The first quarter was a tough one for equity markets in the region, as a stronger U.S. dollar and the ongoing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic weighed on performance. Despite a 3.1% gain in March, the S&P Latin America BMI lost 5.8% in USD in Q1 2021, while the S&P 500® gained 6.2%. At the country level, the story was mixed. Mexico and Chile finished the quarter in positive territory, while Brazil, Argentina, and Colombia all declined. Peru was nearly flat.
The currency exchange rate plays an important role in the performance of regional indices. Given the strength of the U.S. dollar, returns measured in local currency were much better. In Q1, the S&P Brazil BMI lost 10.2% in USD but only 3.1% in BRL. Similarly, the S&P Colombia BMI lost 15.7% in USD but only 9.5% in COP. Peru had mixed results, with the S&P/BVL Peru General Index generating a nearly flat return in PEN (-0.7%), but a positive one in USD (2.6%). Chile’s and Mexico’s equity markets performed strongly in Q1, posting slightly higher gains in their respective local currencies than in USD terms. Argentina was the only market in the region for which returns in ARS and USD were negative. Therefore, the cumulative returns in local currency for Q1 of the S&P Latin America BMI (which excludes Argentina) was nearly flat, at -0.09%.
Let’s review some of the more interesting trends (in local currencies) that happened in each market. In Argentina, despite having a tough Q1, the flagship S&P MERVAL Index had strong gains for the one-, three-, and five-year periods with annualized returns of 96.8%, 15.5%, and 29.9%, respectively. It is worth mentioning that market volatility was the highest in this region.
Q1 2021 resulted in negative returns for most Brazilian equity indices, except for the S&P/B3 SmallCap Select Index (3.0%) and the S&P/B3 Low Volatility Index (1.0%). What was exceptional was the longer-term performance of the S&P/B3 High Beta Index, which gained 105.9%, 25.9%, and 39.6% for the one-, three-, and five-year periods, respectively. The S&P/B3 Ingenius Index, based on international technology-driven companies listed on NYSE or NASDAQ and on B3 as BDRs, continued to do well despite currency differences (11.0% BRL).
The Chilean market finally made a comeback, generating strong performance in the short term with the flagship S&P IPSA gaining 17.3% in Q1. The Construction and Real Estate sectors, along with the Financials sector, topped the leader board as the best-performing industries in Chile.
Colombia was the worst performer for Q1, with important companies like BanColombia SA and Grupo de Inversiones Suramericana SA losing significant price appreciation when comparing stock prices from Dec. 31, 2020, to the end of March 2021. For the 12-month period, however, the S&P Colombia Select Index maintained a 24.2% gain.
Mexico’s equity indices displayed strong performance across short- and long-term periods. Mexico’s flagship index, the S&P/BMV IPC, gained 7.2% for Q1. Two indices that capitalized on the recent recovery and had the highest returns in Q1 were the S&P/BMV IPC 2X Leverage Daily Index, an index designed to reflect 200% of the return (positive or negative) of the S&P/BMV IPC, which gained 14.2% for the quarter, and the S&P/BMV IRT SmallCap, which tracks the performance of 14 small-cap stocks, and yielded 9.9% in Q1.
Another index that performed well was the S&P/BMV Total Mexico ESG Index (6.9% for Q1). This index serves as a broad market benchmark that considers sustainability screens in the selection and weighting processes of the components.
The Peruvian equities market resulted in decent returns for Q1, which helped sustain strong returns for the longer-term periods; however, the stronger U.S. dollar generated mixed returns. The S&P/BVL Peru Select 20% Capped Index, which was relatively flat for Q1 (0.4% in PEN and -2.9% in USD), gained 58.8% in PEN and 45.6% in USD for the one-year period ending March 2021. The S&P/BVL SmallCap Index was the local index with the best returns in Q1 (19.4% in PEN and 15.4% in USD).
It has been over a year since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. In its path, poverty and inequality have increased in most countries. In addition, the high unemployment rates1 and upcoming presidential elections in countries like Chile, Ecuador, and Peru and mid-term elections in Argentina and Mexico could create uncertainty and volatility in the coming months. Nevertheless, the Latin American markets are proving to be resilient despite the many challenges they have faced.
For more information on how Latin American benchmarks performed in Q1 2021, read our latest Latin America Scorecard.
1 Oliveros-Rosen, “Economic Outlook Latin America Q2 2021,” p 15.
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