The iShares MSCI Brazil Capped ETF (NYSEArca: EWZ) and other exchange traded funds tracking Latin American equities are starting 2015 the same way they performed in 2014 and that is bad news for weary emerging markets investors.
On Friday, the first trading day of 2015, EWZ is lower by 2.8%, making the largest Brazil ETF one of the day’s worst performers among non-leveraged ETFs. Perhaps not coincidentally, EWZ’s Friday slide comes on the same day in which President Dilma Rousseff was inaugurated for a second term.
Traders and investors that actively follow EWZ and other Brazil ETFs undoubtedly remember that financial markets were less-than-enthusiastic about the specter of a second term for Rousseff, running EWZ higher on optimism that she might lose an October 2014 runoff against Aecio Neves. Although EWZ actually traded higher in the days following that result, it took about two weeks for the ETF to squander nearly all of its post-election gains. [Brazil ETF Squanders Post-Election Gains]
More than likely, EWZ is flailing Friday because the real sank (again) after Brazil’s central bank said it reduced its intervention efforts to support the currency against the rising U.S. dollar. The WisdomTree Brazilian Real ETF (NYSEArca: BZF) is off 1.5% today after losing more than 4% last year.
EWZ is also being plagued by a familiar problem: Petrobras (NYSE: PBR). Shares of Brazil’s state-run oil giant are off 6.7% in midday trading on news an investigation into corruption at the company is expanding. Making matters worse is that it is now widely known that Rousseff had ample opportunity to stop graft at Petrobras, which via two securities combines for almost 7% of EWZ’s weight, and ignored the problem. [Petrobras Pushes Brazil ETF Lower]
“A Reuters review of a 2009 federal investigation of Petrobras, and interviews with those who conducted it, indicates Rousseff missed opportunities to stop the graft before it erupted into a crisis so big it could push Brazil’s slow-growing economy back into recession next year,” Reuters reported.