Infrastructure Opportunities in Brazil

To spur economic activity in Brazil, the government decided to do something unique: it opened up basic infrastructure projects (railroads, energy, roads, ports, etc) to private investors to use their retirement funds.

Explaining the deal

Let's go in parts: in Brazil, employers must contribute a fraction of their workers' salary to a tax-free account, which such workers can only use in very specific circumstances (buying a house, involuntary unemployment, etc). The money in such retirement funds are typically restricted and can only be invested in a few investment vehicles tightly regulated by the government, such as savings accounts and CDs. Therefore, it's no surprise they don't earn a huge return compared to all the options that would be available were such restrictions inexistent.

Now, in order to heat up the much needed area of infrastructure development, the government is allowing workers to invest part of their retirement funds into selected infrastructure projects.

What does this have to do with non-brazilian workers, you ask? Everything. Why? Because the companies poised to gain from these government-lead efforts are many and if brazilian investors join the bandwagon these companies should ring nice profits in the next few years.

The bad news

The bad news is that many of these builders and engineering companies are private and as such are very hard to invest in directly. They are the likes of Grupo Votorantim, Queiroz Galvão, Camargo Correa, and Odebretch.

The good news

The good news though is that some are public and even the private ones sometimes hold smaller subsidiaries that are publicly traded. For example, the financial arm of Grupo Votorantim, Votorantim Finanças, emits bonds from time to time, while Queiroz Galvão's subsidiary Braskem is publicly traded under the symbol BRKM3 -- though, Braskem is in the plastics and recycling business.

Camargo Correa also holds several companies, some which are public, such as ticker CCRO3, which is in the business of maintaining roads and commercially exploiting their toll booths. With more roads, toll booths are sure to boom too.

Finally, there are is one company left that is publicly traded and directly into the construction business: Andrade Guitierrez, which trades under the ticker CANT3B.

Sadly though, none of these are available as ADRs in the US. However, a strict ADR investor can still get some fringe benefits by investing in basic materials and exploration companies, such as chemicals company Braskem (ADR symbol BAK), Steel companies Gerdau (GGB) and Siderúrgica Nacional (SID), mining company Vale do Rio Doce (VALE) and homebuilder giant Gafisa (GSA). A far away alternative would be ETF EWZ.

None of these investments though are sure things, of course. These are just starting points. It's possible that these companies are overvalued and that the boon due to the new government-sponsored infrastructure projects have already been factored into their prices. Do your own homework before investing.

Disclaimer: I own GGB at the time of writing.

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