‘Latin America not immune to crisis’

‘Latin America not immune to crisis’

MADRID - Agence France-Presse
‘Latin America not immune to crisis’

People walk around in Rocinha, a slum in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on Nov 10. REUTERS photo

With their lower unemployment, increasing consumption and higher growth rates, Latin American nations are attracting investors looking for a refuge from the global financial turmoil, analysts say.

At the same time, they cautioned at a three-day conference that wrapped up Friday in Madrid, the region is not an “immune oasis” from the troubles affecting the world economy.

“Latin America has a promising future, although growth is not as fast as it has been in recent years,” said Alice Gutierrez, an analyst at Colombian investment group Inversiones Suramericana at the Foro Latibex.

The region is “undeniably attractive for those looking to diversify their geographic risk from the United states and Europe,” she said at the event, which gathered representatives from 50 major Spanish and Latin American firms.

The International Monetary Fund predicts Latin America will grow 4.0 percent next year compared to just 1.8 percent in the United States and 1.1 percent for the struggling eurozone.

Among the region’s strong points is “the health of its public accounts and a financial sector that is well capitalized and has a clean balance sheet,” said Alejandro Varela, a fund manager at Spanish brokerage Renta4.

“The health of the financial system is key since the [European] sovereign debt crisis is having a special impact on the financial system at the global level,” he added.

Another factor giving Latin America a boost is drop in unemployment across the region, said Luiz Carlos Angelotti, executive director at Brazil’s second-largest private bank, Bradesco.

“This creation of jobs stimulates internal demand, which is the real motor to maintain growth in our country despite the negative effects of what is going on in the global economy,” he said.

Brazil’s unemployment rate stood at 6.22 percent in September, the lowest in its history.

Mexico’s jobless rate stood at 5.4 percent in 2010 compared to 9.6 percent in the United States and 9.9 percent in the European Union, noted Frank Aguado Martinez, financial director at Mexican group Inbursa.

“Those nations which normally behave badly are now the well behaved nations,” he said, in a reference to Latin America’s past struggles with soaring inflation, sky-high joblessness and out of control debt.

Spanish firms have sought to take advantage of Spain’s cultural and linguistic links to its former colonies in Latin America to profit from the rosier economic conditions in the region.

Spain’s two largest banks, Santander and BVA, and telecoms giants Telefonica earn about 75 percent of their revenues outside of Spain, mostly in Latin America, according to Daniel Pingarron, an analyst at IG Markets.

“In a way we have shown that we are more resistant but no nation in Latin America is an immune oasis,” said Consuelo Blanco of Santander Asset Management.

“Investing in Latin America will always involve risks, that is why we are an emerging market.”

Too much investor interest in the region can also be a problem, warned Gutierrez of Inversiones Suramericana.

“It causes us to have a significant inflow of capital to the region, which carries its risks because it becomes very speculative capital,” she said