Daily Archives: Jan 23, 2013

Mother Nature has dealt Central America a lousy hand. Earthquakes, floods and hurricanes of biblical proportions have battered the isthmus over the years, but the latest natural disaster is a botanical one.

A plague known as “coffee rust” has hit the region’s top-quality arabica crop. Premium blends from coffee grown in Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama are much loved by aficionados. Read more

By Peter Hakim and Sergio Muñoz Bata

Latin Americans still like and admire President Obama, yet they no longer expect much from him. He mostly ignored the region in his first term, and never mentioned it during his re-election campaign. Sure, immigration reform is on his agenda, but only because both Republicans and Democrats are now intimidated by Latino political clout. It may be that Latin America requires only sporadic attention – like when an earthquake devastates Haiti, or a political crisis undoes Honduras or Paraguay, or an economy collapses somewhere.

But at least two of the region’s 33 countries demand a more strategic approach. Read more

Argentina has designated olive oil a national food and now wants people to gobble it up so that domestic demand gives the estimated $30m industry a fillip.

You might think that Argentines already do love their olive oil – most have Mediterrranean roots, after all, and in Spain consumption of olive oil is about 13 to 15 litres per head per year, according to Juan Carlos García Zuloaga, president of the Olive Growing Chamber in the western Argentine province of Mendoza. Yet no – Argentines now consume only about a quarter of a litre each of olive oil at most a year, he says. Read more

Photo: Bloomberg

Turkey may finally be hitting the accelerator pedal now that it has less than a month to resolve a dispute that could hit the country’s ability to raise funds internationally.

The dispute in question concerns a decision by the 36-member Financial Action Task Force, which includes many of the most important financial jurisdictions in the world, to suspend Ankara from membership if it does not implement anti-terror financing legislation by February 22. Read more

Following recent successful dollar bond sales by Mexico and Paraguay, there are celebrations in Colombia as well: on Tuesday, the Andean country sold $1bn of 10-year bonds abroad. The offer was three times oversubscribed.

The paper was sold to yield 88 basis points over comparable US Treasuries, or 2.7 per cent a year – the lowest yield ever in Colombia’s “history in the international capital markets,” according to the finance ministry. Read more

Artist's impression

Kenya has begun converting 5,000 acres of savannah dotted with antelopes and ringed by hills into “the most modern city in Africa”. Contractors begin work this week on the $10bn Konza Techno City project, 60km south of the capital Nairobi, which has been dubbed Kenya’s Silicon Savannah. Read more

The choice of target in the recent bloody hostage standoff in Algeria was not by chance. By attacking the gas sector, jihadist terrorists went for maximum impact. Energy accounts for 98 per cent of Algeria’s exports and 70 per cent of tax revenue, with the In Amenas plant accounting for 12 per cent of the country’s gas output.

It is unlikely to prompt any large-scale pull-out by foreign companies, but the events cap a longer term deterioration in the operating environment of Africa’s biggest natural gas producer, where new investment has all but dried up, with steadily decreasing numbers of successful oil round awards. Read more

Lebanon has long exported its bankers and financiers across the world, but its banks have generally remained fairly conservative domestic institutions, venturing only carefully outside the country’s borders, writes Robin Wigglesworth.

Yet given the country’s perennial political turmoil – interspersed with the occasional bout of violence – many Lebanese banks have in recent years looked abroad for opportunities to diversify their operations. One of the pioneers has been Byblos Bank, the third-largest financial institution in Lebanon by assets.

Little surprise that the International Monetary Fund cut its world economic growth predictions in its latest forecasts published on Wednesday, with only three major economies escaping the chop – Japan, Mexico and China.

The forecast for China’s GDP is left unchanged at 8.1 per cent, the same as the last (October) forecast, which shows that the Fund shares the growing optimism in China’s 2013 recovery. Read more

Unilever shares were boosted by better-than-expected Q4 results on Wednesday, with sales growth in emerging markets leading the way.

Unilever is investing heavily in EMs, at some cost to margins, but investors are more than happy to back the strategy, in which the group is planning to raise the proportion of revenues coming from EMs from 55 per cent last year to 70-75 per cent in 2020. The stock was up 3 per cent – the best performer on the FTSE 100 as of mid-afternoon. Read more

Well, they thought it was going to be bad. But not this bad. Consumer price inflation in Brazil was 0.88 per cent in the month to mid-January and 6.02 per cent over the previous 12 months, the IBGE, the national statistics institute, said on Wednesday.

On Monday, the central bank’s weekly survey of market economists showed inflation expectations were creeping up: the consensus for January had risen to 0.81 per cent from 0.78 per cent a week earlier. But Wednesday’s figure was off the chart. Read more

Shares in PKO BP, Poland’s largest bank, have dropped sharply on news that the state is selling a chunk to help meet its privatisation target and to raise funds for a government-owned development bank. Read more

* Thai activist sentenced over royal insults

* Economists slash growth forecasts for Asian economies in 2013

* Emerging stocks fall as volatility drops to seven-year low Read more

Coming soon: sportswear for dogs

X5, the Russian food retailer controlled by Mikhail Fridman’s Alfa Group, has won a tender for rights to market official merchandise for the 2014 Sochi Winter Games.

The prestigious deal may boost the appeal of X5’s grocery stores but probably comes too late to prevent the London-listed retailer from being overtaken by its fast growing rival Magnit in the battle for sales. Read more

Wednesday’s picks from the beyondbrics team: as the Polish economy slows, youngsters head for the exits in search of work overseas; China’s lottery habit may be getting out of hand; Hong Kong’s Epic trouser maker on the trials and tribulations of the Asian garment industry; an FT special report on the world in 2013; plus, what the end of global negative interest rates might mean for frontier market fixed income. Read more