Chapter Seventeen

Overcoming Irrational Market Panic

Learning to Be Objective

If the world needed any greater proof that globalization was (1) here to stay and (2) a force to be reckoned with, the negative impact displayed by Latin American markets in the wake of the Asian crisis supplied it in spades. On a morning in late fall 1997 after we checked into our hotel on Rio de Janeiro’s Copacabana Beach, the high-flying Rio stock market took a stomach-churning 15% tumble, prompted by desperate doings in far-off Hong Kong. That same morning, a sickeningly swift 10% drop on the São Paulo exchange in the first four minutes of the session forced the governors to halt trading for the first time in the exchange’s history.

Riding the Rio Roller Coaster

The steepest declines were racked up by a series of high-flying Brazilian blue chips that had enjoyed an average 93% climb in the first nine months of 1997. Anchoring the group were the three prime poles of the Brazilian privatization tripod: Telebras, the state-owned telecom company, Eletrobras, the state-owned electrical utility, and Petrobras, the state-owned oil and energy company. With the Bovespa (Brazilian Stock Exchange index) dropping like mercury in an ice storm, it looked as if the second-best-performing stock market in the world (after Russia) was heading full-speed into a brick wall.

So why were global investors getting so hot and bothered over Latin America, when the currency crisis appeared to be confined to Asia, half a planet ...

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