regions they know little about.

I just hope investors realize that the rosy picture the international financial community paints of Peru may change if the government continues to fail at bringing prosperity the more remote regions of the country where much of Peru's raw materials are extracted from. For now though it seems the investors are content with Braskem's decision to avoid working with the left wing, anti-American regimes in Bolivia and Venezuela...