For the past five years, running a Latin American stock fund was pretty much the worst job on Wall Street, with losses exceeding 10 percent annually.
This year, the battered funds are enjoying a long-awaited rebound as Brazil’s market rallies, but their managers are split over whether it will last and how to trade it.
William Landers, whose $170 million BlackRock Latin America Fund rose 17 percent in 2016 through April 12, is among those betting that removing President Dilma Rousseff will lead to a better Brazilian business climate that sustains higher stock prices.
Competitors including Fidelity Investments’ Will Pruett see deeper economic woes that won’t be easy to solve even if she is ousted.
“Brazil’s underlying issues are structural and severe,” Pruett, whose $495 million Fidelity Latin America Fund was up 13 percent this year, said in an interview. “It’s not as if a change in regime will fix what is broken.”
Brazil’s stock market has gained more than 30 percent in U.S. dollars in 2016, boosted by rising commodity prices and the growing possibility that Rousseff will be impeached. Managers of U.S. mutual funds that focus on Latin American stocks have a lot riding on that rally because Brazil represents half of the category’s main equity benchmark index.
It’s the latest twist for a market that has been on a volatile ride for much of this century. From 2003 through 2007, Brazil’s Ibovespa index soared more than 10-fold in dollar terms, powered by rising commodity prices, low inflation and a growing economy. The index fell 74 percent in the five years ended Dec. 31 as trends reversed and the nation suffered through corporate and political scandals.
Landers, who has run BlackRock’s fund since 2002, was there for it all. BlackRock Latin America returned more than 50 percent annually during the boom times, then fell 15 percent a year from 2011 through 2015, including a 30 percent drop last year.
“We are running a lot less money than we did,” said Landers, 47. The fund’s assets have tumbled more than 80 percent from the peak, according to data compiled by Bloomberg, and Landers oversees about $2 billion in total, down from a high of $11 billion.