John Paul Rathbone

John Paul Rathbone is the FT's Latin American editor, having previously edited the Lex column. He is the author of "The Sugar King of Havana: the rise and fall of Julio Lobo, Cuba's last tycoon" (The Penguin Press, 2010).

The Pacific Alliance is all the rage in Latin America. As today’s FT special report shows, the members of this newly-formed free trade pact include some of the region’s best-managed and most reform-minded economies: Chile, Colombia, Mexico and Peru. These countries do not represent some kind of Platonic ideal. They suffer problems aplenty. But their governments do pride themselves on hard-nosed business dealing rather than gassy ideology. That being the case, is there a way for portfolio investors to actually trade the idea? Continue reading »

That was then

Back in 2008, President Luis Inácio Lula da Silva boasted that the tsunami of the global financial crisis would register barely a ripple, uma marolinha, in Brazil. Bar Mexico, this was true for the rest of the region too. Today, though, Latin America is more vulnerable to a devastating “sudden stop” in international capital flows.

As Agustin Carstens, the head of the Mexican central bank, warned last week, such an event could be triggered by higher US interest rates. Or, more worryingly, it could follow a sudden collapse of commodity prices should China’s economy slow abruptly. But how much more vulnerable is Latin America today? About 20 per cent more, according to the Inter-American Development Bank. Continue reading »

When 1m protesting Brazilians took to the streets last year, Dilma Rousseff, the president, sought to defuse their complaints by promising to fix ailing services and make changes to the political system. In contrast, as Venezuelan students and opposition activists have taken to the streets this month, president Nicolás Maduro has responded by calling them “fascists” and “coup-mongers” who want to bring back neo-liberalism and kill off the country’s vaunted social services.

In whose hands, however, are Venezuela’s social advances safest? Continue reading »

Eat humble pie? Not a crumb. After lying about inflation for seven years, Buenos Aires last night revealed a new and more credible statistical series. This, said Axel Kicillof, the economy minister (pictured), was not because the old inflation numbers were wrong. Rather, it was because they needed to be updated. Why? Because Argentine consumption habits had changed, he explained. The government’s new inflation numbers, he added, provide “an X-ray of another country.” Continue reading »

Far be it from Latin countries to indulge in some pre-World Cup schadenfreude. Nonetheless, different emerging markets have clearly been affected very differently by the recent bout of market turbulence. Take those distant neighbours, Colombia and Argentina. Two years ago, finance ministry officials in Bogotá threw a cat among the pigeons when they declared that the Colombian economy was larger than Argentina’s, making it the third biggest in the region (after Brazil and Mexico). Buenos Aires quickly harrumphed back: “Not so!” For one, that might only be the case if you converted Argentine nominal GDP into US dollars using black market (and thus illegal) exchange rates, rather than the “true” official one. Continue reading »

CUCs and CUPs – know your pesos

Monetary reform rarely gets the pulse racing. But on the colonial streets of old Havana, Cuba’s pending monetary reform is one of the hottest topics around.

“My parishioners talk about it all the time,” says one local priest. Even World Bank officials are excited. Augusto de la Torre, the bank’s chief Latin America economist, has just penned a learned article on the subject. There are two reasons why everyone is getting worked up. Continue reading »

There are two ways to read the IMF’s call on Monday night for Argentina to sort out its dodgy inflation and economic statistics by next March – or, uniquely, face expulsion from the international lender.

The first way is that the country will never comply. After all, railing against the IMF has been a rhetorical hallmark of the presidencies of Cristina Fernandez (pictured) and her late husband, Nestor Kirchner. Continue reading »

President Nicolás Maduro is a fraud, his government is incompetent and corrupt, most ministers should be sacked, the ruling Socialist Party’s ideological discourse is sterile, the national “Bolivarian” project is on a suicide path, and there is a growing risk of a coup from within the administration.

But don’t believe the FT on any of this. These are the words of Heinz Dieterich, a Marxist professor and former mentor of Hugo Chávez, writing in the leftist website Aporrea. Having cleared our throats before Sunday’s municipal elections, what actually is at stake at the vote — in concrete terms? Continue reading »

A bold young president with a technocratic team promises a new world of prosperity for Mexico, and many believe him. But then comes a crushing devaluation that brings much of his country to its knees. Such were the inauspicious events that surrounded Nafta’s beginnings 20 years ago. Today, Nafta continues to shape the Mexican economy. Indeed, in some ways, it is the country’s most enduring institutional arrangement. For one, it has turned the country into a manufacturing powerhouse that exports more manufactured goods than the rest of Latin America combined. Nafta’s 20th anniversary, and its next 20 years, are explored in an FT special report from the Mexican, US and Canadian perspectives. Continue reading »

As the saying goes, it is not over until it’s over.

Nonetheless, last night’s putative agreement between Spain, Argentina and Mexico to settle the YPF-Repsol dispute looks promising – Repsol shares spiked over 4 per cent on Tuesday morning on the news – although there are several provisos. Continue reading »

Mexico may be all the rage among investors. But praise the country in polite Mexican society and you risk running a gauntlet of abuse. John Authers, the FT’s investment columnist and a former Mexico bureau chief, describes the situation very well.

Certainly, President Pena Nieto’s reform agenda gets high marks for concept but low marks for delivery. Of his four biggest initiatives, the detail of telecom reform is still being worked out; ditto education; the fiscal reform was disappointing; and we don’t yet know the full shape of the energy reform. No wonder the understandable scepticism, then, of much local conversation – even if the intensity of that conversation has meant missing another problem that has not won the discussion it deserves. Continue reading »

It was inevitable. Some 60 years ago began one of the largest migrations in history, when millions of people moved from the Latin American countryside and into cities. Then, some 10 years ago, began a consumer credit boom that saw car sales explode in the world’s most urbanised continent.

And today? To cope with the growing congestion of their megalopolises, Latin Americans are increasingly turning to bicycles to get around. Traffic jams are no longer a privilege of just the rich world. Continue reading »

Did Enrique Peña Nieto’s proposed fiscal reform, unveiled on Sunday, deliver what Mexico needs to boost its woefully low tax take? One way of assessing that is to gauge what the reform aims to provide against the bills that Mexico has to pay. On that basis, the answer is “Partly” – even though the economic slowdown prompted Peña Nieto to hold back from a widely expected sales tax increase on medicines and food. Continue reading »

Take two of Latin America’s most reform-minded governments, throw in a fractured political system, and what do you get? The answer is Mexico – where thousands of protesting teachers fanned out across the capital on Sunday – and Colombia, where 50,000 troops had to be shipped in over the weekend to calm down Bogotá after a rally in support of striking farmers got out of controlContinue reading »

Carlos Slim’s almost €5bn investment in European telecoms is still underwater and, unfortunately for the Mexican tycoon, still seems to be sinking fast.

Indeed, this week’s €8.1bn cash and share offer by Telefónica to buy KPN’s German mobile unit arguably only dunks again the world’s sometimes-richest-man. Continue reading »