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Beating Brazil Shows Calderon Prepared After ‘08: Mexico Credit

Mexico's President Felipe Calderon
Mexico's President Felipe Calderon. Photographer: Chris Goodney/Bloomberg

Mexican government and corporate bonds are outperforming securities sold by their Brazilian counterparts as investors bet Latin America’s second-largest economy is better prepared to weather a global slowdown.

The 27-basis point drop in Mexican government dollar bond yields in the past month compares with a decline of 25 for Brazilian notes, snapping five straight months of underperformance, according to JPMorgan Chase & Co. The two-basis point increase in Mexican corporate borrowing costs in the past month compares with a jump of six basis points, or 0.06 percentage point, for their Brazilian peers. Previously, Brazilian corporate securities had outperformed for two consecutive months.

President Felipe Calderon’s administration has lined up a $72 billion credit line from the International Monetary Fund, extended debt maturities and shunned capital increases embraced by Brazil, the region’s largest economy, to protect against a slowdown in the U.S., which buys 80 percent of the Latin American nation’s exports.

“They are strengthening public finances here in Mexico,” Gabriel Casillas, chief Mexico economist for JPMorgan Chase & Co. in Mexico City, said in a telephone interview. “The Mexican market has become much easier and flexible to trade as Brazil boosts capital controls.”

100-Year Bond

Mexican government bonds yield 4.65 percent, or 6 basis points less than Brazilian debt, according to JPMorgan. The gap has swelled from one basis point on July 28. Notes sold by Mexican companies yield 6.31 percent, compared with 5.93 percent for Brazilian corporate securities. The 37-basis point gap is down from 53 on July 28.

Mexico sold $1 billion of 100-year bonds overseas yesterday, taking advantage of a plunge in benchmark U.S. borrowing costs to bring back a record-long maturity it unveiled a year ago. The government issued the notes due in 2110 to yield 5.96 percent, or 242 basis points above 30-year U.S. Treasuries, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

“Mexico financially has never been as well protected and sound as it is today,” said Alejandro Diaz de Leon, head of the finance ministry’s public debt unit in an interview yesterday. “Mexico has been able to take advantage of a privileged position because of the steps it has taken.”

Standard & Poor’s cut Mexico’s rating to BBB, the second-lowest investment grade, from BBB+ in December 2009, citing declining oil output and “diminishing” prospects for widening the tax base to replace oil revenue. Brazil is rated one level lower at BBB- by S&P.

The Brazilian finance ministry declined to comment in an e-mailed statement.

IMF Credit Line

The IMF renewed and boosted the size of Mexico’s credit line in January from $48 billion. The Washington-based fund originally approved the facility in 2009 to boost confidence in the economy. The central bank has been buying as much as $600 million monthly though options since March 2010 to bolster foreign reserves, which surged 84 percent in the past two years to a record $133.9 billion, according to the central bank. Brazil’s reserves rose 65 percent over the same period to $349.6 billion.

“All these contingency plans and credit lines are favorable factors for an investor, who may say that in the case of another crisis Mexico won’t likely be as volatile,” Eduardo Avila, an economist with Monex Casa de Bolsa SA in Mexico City, said in a telephone interview.

Currency Tumble

The peso tumbled 20 percent in 2008 as U.S. demand for the country’s exports slumped. Mexico’s gross domestic product shrank 6.1 percent the following year, the most since 1995 and the second-worst contraction of the economies tracked by Bloomberg after Russia. The U.S. economy contracted 3.5 percent in 2009.

Yields on Mexican government debt in the two months after Lehman Brothers Holding Inc. filed for bankruptcy in 2008 surged 165 basis points, compared with an increase of 142 for Brazilian securities.

“We are a lot better prepared, especially relative to other countries, for a situation that could deteriorate externally,” Deputy Finance Minister Gerardo Rodriguez said in an interview at Bloomberg’s headquarters in New York on June 2. “All this points to a broad framework of creating additional spaces for a potential adverse scenario going forward. That’s what we are here for -- to prepare for negative scenarios.”

Mexico’s total net debt is 35 percent of GDP, below the 40 percent for Brazil. The government has been extending local debt maturities to a record 7.3 years in 2011, from 6.4 years in 2009.

Capital Controls

Brazil imposed a 1 percent tax on some currency derivatives on July 27, the latest government measure aimed at stemming the 42 percent appreciation of the real since the end of 2008. Since October, Brazil has also tripled to 6 percent a tax on foreigners’ purchase of bonds, raised the cost of foreign borrowing by local companies and restricted bank bets against the real. The peso has gained 9.1 percent during the same period.

The extra yield investors demand to hold Mexican government dollar bonds instead of U.S. Treasuries narrowed 12 basis points to 174 at 5 p.m. New York time, according to JPMorgan Chase & Co.

The peso rose 2.3 percent to 12.2748 per U.S. dollar.

The cost to protect Mexican debt against non-payment for five years rose one basis point to 161, according to data provider CMA, which is owned by CME Group Inc. and compiles prices quoted by dealers in the privately negotiated market. Credit-default swaps pay the buyer face value in exchange for the underlying securities or the cash equivalent if a government or company fails to adhere to its debt agreements.

Growth Forecasts

Mexico’s central bank lowered its forecast for economic growth this year and next while keeping its consumer price forecasts unchanged, according to its quarterly inflation report published yesterday. It cut its 2011 growth forecast to a range of 3.8 percent to 4.8 percent and its 2012 forecast to 3.5 percent to 4.5 percent. The bank said in its May report the economy may expand as much as 5 percent this year and up to 4.8 percent in 2012 growth. It kept its 2011 and 2012 consumer price forecasts at 3 percent to 4 percent.

“The balance of risks for growth in the Mexican economy has deteriorated,” the bank said in the report, citing lower global growth prospects.

JPMorgan’s Casillas and Iker Cabiedes reduced their 2011 Mexican growth forecast yesterday to 4.2 percent from 4.5 percent.

‘Aversion to Risk’

Economists in Mexico will likely continue to cut growth forecasts this quarter after the Federal Reserve indicated that it will keep rates low through mid-2013, said Javier Belaunzaran, who helps manage about 40 billion pesos at Interacciones Casa de Bolsa SA in Mexico City.

“If the Fed is saying it’s keeping rates steady through 2013, than things aren’t going well at all,” Belaunzaran said in a telephone interview. “There may be an aversion to risk toward long-term securities if the outlook worsens.”

Mexico will wait until November 2012 to raise the benchmark lending rate from a record low 4.5 percent, according to trading in TIIE futures.

While Mexico’s annual inflation rate slowed to a five-year low in March and is within the central bank’s target range of 3 percent to 4 percent this year, Brazil has struggled to contain price increases. Inflation quickened to 6.75 percent last month, the highest in six years and almost double the 3.55 percent rate in Mexico in July.

“There are a lot of factors that make Mexico stand out from the rest of the emerging markets,” Monex’s Avila said.

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