Latin America receives boost: ECR Q1 2013


Jeremy Weltman
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Improving scores for the majority of countries confirms the region’s appeal, despite country risk experts losing faith in Argentina and Venezuela.

The improvements seen in risk scores for the US and Canada have stretched across the Americas, so much so that Latin America has regained its status as a safer region than Asia. This has come about despite suffering last year from the domestic economic and political problems afflicting Argentina and Venezuela, and anxiety over falling demand for the various commodities – copper and the like – supplied to resource-hungry China where growth was slipping.

Scores for the region’s two tier-five basket cases have deteriorated even further since December, with Argentina slumping seven places to 119th, and Venezuela, rocked by the death of Hugo Chavez and left with the crippling fiscal legacy of his populist policy prescriptions to eradicate poverty, sliding another 10 places to 124th.

Bankrupt Argentina has now slumped 28 places in the rankings during the past five years; Venezuela an even more alarming 46. Neither country is top of investors’ hot-spots just yet.

Colombia, which had been a high-flyer by comparison, has slipped back and is still failing to fully convince economists and other country-risk experts of its relative merits in challenging the big-three: 16th-placed Chile, Brazil in 38th spot and Mexico one step below, all of which are riding high on improved quarterly scores.

With Chinese growth holding up and none of LatAm’s big-three badly affected by fiscal problems or eurozone contagion risk – via Spanish bank exposures or trade linkages – sovereign risks have eased, though Brazil’s economic score has been shaved by some concern over Europe’s plight and of its related current account deficit and budget problems.

Adding in the upgraded scores seen in Q1 2013 for Peru, Uruguay and a large swathe of Central America, the LatAm region is undoubtedly resilient to euro-centric risk.

Benito Berber, an economist at the US offshoot of Nomura, says: “The pick-up in the US economy explains the bulk of change in Mexico’s strong performance, given that the economy is strongly tied to trade with the US.”

More generally, he says: “A series of economic reforms and structural changes were passed in several Latin American economies, which should be long-lasting. The reforms point to more flexible labour market conditions, making it harder for monopolies and allowing more investment in key sectors, such as telecommunications.

“Improvements made in LatAm economies offer a long-term investment climate, which should make most economies strongly supportive of inward foreign direct investment.”

Yet for all the positivity regarding LatAm’s prospects, with 12 of its 20 constituent countries commanding scores below 50 out of a maximum 100 points, it underlines the fact there are still risk-factors that should not be ignored, particularly in a region with a nasty history of sovereign default.