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Smart decisions may underlie panic

Latin America

The present crisis in Latin American financial markets has not received the kind of end-of-the-world-is-nigh coverage accorded to previous emerging-market crises.

But that doesn't mean investors aren't showing signs of panicking; quite the opposite. Across the hemisphere, fund redemptions are running at record rates, as individuals sell out at market lows.

Latin America's mutual fund industry has been dealt a severe blow this year: total funds under management plunged to $163.2 billion from $202.1 billion in just the three months from the end of March to the end of June. And while most of this was a result of falling asset prices, a lot of it was because scared investors pulled their money out: total redemptions reached $10.9 billion in June alone.

The vast majority of redemptions were from Brazilians, worried that if a left-wing president is elected in October, he might freeze access to their assets, Argentina-style. In the US, of course, investors have no such worries but that hasn't stopped Americans from cashing in their Latin mutual funds at unprecedented rates.

Merrill Lynch has been tracking weekly redemptions in Latin American equity mutual funds since before the Mexican crisis of 1994-95.

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