Emerging Market View: What Our Analysts Are Reading

EM View

On Thursday, EU diplomats will consider increased Russian sanctions. The sanctions include a proposal to ban all Europeans from purchasing any new debt or stock issued by Russia’s largest banks, according to the Financial Times, and FSG’s Head of Research for EMEA says it’s time for multinationals to make contingency plans.

“If some or all of the proposed measures are approved by the EU, MNCs operating in Russia will be significantly affected. Executives should build a targeted contingency plan for their Russia operations to prepare. Read FSG’s report Protecting Your Russia Business for analysis and suggested actions for building a contingency plan in the case of further sanctions against Russia.” – Martina Bozadzhieva

In Southeast Asia, a rising middle class and strong demand for more expensive foods has led to increased investment by Japanese food companies, mirroring FSG predictions on the rising competition from multi-ASEAN corporations.

“The increasing sophistication of regional firms and growing demand is attracting several global players to partner/acquire ASEAN firms. MNCs should explore all types of partnerships with such regional firms; they understand the market better, tend to have deeper distribution networks, and lower-cost operations.” – Shishir Sinha, FSG’s Senior Analyst for Asia Pacific after reading this WSJ article.

Good news for Argentina this week. Last Friday, the Latin American country struck a deal to borrow $7.5 billion from China for power and rail projects, according to Reuters.

“Argentina has reached a deal with China to borrow US$ 7.5 billion to finance energy and railway projects, and the two countries have also signed a three year, US$ 11 billion currency swap, in which Argentina will receive Chinese yuan that it can then use to finance Chinese imports or exchange to USD to bolster reserves. This news is welcome given Argentina’s balance of payment concerns.” – Christine Herlihy, FSG’s Senior Analyst for Latin America.

FSG clients can keep up to date with the latest emerging markets headlines and exclusive analyst commentary on the client portal.

Emerging Market View: What Our Analysts Are Reading

EM View

India’s newly elected Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government announced its first budget last week, and according to the Wall Street Journal, it proved a letdown for those expecting big-bang reform, MNCs included.

“While it is a well-balanced fiscal plan with focus on reviving consumption and investments, markets have not been overly pleased and experts find certain growth targets to be quite unrealistic. The absence of specifics on several big-ticket items and lack of an overarching vision should rightfully disappoint companies,” says Shishir Sinha, FSG’s Senior Analyst for Asia Pacific.

(Readers can view FSG’s original expectations for India’s BJP government here.)

Last week, Portugal’s Banco Espirito Santo SA bonds hit record lows after parent company Espirito Santo International reportedly missed a debt payment, rekindling market fears and reminding investors that the eurozone’s woes are far from over.

“Executives should be wary of headlines for recovery in WEUR, and prepared for the heavy downside that could accompany bank failure. Banco Espirito Santo, a Portuguese bank, delayed payments on some securities, reminding us that just because banks have not been in the news does not imply that they are healthy. FSG’s WEUR Regional Outlook outlines how banks could impact MNCs throughout the region,” says Lauren Goodwin, Senior analyst for Western Europe.

In Latin America, Argentine presidential hopefuls are dealing with the issue of debt negotiations and exploring opportunities for business-friendly reform, according to Reuters.

“As Argentina strives to negotiate with holdouts to avoid default, executives should consider the potential for improvement as elections approach in 2015. The current frontrunners favor negotiating with holdouts and would likely be more pragmatic and business-friendly than President Fernandez,” says Christine Herlihy, FSG’s Senior Analyst for Latin America.

In global news, Forbes recently released an article on local companies competing with foreign investors in emerging markets, citing a new study by Boston Consulting Group and echoing past FSG reports.

“Echoing the same message in FSG’s report Winning the Race For The Market Diamond, local competition gaining market share in emerging markets is an increasing concern for multinationals, particularly for MNCs that focus on the burgeoning emerging market middle class. Read the report to understand the strategies other companies have used to battle the evolution of growing domestic companies,” says Sam Osborn, Associate Practice Leader for FSG’s global analytics.

2014 will be a pivotal year for Brazil

Multinationals are struggling to assess whether and when Brazil will return to high-growth after three years of disappointing economic performance, and more specifically, they want to understand how 2014 – a pivotal year with the World Cup and the October presidential elections – will affect their businesses in the near future.

FSG recently published a report specifically addressing most of these questions. The report is intended to equip senior executives with the knowledge to:

  • Understand Brazil’s new economic reality: Over the last decade, Brazil’s ability to grow beyond 2–3% was driven by internal and external growth accelerators, which began to subside in 2011. These accelerators were: workforce growth; a massive credit expansion; a commodity super cycle driven by China’s demand for commodities; and high levels of capital flows into the country. A return to higher growth will depend on the government’s ability to pass key structural reforms, and implement effective policies that lift gross fixed investment and productivity levels in the economy. Unfortunately, 2014’s calendar will not be conducive to any major reforms or investments, and the likelihood of significant reforms emerging over the medium term will depend heavily on which candidate wins the elections in October.

Brazil Outlook and long range scenarios

  • Set expectations for 2014’s economic performance: Brazil is set to muddle through 2014 with the help of government spending and decent private consumption. However, investment will remain muted due to higher uncertainty about where the economy is headed. While FSG believes that Brazil is likely to grow around 2% in 2014, there are two major downside risks to our forecast: 1) persistent high inflation that forces the central bank to continue raising interest rates and limit credit growth; and 2) a rapid deterioration of fiscal accounts that prompts the government to reduce spending, raise taxes, and delay infrastructure investments, in order to avoid a sovereign risk downgrade by credit agencies.
  • Monitor signposts for the October presidential elections: Although FSG believes Rousseff remains the favorite to win in October’s elections, economic turmoil and social unrest during the World Cup could rapidly erode her popularity down to July 2013 levels, when Brazilians took the streets to protest against widespread corruption and the poor quality of public services. If momentum for change were to build, we could see Rousseff as more vulnerable to the Eduardo Campos-Marina Silva alliance (PSB-Rede) than to Aecio Neves (PSDB), despite Neves’s current strength in the polls.
  • Assess economic growth prospects for 2015 and beyond: Regardless of who wins the elections, 2015 will be a tough year of adjustment, as Brazil tries to regain credibility in its macroeconomic framework by restoring its fiscal balance and reducing transfers from the treasury to public banks. Over the long term, a return to high growth is less likely with Rousseff than with Campos, as we see Rousseff’s PT as less prone to undertake the reforms and policies that the country needs to unlock investment growth and produce productivity gains.

In the report we provide a detailed analysis of the key signposts to monitor ahead of the October presidential elections, as well as a comparison of the policy agendas of Rouseff and Campos, and their likely impact to multinationals in different sectors. FSG clients can access the full report here.

Download the podcast

3 Mistakes B2B Companies must Avoid for Ecommerce Success in Latin America

Ecommerce in Latin America

The consumer ecommerce channel in Latin America is experiencing rapid growth, fueled by increases in internet connectivity, the growth of the middle class, and the proliferation of smartphones that allow consumers to make purchases from anywhere. In response to growing consumer demand, companies such as MercadoLibre, eBay’s Latin American partner and one of the leading ecommerce sites in the region, have increased their reach while enjoying steady growth in sales. While the consumer oriented ecommerce segment is a field crowded with established competitors offering a variety of purchasing and payment options, B2B sales through the online channel remain relatively underdeveloped.

With no equivalent of MercadoLibre in the B2B sector, companies that act now stand to capture significant untapped market share by using ecommerce to access SMB customers that were previously deemed too difficult to reach or too expensive to serve. A recent study conducted for a client by Frontier Strategy Group’s Bespoke Research team confirmed the market opportunity for B2B sales to SMB customers in Colombia through the ecommerce channel and also identified three common mistakes avoid:

Mistake #1: Taking a One-Size-Fits-All Approach

Not all SMB customers are the same. FSG’s study focused on a variety of different types of businesses, revealing key differences in purchasing frequency and expenditure, and different priorities for each segment. While fast and reliable delivery of goods and high quality customer service were important for some respondents, other respondents were more concerned with convenience and cost savings. In order to successfully meet the needs of segments with highly differentiated priorities, B2B companies must ensure that an ecommerce site is adaptable enough to meet the needs of different segments, offering flexible payment and delivery options, with customer service that is responsive the unique needs of a diverse range of customers.

Mistake #2: Lack of Payment Options

“Usually we pay all suppliers at the end of the month by checks. We have credit for one month or 35 days. We do not pay immediately after purchase. Here, bills expire in one month and then they are cancelled. Sometimes, we do not have all the money to pay suppliers at the beginning of the month, but, at month end, we have money from everything that was sold throughout the month.”
—Interview Respondent

One of the key inhibitors of online purchasing among SMB customers is the perception that online platforms do not offer the same payment options as the local stores and distributors that these businesses typically purchase from. Many of the business respondents interviewed for FSG’s study were accustomed to making purchases on 30-day trade credit, paid at the end of each month via check, and worried that this payment option would not be available online. B2B companies seeking to reach these customers through the ecommerce channel must offer more flexible payment options, including the ability to purchase products on credit and pay at the end of each month.

Mistake #3: Failure to Minimize Customer-Perceived Risks

“The only objection I would have is around security, as the seller could be a fictitious company and there is the risk of being conned.”
— Interview Respondent

“Goods that come by boat sometimes are delayed or damaged; the service is not good.”
— Interview Respondent

For B2B customers in Latin America, payment security is paramount. FSG’s study found that concerns over security were one of the most commonly cited inhibitors of ecommerce adoption. Though many respondents reported making personal purchases online, these same respondents were concerned about the security risks involved in making business purchases through unfamiliar online portals. Ecommerce companies must take extra steps to reassure B2B customers that their personal and payment information is secure on online platforms. Because B2B customers are more trusting of recognized names with a proven track record, B2B companies that can establish themselves early on as a secure ecommerce portal will gain a significant advantage in the long run.

B2B respondents also reported concerns over the quality of products purchased online. These respondents expressed reservations about purchasing products without being able to judge product quality in person, and were also concerned that products shipped from long distances could become lost or damaged. B2B ecommerce companies can minimize this perceived risk through a comprehensive return policy that reimburses customers for products that are damaged or unsatisfactory.

Click here for more on FSG’s Bespoke Research offerings.

Chilean Elections: Anticipated Bachelet Victory May Lead to Fiscal Reform

Chilean Elections

With Chilean presidential elections now little more than a week away, executives are weighing the implications of an anticipated Bachelet victory on fiscal and energy policy. Former President Bachelet has indicated that if she is re-elected, she will prioritize fiscal reform to generate the revenue needed to increase funding for education, a key part of her campaign platform.

In our view, the Chilean business environment will remain favorable, although multinationals should be planning for higher corporate tax rates and the gradual elimination of the FUT (taxable profit fund), with potentially negative implications for margins and investment on the part of B2B customers. Input costs, including energy and labor, are likely to remain high due to environmentally-related social unrest and historically low unemployment, respectively.

Exchange rate volatility also remains a concern for companies importing into Chile. During the second half of 2013, the Chilean peso has depreciated due to a combination of weaker global demand for copper and expectations about the near-term trajectory of US monetary policy. As the pace of Chinese investment moderates and the US moves to taper quantitative easing, the peso is expected to weaken against the dollar in comparison to its performance in recent years.

Exchange Rate Volatility

Memo to EMEA and LATAM regional heads: time to pick up the phone and chat

Struggling to Combat Slowing Growth and Rising Costs in Key BRICS Markets?

A conversation with your regional counterpart in EMEA, LATAM, or APAC can help you understand the common structural factors driving lackluster growth and help you re-set corporate expectations for growth in 2014

BRIC deceleration

2013 has been a difficult year for the BRICs—economic growth has decelerated across the board due to the confluence of external headwinds and domestic inefficiencies, while the political will to push for necessary structural reforms has proven elusive.

For emerging markets executives seeking to respond to slowing growth in key BRICS markets, cross-regional conversations can be valuable for issue diagnosis and strategy development. The premise of the argument here is a simple one: common problems can and ought to be identified, so that viable strategies for driving profitable growth given less favorable medium-term prospects for the BRICs can be replicated and applied across regions.

I’ve been ruminating about Brazil’s slowdown and potential for recuperation in 2014 for several quarters now, while my EMEA colleague, Martina Bozadzhieva, has been doing the same with respect to Russia.  However,  it wasn’t until we had an opportunity to sit down together and discuss the dynamics driving Brazil and Russia that we learned how much these two seemingly disparate markets have in common.

Listen to our podcast below for a quick recap of the structural factors driving lackluster growth in Brazil and Russia, and get a cross-regional perspective on strategies for managing corporate expectations and improving bottom-line performance across the BRICS.

Download the podcast or access the entire FSG iTunes library here

Though Chile’s Consumption Story Remains Solid, Multinationals’ Supply-side Costs Are Likely to Rise

With the second quarter now well under way, Chile continues to outperform, though downside risks loom on the horizon as the outlook for copper prices weakens.  Internal demand remains a key growth driver and continues to outpace top-line growth, raising fears that the economy may be on the verge of overheating. In our view, such fears are overblown at present, given that increased consumption has been driven in large part by rising real wages rather than increased borrowing.

Rising labor costs, increased potential for skilled labor shortages, and more restrictive credit conditions do, however, represent supply-side risks for multinationals already hard-hit by rising energy costs and the potential for strike-related supply chain disruptions as the electoral cycle kicks into gear.

Trend #1: Near-term Supply Chain Disruptions Likely as Election Year Politics Take Hold

  • In recent weeks, strikes have broken out in a number of different sectors in Chile. Port workers have disrupted copper and fresh fruit exports, miners at the state-owned copper company Codelco demanded higher wages, preschool teachers from Fundación Integra called a 24-hour strike, and LAN airline workers have publicly protested against firings. These strikes are timed to capitalize on the electoral cycle, and while the volume is expected to decline following November’s election, multinationals may experience supply chain disruptions as a bandwagoning effect plays out across various sectors of the economy

Trend #2: A Stronger Peso Will Fuel Capital Investment Over the Near-Term

  • The Chilean peso appreciated 7.8% against the US dollar in 2012, and as of mid-April, has appreciated 2.2% in 2013. The sustained real appreciation of the peso has strengthened domestic purchasing power, benefitting companies importing consumer durables and capital goods into the Chilean market, while taking a toll on commodity exporters.  Multinationals with local operations and/or production are likely to face rising costs as the prices of non-tradable inputs (i.e. labor, real estate, water, and electricity) rise in USD terms, even against a backdrop of muted inflation.
  • While the peso will remain strong against the dollar in historical terms, moderation is anticipated over course of 2013, given a weaker outlook for copper demand and expectations that the Fed will scale back bond purchases.

Trend #3: An Uptick in Immigration Will Offset Chile’s Increasingly Tight Labor Market

  • While multinationals are concerned about the potential for shortages of skilled labor and rising labor costs as the Chilean economy approaches full employment, a recent uptick in arrivals of skilled immigrants from the distressed economies of Spain and Argentina may help fill critical capability gaps.  Currently, companies with more than 25 employees can only fill 15% of positions with foreign hires. However, our expectation is that reform efforts will aim to raise this cap and streamline the visa process, while increasing inter-agency cooperation to ensure that policy is optimized to meet the country’s labor and technical needs.

FSG clients may click here to access a full report for further reading on FSG’s quarterly market view of Chile.


Mexico’s Near-term Slowdown Is No Cause for Alarm for Multinationals

Mexico’s economy is experiencing a pronounced slowdown across the economy, with both industrial production and consumer spending seeing more moderate growth compared to 2012. However, FSG expects growth will accelerate in the second half of 2013 as the new government’s spending plans ramp up and the US economy experiences faster growth after the one-off effects of tax increases and spending cuts work their way through the economy.

Mexico’s near-term slowdown is largely driven by short-term external factors that will lose relevance in the second half of 2013. As long as the Mexican government’s agenda remains tilted toward reform and economic growth in the United States improves, Mexico is likely to accelerate in the second half of 2013 and beyond. On the other hand, a breakdown of the reform agenda may have deleterious effects on the country’s economy over the medium term, particularly if essential fiscal and energy reforms do not pass over the next twelve months.

FSG clients have on the whole suffered tepid sales growth in the first quarter of 2013 in Mexico, as slower consumer spending, weak industrial production, and reduced government spending weigh down revenue growth. This has not translated into a reduction in interest in increasing investments in Mexico, though multinationals are increasingly cognizant of the fact that it will take time for the upside potential associated with Peña Nieto’s reform agenda to translate into real economic growth.

Trend #1: Policy Shift Toward Urbanization Is Creating Both Opportunities and Turmoil

  • Financial turbulence in the housing sector has led the government to partially bail out the major builders, and will lead to weaker overall growth of the sector. Multinationals that have builders as clients will have to reorient toward the smaller, emerging players in the industry that are better prepared for the shifting market landscape. B2C companies should expect that accelerating urbanization will make it easier for them to reach consumers, and should adapt their marketing efforts to the changing living patterns of Mexican consumers.

Trend #2: Telecommunications Reform Will Create New Opportunities for Multinationals

  • The gains for the economy from increased competition in the telecom sector would be widespread, but the success of the reform will require secondary reforms to be passed over the next few months, as well as the requisite votes in the state congresses. Even if the reforms only open up the two sectors to competition from the local giants in practice, this will still lead to higher mobile and broadband penetration, and lower advertising costs for companies due to increased competition among cable and broadband providers. If the reforms and their subsequent implementation attract foreign players to the telecom market in Mexico, this will lead to even more dynamism for the industry and consumers.

Trend #3: Industry Efforts to Increase Credit Are Falling Short, but Reforms May Help

  • While private sector initiatives from Walmart and Santander’s alliance with Oxxo may have increased access to financial services among Mexico’s emerging middle class, this has not led to a notable increase in credit growth. In response, the Peña Nieto administration has already begun pushing for improvement in the provision of credit to consumers through a significant financial reform project that would create two state credit bureaus. This would add to the information provided by commercial banks, public lenders, and other entities, and thus reduce the information deficit that is hobbling credit provision.


US-Colombia FTA Stumbles Out of the Gate, But Trade is a Marathon, not a Sprint: Highlights from FSG’s Bogota Interview with Expert Advisor Juan David Barbosa

Despite general optimism at the opportunities provided by the new US-Colombia Free Trade Agreement, FSG clients have reported unwelcome delays and roadblocks in efforts to take advantage of the agreement, as noted in our recent Quarterly Market Review of Colombia.

On a recent visit to Colombia, I sat down with FSG Expert Advisor Juan David Barbosa to discuss the first 9 months of implementation of the accord. Juan David specializes in trade law at the Bogota law firm of Posse, Herrera, and Ruiz, and previously served as the Deputy Director of Trade Remedies at the Ministry of Commerce of Colombia. Juan David has advised numerous multinationals on trade and market entry in Colombia, and was the featured expert in last year’s FSG teleconference on the new agreement.

The Promise

According to Juan David, the FTA’s would change the landscape for FSG clients, particularly those based in the United States or importing products to Colombia from the United States in the following ways:

  • Import tariffs on 80% of U.S. exports to Colombia would drop to zero, including strategic industries such as agriculture, construction, auto and aviation parts, medical products, and IT.
  • Legal and regulatory hurdles would fall as companies no longer needed local branches, suppliers were afforded more protection, and new rules made it easier to exit agreements with local companies.
  • Many of the key provisions of the agreement would enter into force between September of 2012 and March of 2013.

Because of these sweeping changes, 90% of FSG clients expected the FTA to be a factor in increased investment for their companies in Colombia, and 54% of FSG’s expert advisors said the FTA would provide significant advantage for US companies over competitors from other countries without such an agreement.

The Problem

According to Juan David, and in line with recent experiences of FSG clients, Colombia is lagging in implementation of a number of key provisions:

  • Intellectual property rights protections
  • Increased safeguards in agency agreements for multinationals
  • New rules on taxes of alcoholic drinks
  • Electronic certification of origin
  • Rules on urgent shipping requests
  • Implementation of sanitation codes equivalent to the United States

Accordingly, multinationals expecting the FTA to be a panacea for bureaucratic and logistical headaches are growing frustrated with delays of their products at customs and an unclear regulatory and compliance environment.

The Causes:

  • Bureaucratic Entropy:
    • The root of the problem, says Barbosa, is not with laws and regulations now on the books, but rather with the capacity and will of the institutions charged with enforcing and acting under them. Comprehension and processes to enact the new rules is lagging the actual implementation timelines. In short, Colombia’s bureaucracy has not kept pace with the rapid evolution in the rules of the game.
    • Infrastructure Constraints:
      • Likewise, the boom in trade with Colombia has created a parallel capacity constraint in logistics infrastructure. Ports and roads are clogged with an influx of goods. Construction and investment, while significant, has yet to catch up with the expansion in trade (see map below).
      • Protectionist Backlash:
        • Also concerning are recent import tariff hikes slapped on certain sectors of imported goods such as garments, textiles, footwear, agricultural goods, paper products, and some used machinery. While these don’t necessarily violate existing FTAs, they are indicative of political pushback from domestic manufactures threatened by the growth in imports. New free trade agreements, which have come into effect at the same time as a strong appreciation of the Colombia peso, have led to politically powerful domestic producers seeking relief in the form of protection and safeguards from the government.

Colombia port map

The Outlook

The good news is that the Colombian government has recognized that it may have bitten off more than it can currently chew in regards to implementing multiple trade agreements over a short amount of time with limited bureaucratic resources. In response, the government has spaced out the implementation processes of current and upcoming agreements and will promulgate new guidelines by mid-May, 2013. This may buy U.S. based companies more time with a head start in Colombia as upcoming FTAs between Colombia and the EU and South Korean could take longer than anticipated to come into full effect.

Less promising is the outlook for short term improvements in infrastructure bottlenecks. Though the government is currently investing heavily in construction of fixed infrastructure assets, project cycles are long and payoff takes years. Even here, the pace of investment has been hampered by bureaucratic constraints, as the second half of 2012 saw construction spending stumble because of poor project planning and lack of capacity to execute on the ambitious agenda.

Fears of a broader protectionist backlash are probably overblown. Colombia has a strong political orientation towards free trade, and is eager to establish itself as one of Latin America’s most open economies. All politics are local, however, and local producers have shown they have the power to win temporary measures to shield themselves from competition in certain cases. Multinationals, no matter the industry or the country of origin, would be wise to monitor the local political winds to anticipate if their products could be on the wrong side of a tariff.

The Big Picture

Despite these early difficulties, Juan David remains optimistic; “The FTA will mature and offer excellent opportunities for U.S. corporations. Both for more established multinationals and newer entrants, Colombia remains an excellent investment destination. In fact, Colombia is an increasingly attractive place for U.S. companies to open their first emerging markets operation. For now, however, the FTA is less than a year old. It is still a newborn baby and has a lot of growing up to do”, stresses Juan David.


Juan David BarbosaJuan David has more than 10 years of experience in customs and international trade proceedings and litigation, as well as in the development of import-export tax efficient strategies. Juan David has also worked in several international unfair trade practices (dumping) and safeguard investigations, as well as in the negotiation and implementation of free trade agreements. Before joining Posse Herrera & Ruiz, he worked in the Colombian Government as Deputy Director of Trade Remedies at the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Tourism where he was responsible for all anti-dumping and safeguard investigations. He has a JD and a graduate degree in Taxation from Pontificia Universidad Javeriana and an LL.M. in International Business and Economic Law from Georgetown University.



Emerging Market View: What Our Analysts Are Reading – 3/29/2013

FSG’s research talent keeps a close eye on not only worldwide headlines, but also region-specific news for more locally-driven insight.  Here are a few articles highlighted by our research team:

Is Africa much richer than we think? No one knows – CNN

“This article is very timely as Nigeria is about to rebase its GDP this year which is likely to make the country into the biggest economy in Sub-Saharan Africa, surpassing South Africa. Many countries are expected to follow suit. This means that the continent could in fact be much richer than we think. MNCs should invest now to get ahead of the curve.”
- Anna Rosenberg, Senior Analyst for Sub-Saharan Africa Research


House deal see Agus named BI govenor – The Jakarta Post

“While Agus’ approval as the BI’s new governor may prove positive for Indonesia’s monetary policy, it is not a good sign for the country’s fiscal policy. This is the second time that a reform-minded finance minister has been pushed out in less than three years. If Agus’ replacement does not have his predecessors’ penchant for reform, it will bode ill for the future of Indonesia’s economy.”
- Adam Jarczyk, Associate Practice Leader for Asia Pacific Research


Argentina extends price controls for 60 days (Reuters, article in Spanish)

“As FSG predicted, price controls on a wide range of consumer staples in supermarkets will be extended another two months. The Argentine government introduced the measures for 60 days in February in order to dampen inflation and preserve purchasing power for key electoral demographic groups in the run-up to the election. FSG expects the controls to be extended again until after the elections.”
- Clinton Carter, Director of Research for Latin America