Latin America’s growth surge outperforms emerging markets: Can it be sustained?

20 juillet 2023

Beautiful view of a Puerto Vallarta beach on the Pacific coast of Mexico.

Latin America has outperformed other emerging markets over the past two years and this positive performance can be attributed to several key factors. However, the challenge lies in sustaining this momentum and ensuring it is not merely temporary.

MSCI World Small Cap Index vs MSCI Emerging Markets Latin America Index, 2021 to 2023

Graph showing the outperformance of the Latin America small cap index relative to its global peers between June 2021 and June 2023.

Source: Bloomberg

Notably, the combination of currency rallies among some Latin American countries and an emerging markets rally is uncommon. Reasons for this mismatch include:

  • Latin America leads the way in interest rate hikes worldwide. Starting in the first half of 2021, Chile and Brazil raised rates, helping control inflation levels, although they are still high but manageable. Chile will likely start its easing process next week, followed by Brazil within the year. This has boosted their respective stock markets, which were already undervalued in our view.
  • Additionally, Mexico has benefitted from the “nearshoring” theme. Nearshoring is nothing new to local investors, having been present in the region for decades. What is new is the level of intensity and amount of investment expected over the next three to five years. This has resulted in increased earnings per share (EPS) of 15% to 20% CAGR in the near term for some Mexican companies, outperforming the MSCI Emerging Markets Small Cap Index and contributing to higher valuations in Mexico’s market compared to its Latin American peers. However, there are questions about whether Mexico’s growth is comparable to its peers or to countries like Indonesia or Vietnam that are also heavily dependent on US imports.
  • Commodities also play a significant role in the region’s performance. Despite a global slowdown, certain commodities, like copper, have maintained high prices due to supply constraints. We believe the anticipated electric vehicle (EV) boom will further drive copper demand, ensuring a deficit in the market from 2026 onwards. For example, every EV, which weigh approximately two tons each, consumes around 60 additional kilos of copper.
  • Furthermore, the region has demonstrated better fiscal discipline, with countries like Chile and Mexico ending 2022 with fiscal surpluses or manageable deficits, respectively. This responsible fiscal approach has also supported their currencies. There is always the potential for Brazil to surprise on the downside due to its high fiscal spending and debt levels; however, the country has seen no “disruptive” events lately.
  • US rates hikes have favoured value over growth factors in emerging markets, benefitting markets like Latin America’s over countries perceived as growth-driven, such as Korea or India.
  • Innovation has not been a main driver for Latin America, but that is starting to slowly change. Moreover, the market has begun recognizing and crediting good companies with sustained growth expectations, which has historically been uncommon in the region. This trend in recognizing innovation and good companies is crucial for bottom-up investors like us who prioritize companies with solid balance sheets, strong cash flow generation and sustained competitive advantages. More Latin American companies have started to share these characteristics.

Latin America is still a small region relative to the rest of the world and it is dominated by, and benefits from, global trends, even though its politics are not always market friendly. However, sustained positive factors like the commodities momentum and nearshoring may make global investors more indifferent to the region’s internal dynamics.

What needs to happen for long-term compounder growth stories to emerge, like Nestle in India or TSMC in Taiwan? To maintain sustainable growth, we believe the region needs to align with external factors and foster strong domestic sectors and companies that promote growth. Improving innovation and adapting to rapidly changing environments are also key. For example, the financial sector in Mexico and Chile remains solid, while the transport-logistics sector in Mexico offers interesting opportunities. Brazil’s large population presents significant potential for emerging middle-class growth, creating opportunities in various sectors.

Latin America has growth engines and the key is to identify the best companies capable of maintaining a sustained differentiation over time. By focusing on these opportunities, our portfolio is well-positioning to capture their potential growth.

Company example

JSL (JSLG3 BZ) has the largest portfolio of logistics in Brazil, with long expertise operating in a variety of sectors and a nationwide scale of services. The company has long-lasting business relationships with clients that operate in several economic sectors, including pulp and paper, steel, mining, agribusiness, automotive, food, chemical and consumer goods, among others. JSL also has a unique position in the Brazilian highway logistics market, as leader for 19 years and much larger than its nearest competitor.

The logistics industry in Brazil is highly fragmented, with a high level of informality and low capitalization among players. This creates opportunities for further consolidation, especially for companies with structured businesses. According to Citibank, the top 10 companies have close to a 2% market share. JSL has roughly 1% market share (almost 5x the second-largest player) and is well placed to continue consolidating the industry. JSL also has a favourable M&A track record, which has been a growth driver in recent years. JSL has acquired seven companies since its re-IPO in October 2020 implying c20% annual organic growth and c60% EBITDA growth considering the acquisitions, maintaining strong returns. 

We also expect JSL to continue expanding its ROIC going forward, driven by the ongoing consolidation of new acquisitions into JSL’s financials, the company’s strategy to becoming a less capital intensive, asset light business, and strong revenue growth to maintain gaining scale and operating leverage. The logistics industry offers a lot of opportunities to implement tech-driven innovation, and we see JSL well-positioned to use its sector platform and status as a leading tech player. The stock has performed very well this year, partially driven by rate cut expectations and also strong earnings. We expect the company to continue delivering good results in upcoming quarters amid a highly fragmented sector, creating both organic and inorganic growth engines.

Gestion d’actifs Global Alpha Ltée
juillet 20th, 2023