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Investors and economists caution about surge in capital flows to Latin America

NEW ORLEANS -- Latin America and the Caribbean will see a rebound in capital flows this year, but to make them sustainable countries must concentrate on building and maintaining sound financial systems and improving the institutional environment, according to experts.

"We’re looking for a resumption of growth ," Inter-American Development Bank Chief Economist Ricardo Hausmann told a seminar Sunday . He said the challenge was to make the expected surge in growth sustainable and avoid another "boom and bust cycle."

He noted, however, that during 1998-99, while total capital inflows declined, foreign direct investment (FDI) rose, becoming almost 100 percent of the net private capital inflows.

Hausmann welcomed the increase in FDI but remarked that it took place in the context of collapsing overall capital flows. He argued that countries should focus on widening the menu of financial options by improving both debt and equity markets.

One of his policy suggestions was that countries need to develop the capacity to borrow internationally in the same currency they use at home.

He said countries needed to attract both portfolio capital flows as well as direct foreign investment (FDI). He noted that FDI took a larger share of the investment mix in developing countries than in industrial countries. One of the reasons, he said, was that FDI was perceived as a less risky form of investment.

Ernest Stern, managing director of J.P. Morgan, said porfolio investment in Latin America and the Caribbean are expected to double this year, reflecting recovery from 1999 slowdown. As for foreign investment as a whole, "I do not expect a tidal wave," he said.

Shahid Javed Burki, CEO of EMP Financial Advisors, said "we are at the beginning of an economic boom" and predicted "a long expansion that will not be interrupted by systemic busts."

Individual countries will suffer, however, if they "go off the track" and fail to adopt or maintain sound financial policies.

Marcilio Marques Moreira, senior international advisor of Merrill Lynch, said positive capital inflows can assist the process of structural reforms, fiscal stability, and technology.

Pedro Pou, president of Argentina’s Central Bank, said there is now "a cyclical trend in favor of Latin America" that will be accompanied by an increase in capital flows.

Francisco Luzón, counselor and general director of Banco Santander Central Hispano, said Latin America needed to accomplish more in the way of deregulation and strengthening financial systems to make the expected boom sustainable.

"We need to make the world safe for investment," said Guillermo Perry-Rubio, World Bank chief economist for Latin America and the Caribbean.

The seminar, titled "The New Wave of Capital Inflows: Sea Change or Just Another Tide," is one of a series held in conjunction with the Annual Meeting of the Inter-American Development Bank.

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