x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

UAE companies cement foothold in Brazil

Building Brics: The samba economy may look like it has struggled to keep time in recent months with a falling currency, slowing manufacturing and now warnings of a sovereign credit downgrade.

The value of Brazilian exports to the UAE rose 13 per cent last year, with food products, such as beef, driving the gains. Dado Galdieri / Bloomberg News
The value of Brazilian exports to the UAE rose 13 per cent last year, with food products, such as beef, driving the gains. Dado Galdieri / Bloomberg News

The samba economy may look like it has struggled to keep time in recent months with a falling currency, slowing manufacturing and now warnings of a sovereign credit downgrade.

But that is not deterring investment from the Emirates as UAE banks and other investors look to cement their foothold in Brazil.

The planned sale of as much as US$20 billion in infrastructure bonds linked to construction projects across the country represents one of the next big opportunities for overseas investors as the government seeks to encourage foreign investment and reverse sluggish economic growth.

It comes as transport links between the two countries improve, with Etihad this month launching its first direct route to South America, flying three times a week to São Paulo. Emirates Airline also flies to the city as well as to Rio de Janeiro.

National Bank of Abu Dhabi has just opened an office in São Paulo which its outgoing chief executive Michael Tomalin sees as a "staging post" for doing business throughout Latin America.

"We wanted to intermediate those trade and capital flows between our world - Mena, where we are based - and Latin America," he said. "If you look at the flow of trade between the two places, much of this business is done through banks which don't know one another. Quite often the Brazilian bank will deal with the global bank and the global bank will deal with us, or its branch here. It strikes me that there's no reason why local banks can't get involved in that."

Deepening commercial ties between the two countries come at a critical time for the Brazilian economy as inflation and mounting debt threaten to slow growth. Brazilian shares dropped to a 20-month low on Friday after the country's credit outlook was cut by Standard & Poor's. The action also sent the currency tumbling to a four-year low.

The Brazilian real has fallen almost 9 per cent in three months as rising bond yields in the United States draws capital away from the South American country. That has raised borrowing costs in Brazil in a global trend that has also hit other emerging and frontier markets, including the UAE.

"We could lower the credit rating in the coming two years if continued sluggish economic growth, weaker fiscal and external fundamentals, and some loss in the credibility of economic policy given ambiguous policy signals diminish Brazil's ability to manage an external shock," S&P said in its report.

Concerns over falling foreign direct investment and the country's weakening currency led to Brazil last week dropping its 6 per cent tax on foreign bond buyers, which had been considered the country's key defence from hot money flows.

However such uncertainty does not appear to have dimmed the country's investment appeal among some UAE lenders. Trade is already thriving between the two countries and investment has also been expected to follow in the wake of last year's landmark deal involving Mubadala taking a $2bn stake in Brazil's EBX Group conglomerate.

"Maybe we're slightly ahead of our time, but since we've been there we've done six deals, six quite big deals - mostly with major Latin American financial institutions - that we would never have done before, mostly because they didn't know us and we didn't know them," said Mr Tomalin.

Last year Brazilian exports to the UAE jumped by about 13 per cent to $2.45bn, according to Apex-Brasil, the Brazilian trade and investment promotion agency. Food exports are the major driver with beef, sugar and poultry contributing significantly to the country's export revenues.

"We're seeing growing interest from investors as people become more familiar with Brazil," said Sidney Alves Costa, the regional managing director of Apex-Brasil.

"A very important issue here is food security. We see big interest in agribusiness in Brazil, not buying land but investing in companies that are already supplying the region to guarantee future supply." Some 34 Brazilian companies are operating in the UAE including two of its biggest banks, Itaú and Banco de Brasil.

Brazil is gearing up to sell as much as $20bn in infrastructure bonds that the government hopes will draw in a wave of international investment, including from Arabian Gulf states.

"Typically these are good companies with good credit. This is a market that is starting up so first you have the crème de la crème of companies with some juice compared to sovereign bonds," said Andre Loes, the chief economist for HSBC Latin America.

 

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