Morgan Stanley
  • Thoughts on the Market Podcast
  • Feb 7, 2023

Latin America Economy: The Possibility of Opportunity in 2023


Gui Paiva: Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Gui Paiva, Morgan Stanley's Chief Latin American Equity Strategist.

Andre Loes: And I'm Andre Loes, Morgan Stanley's Chief LatAm Economist.

Gui Paiva: And on this special episode of the podcast, we will discuss this year's economic and equity outlook for Latin America. It is Tuesday, February 7th, at 10 a.m. in New York.

Andre Loes: And noon in Sao Paulo.

Gui Paiva: By all accounts, last year was a difficult one for global markets. Yet so far, 2023 is starting on a brighter note. There are reasons to be more optimistic with moderating inflation and the outlook for China and Europe solidifying the case for a weaker U.S. dollar. Overall, emerging markets look better positioned than developed markets, and within EM today we'll take a look specifically at Latin America. Andre, to set the stage can you give us a sense of how Latin America has fared post-COVID, and how it has dealt with the big global challenges of 2022?

Andre Loes: Well Gui, the growth performance of the region was not particularly different from the other regions during the bulk of the COVID slump. But the levels of poverty in LatAm were already high at the beginning of the pandemic and the increase in unemployment in 2020 and 2021 aggravated that situation. The erosion of purchasing power stemming from accelerating inflation played an important role as well, and the result was mounting strain for political proposals backing more unorthodox ideas, especially a permanent rise in fiscal spending. So the policy reaction aiming to control inflation has been deployed amid these more challenging contexts.

Gui Paiva: Well, you just mentioned policy reaction. Indeed, with rampant inflation in the region, Latin American central banks were probably ahead of the global curve in 2022, having started hiking interest rates in 21. Andre, how effective has their monetary policy been so far and what are your expectations for the rate cycle from here?

Andre Loes: Well, the response of LatAm central banks came quite early and has been proving effective in most countries. One of the reasons central bankers of the region react promptly is related to the inflation prone past of the region, which is still fresh in the mind of many economic agents, which leads to de-anchoring of inflation expectations as soon as observed inflation accelerates. This means central banks need to react timely, and as a result, the central banks of Brazil, Mexico, Chile and Peru started to hike rates still in the first half of 2021, with Colombia following early on the second half.

With the exception of Colombia, inflation has peaked in all countries under our coverage where the central banks pursue an inflation target. With lower inflation we see an easy cycle is starting in all countries in the region, with Chile leading in the second quarter, Peru and Mexico in the third quarter, and Brazil and Colombia cutting towards year end.

Gui Paiva: And what are your economic growth forecasts for the rest of this year and the longer term?

Andre Loes: Growth in 2023 will show a deceleration compared to last year with both Brazil and Mexico slowing down from 3% in 2022 to 1.4% in the current year. Deceleration will be more intense in Argentina, Chile, and Colombia, with Chile effectively go into a strong recession, a contraction of around 2%, in order to regain both price and theoretical stability. Lower growth is mostly due to the lagged effects of the material monetary policy tightening we have just discussed. But lower global growth will also play a part on that, especially for Mexico, given the strong economic integration of this country with the U.S. For South America, China's recovery may prove a boon, as the Asian country is the main export destination for Brazil, Argentina, as well as the metro exporters Chile, Peru.

But Gui, let me turn it over to you on the equities side. What are some of the key investment themes you are following this year?

Gui Paiva: We forecast 20% dollar upside for Latin American equities in 2023. The reasons behind our optimism are the region's leverage to the global economic cycle and the price you currently pay for regional stocks. So let me expand on these topics.

First about the leverage to the global economic cycle. Historically, LatAm equities tend to perform well during the early and mid stages of the global economic cycle. The region produces several important soft and hard commodities like grains, copper, steel and iron ore, as well as energy products like crude oil and natural gas. Therefore, a rising commodity prices produces a positive terms of trade shock, which leads to stronger domestic economic growth and benefits, both directly and indirectly the public traded companies across the region.

Let me pivot now to the second topic, which is the price of currently pay for regional stocks. In my 20 years as an equity strategist, I have learned that the return in an investment is highly correlated to the price you pay for the assets. Therefore, current depressed valuations of Latin equities provide an interesting entry point for investors looking to gain exposure to the EM trade at a discount.

Moreover, historically, Latin American equities have posted strong returns during the 12 months following an EM bear market trough boosted by both global and local cyclical sectors.

Andre Loes :Can you also walk us through some of the largest economies in the region and give us some color as to what's happening in the different LatAm markets? Maybe start with Mexico and in particular the nearshoring opportunities there.

Gui Paiva: Sure Andre. In Mexico we struggle to have a positive structural view of our local equities over the past four years, because of the government's state centric approach to some of the key sectors in the economy, like energy and electricity. However, we are more optimistic now, and we believe economic growth could surprise to the upside from 2024 to 2030, and benefit the local stock market.

First, if our U.S. house view is correct and the current bear market in U.S. equities finally ends in the first half of the year, Mexico should benefit in the second as a leveraged play on a potential 2024 U.S. economic recovery. Second, we have presidential elections in Mexico in mid 24, and we believe a newly elected government would likely take a less state centric approach to the key energy and electricity sectors, which would ultimately help boost private sector business confidence and thus investments. Last but not least, we see Mexico as potentially enjoying gains from the ongoing on and nearshoring manufacturing trends.

If we are correct, then economic growth in Mexico shows surprise to the upside over the next six years and the current on and nearshoring investment theme in the country, which is limited to a handful of mid and small cap stocks, would broaden out, include some of the Mexican large caps. 

Andre Loes:And what about Brazil Gui?

Gui Paiva: In Brazil, we have a neutral stance towards local equities because the current government has given signs that he intends to run a looser fiscal stance over the next few years, which should lead to a higher for longer monetary policy rate, higher real bond yields, which should undermine the apparently attractive valuation story for local equities.

If we are correct in our assessment, the next few years should be good for Brazilian fixed income assets, but not necessarily for equities. However, we believe there are a few interesting investment themes in the local equity market and we are currently positioning some stocks which should benefit from them. For instance, we like private sector banks, insurance companies which tend to do well during periods of higher for longer interest rates.

Andre Loes: Finally, what are some key upcoming events and catalysts our listeners should be aware of, Gui?

Gui Paiva: Well, from a global perspective, Andre, we do expect the U.S. Fed to reach its peak rate of 4.625% in March and then stop. Therefore U.S. payrolls and inflation data are key for the outlook of U.S. monetary policy and therefore global risky assets. Meanwhile, in China, the latest batch of economic indicators has surprised to the upside, and we do expect the trend to continue in Q2. Finally, regionally, in Mexico, we expect the central bank, Banxico, to end the current monetary tightening cycle at 10.75% in February, while in Brazil, the newly elected government should try to push through Congress an important tax reform and a new long term fiscal framework during Q2.

Gui Paiva: Andre, thanks very much for your questions and for taking the time to talk.

Andre Loes: Great speaking with you Gui.

Gui Paiva: And thanks for listening. If you enjoy Thoughts on the Market, please leave us a review on Apple Podcasts, and share the podcast with a friend or colleague today.

As the outlook for 2023 shows emerging markets looking better positioned than developed markets, how is Latin America faring in this more optimistic story? Chief Latin American Equity Strategist Gui Paiva and Chief Latin American Economist Andre Loes discuss.

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