Topic: ETFs

Brazil needs to harness its huge potential

iShares MSCI Brazil ETF LISTEN:  

Several factors contributed to Brazil’s 2015-2016 recession, one of its worst: political turmoil, corruption at one of the country’s major corporations, volatile commodity prices, and high inflation. However, starting in 2017, the country has slowly emerged from that crisis. which is fuelling new hope for its top companies.

Here is one ETF that provides exposure to Brazil’s leading publicly listed companies.

ISHARES MSCI BRAZIL ETF $31.25 (Nasdaq symbol EWZ; TSI Network ETF Rating: Aggressive; Market cap: $5.5 billion) tracks the performance of the largest publicly listed Brazilian companies.

Financial Services account for 34% of the fund’s assets. Its other key segments are Basic Materials (21%), Consumer Defensive (11.0%), Energy (11.0%) Consumer Cyclical (6.7%) and Industrials (5.1%).

The ETF holds a portfolio of 54 stocks; the top 10 holdings make up a sizeable 55% of its assets. They are Vale SA (basic materials, 12.5%), Itau Unibanco Holding SA (financials, 10.5%), Bank Bradesco SA (financials, 7.2%), Petroleo Brasileiro SA (energy, 4.8%), Ambev SA (consumer defensive, 4.4%), B3 SA–Brazil Bolsa Balcao (financials, 4.1%), Petrobras (energy, 4.0%), ITAU SA (financials, 2.9%), Banco do Brazil (financials, 2.3%) and Suzano Papel E Celulose (basic materials, 2.0%).

Financials have a heavy weighting in the portfolio, but that’s typically one of the most stable sectors for emerging market economies with sound banking regulations.

The ETF started up in July 2000 and charges an MER of 0.62%. With an average of $544 million in units trading daily, the fund provides strong liquidity.

Based on the forward earnings of its holdings, the ETF has a p/e of 12.1 and pays a fluctuating twice-yearly dividend. Over the past 12 months, the $0.58 dividend rate made for a 1.9% yield.

Following more than three centuries under Portuguese rule, Brazil gained its independence in 1822. It maintained a monarchical system of government until the abolition of slavery in 1888 and the military-led creation of the republic in 1889.

Brazil then operated for more than half a century under populist and military governments until 1985 when civilian rulers peacefully came to power.

In 1994, the country’s minister of finance Fernando Cardoso announced the Plano Real—an economic plan to curb hyperinflation and stabilize the economy.

Political scandals resulted in the impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff in May 2016; her vice president, Michel Temer, will continue to serve as president until January 1, 2019.

Brazil is the largest country in South America and the Southern hemisphere and slightly smaller than the U.S. The country has a population of 202 million. That makes it the world’s fifth most-populous country.

The economy is among the top 10 globally and the largest in South America as measured by the size of its gross domestic product (GDP).

The economy lapsed into a severe recession in 2015 and 2016 as commodity prices declined, exports dropped, and high inflation pushed interest rates higher.

In addition, political upheaval, the corruption probe at oil and gas giant Petrobras and austerity measures to curb high government expenditures contributed to poor business and consumer confidence. Investment and consumer spending fell sharply. However, a mild recovery began in 2017, and the International Monetary Fund now expects Brazilian GDP growth of 1.8% for 2018 and 2.5% in 2019.

The economy is made up of Services (73%), Industrial activities (21%) and Agriculture (6%). Government consumption equals 20% of the economy and exports, 13%.

Brazil, in fact, exported $215 billion worth of goods in 2017. To put that in context, China, the largest exporter in the world, had exports valued at 10 times that amount; Mexico’s 2017 exports were almost double those of Brazil.

The country’s top exports are soybeans, iron ore, raw sugar, crude oil, and poultry. Its leading export markets are China, the U.S., Argentina, the Netherlands, and Germany.

Brazil has a large labour force of 104 million people, but with a high unemployment rate of 12.8%. Before the 2015-16 recession, the unemployment rate was much lower at 7%.

Despite the economic 2015/16 recession, government finances are in reasonable order with a primary budget deficit of just 1.7% of GDP.

Government debt as a percentage of GDP, however, is a high 84%—up from 50% in 2012. The country has low investment credit ratings, with BB- gradings from both S&P and Fitch for both its long-term foreign and domestic debt issues. The current inflation rate is 4.5%. That’s within the 2.5% to 6.5% range set by Brazil’s central bank.

Over the past year, the ETF has gained 4.2%, somewhat less than the broad-based MSCI World Equity Index. Over the past 5 years, the fund gained 31.1%—lagging the 56.7% gain for that world equity index.

Brazil’s currency remains under pressure as global investors move away from emerging markets. That’s because a growing U.S. economy and rising interest rates have pushed up the U.S. dollar. That typically results in capital flowing to the U.S. from emerging markets. In turn, the value of investments in those economies falls.

Meanwhile, Brazil faces presidential elections in October 2018. Whoever wins that contest faces big challenges, including further cuts to bloated state enterprises and the country’s pension system. These must be addressed to restore economic growth and fiscal stability.

The country needs to get its economy back on track, but it has strong long-term growth potential.

For aggressive investors seeking exposure to Brazil, the iShares MSCI Brazil ETF is okay to hold.


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