Mexico -- Not China or Brazil -- Is Stock Bears' Biggest Target

  • BlackRock's $1.2 billion Mexico ETF has most shorts since 2009
  • Scenario is `almost like the opposite of bottom fishing'

The world’s stock investors have crowned Mexico their favorite market to bet against.

Short interest in BlackRock’s $1.2 billion iShares MSCI Mexico Capped ETF is at more than 40 percent of shares outstanding, compared with 13 percent at the start of May, the most among more than 1,100 exchange-traded-funds tracked by Bloomberg with at least a $300 million market cap. By that measure, traders are the most bearish on Mexican stocks since February 2009, according to data compiled by Markit.

Hedge funds and other speculators are using the ETF to wager that Mexican stocks are headed for a tumble after holding up better recently than emerging-market peers from Brazil to China on optimism that the opening of the nation’s energy industry would fuel faster growth. After a prolonged tumble in crude and the peso falling to a record low, the shine is fading on Mexican stocks, whose valuations are nearly triple the MSCI Emerging Markets Index average.

“They just want to make sure they profit when Mexico goes down relative to other emerging markets,” Eric Balchunas, an ETF analyst at Bloomberg Intelligence, said by phone from Princeton, New Jersey. “It’s a very good proxy or indicator on what smart money is thinking about Mexico.”

In some ways, Mexico’s stock market may be a victim of its own relative success. The BlackRock Mexico ETF has lost 9.8 percent since June, compared with a 34 percent decline in the $1.8 billion iShares MSCI Brazil Capped ETF and a 22 percent drop in the $1.8 billion iShares MSCI China ETF. Short sellers borrow stock and sell the shares with the aim of profiting by purchasing them for a lower price at a later date.

Shorting Mexico “is relatively less risky because the price has already corrected so far for the Brazilian market,” said Nick Chamie, who oversees $150 million of assets as chief investment officer at Bank of Nova Scotia’s international wealth management unit in Toronto. “The weakness in oil prices has taken its toll on sentiment toward Mexico.”

While Infraestructura Energetica Nova SAB, the Sempra Energy unit known as Ienova, is the only publicly-traded energy company on the 35-member IPC index and not in the BlackRock ETF, investors had been looking to inflows stemming from the opening of the energy industry to jumpstart the Mexican bourse. President Enrique Pena Nieto pushed through the constitutional changes in 2013, a move his administration has estimated will help bring in $62.5 billion in private investment and add at least 1 percentage point to Mexico annual gross domestic product growth by 2018.

Short interest as a percentage of shares outstanding
Short interest as a percentage of shares outstanding

Mexico’s benchmark IPC rose 0.1 percent Friday as of 12:02 p.m. in New York. Investors shorting Mexican stocks may also be betting against the peso, which touched a record low of 17.3425 per dollar on Thursday. Since April, options have shown a net bet on its decline against the greenback.

“The overall opinion and sentiment of emerging markets has just not been good,” Balchunas said. “Mexico hasn’t been as beat up as much as some of these other emerging-markets countries, so possibly they see the country having to play catch up on the downside. It’s almost like the opposite of bottom fishing.”

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal. LEARN MORE