Carlyle's Rubenstein: Brazil best, despite problems

A shopping district in Rio de Janeiro
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A shopping district in Rio de Janeiro

Once an investor darling, Brazil is hardly a consensus target for international cash today.

High inflation, a sluggish economy and a massive corruption scandal at state energy company Petrobras have caused many investors to flee. But others are sticking with the beleaguered South American country.

One example is $193 billion private equity giant Carlyle Group. Co-CEO David Rubenstein thinks Brazil is actually the most appealing market for investment after the U.S., Europe and China, according to remarks made Tuesday at the Global Private Equity Conference in Washington, D.C.

(CNBC.com confirmed that the tweet is an accurate summary of Rubenstein's comments and views.)

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Ruchir Sharma, head of emerging markets and global macro at Morgan Stanley Investment Management, took a different position.

"Three years ago you couldn't say anything negative about Brazil, but today a lot of people are already negative," Sharma said.

He cited poor manufacturing, low investment, high debt and inflation, and that trade as a percentage of gross domestic product was the lowest of any emerging market.

Based on those and other factors, Sharma's Morgan Stanley unit gives Brazil an investment attractiveness score of 42 out of 100. Only Russia scored lower among emerging market countries with 37. Poland was the best ranked at 65.

Carlyle's Rubenstein noted the risk of currency fluctuations, tackling the issue with humor.


In April, Carlyle announced that it had made an investment in Rede D'Or São Luiz, the largest private hospital operator in Brazil, joining existing minority owner BTG Pactual. The size of Carlyle's investment was $600 million, according to The Wall Street Journal. Carlyle has already made multiple Brazil investments through its Carlyle South America Buyout funds.

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Brazil was a major topic at the emerging markets-focused event.

"It is a very challenging moment," said Chris Meyn, a partner at JPMorgan Chase Brazil private investment unit Gavea Investimentos.

Meyn noted concerns around inflation and low consumer demand. Together, they make for a weak economic outlook, he said.

Piero Minardi, a managing director at private equity shop Warburg Pincus, added that there's still "immense" opportunity for investing in Brazil despite the problems.

He cited the need for consumer-related infrastructure like schools, hospitals and hotels, among other opportunities related to a growing middle class.

"We are not there yet, but we are moving in the right direction," Minardi said of government policies that would be more friendly to business.

He also noted Brazil's relatively strong institutions compared to other emerging markets, like independent courts and a free press. That, he said, would help Brazil recover.

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