Brazil Hedge Funds Take Stake in Argentina's BYMA on Growth Bet

(Bloomberg) -- Brazilian hedge funds have amassed a 10 percent stake in the operator of Argentina’s stock exchange and are seeking to exert their influence.

The buyers are long-term investors with the goal of growing Bolsas y Mercados Argentinos to emulate the success of Brazil’s B3 SA, according to four people familiar with the matter, who asked not to be identified because the information is private. At least three funds discussed with BYMA the possibility of naming a director, although there hasn’t been a formal proposal yet, the people said, adding that these talks have been friendly so far.

About 20 percent of BYMA is held by foreign investors, and half of that is owned by Brazilian funds, said Ernesto Allaria, president of BYMA. He declined to give more details on the ownership structure, but expressed interest in working with Brazilian funds.

Investors have snapped up equity in the exchange operator on the view that the country’s capital markets are poised for a boom after more than a decade of relative isolation under former President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner and her predecessor. BYMA shares have more than doubled since they began trading on the open market in May, when the Brazilian funds started buying the stock, following the merger of Mercado de Valores de Buenos Aires with the Bolsa de Comercio de Buenos Aires.

Four directors’ terms are expiring this year, and the replacements will be discussed at the stock operator’s general assembly on April 5. About eight funds make up the majority of Brazilian ownership of the company, said two of the people. The stake owned by these hedge funds is now worth $132.2 million.

Trading in Argentine stocks and bonds has surged since President Mauricio Macri resolved a 15-year dispute with creditors in April 2016 as part of efforts to open the economy to foreign investors and bolster growth. BYMA’s Caja de Valores unit is its main source of revenue and acts as Argentina’s central depositary of public bonds and private securities. Assets under custody surged 275 percent from 2015 to 1.8 billion pesos at the end of 2017.

Itau BBA initiated coverage of BYMA shares last month with target price of 500 pesos, 41 percent above the current level and higher than an average analyst estimate of 465 pesos per share. BYMA is the “best vehicle to play Argentina’s recovery and the development of its capital markets,” analysts led by Rodrigo Nistor wrote in a note.

Nistor expects the local market to grow rapidly as Argentines bring back money held offshore and more companies list shares. An improved regulatory framework that enhances corporate governance and the potential for inclusion in emerging markets indexes should also boost BYMA, he wrote. Argentina’s market capitalization is 16 percent of gross domestic product, below the 50.5 percent average for Latin America’s four major economies, according to Itau.

The outlook for growth is what lured Brazilian hedge funds to BYMA after they witnessed B3’s success. The Sao Paulo-based exchange operator has surged 41 percent in the year since BM&F Bovespa and Cetip, the largest depository of private sector debt securities in Latin America, merged to form the company. It’s now the fifth-largest stock exchange operator in the world with a market capitalization of 53.5 billion reais ($17 billion).

BYMA is already taking notes from B3’s script, working to create a segment with higher corporate governance standards modeled on Brazil’s "Novo Mercado" in the first half of 2018. The inclusion of shares in an upgraded market division may help to bolster value for those companies willing to up the ante, akin to what Brazilian companies go through when they look to the Novo Mercado, Allaria said in an interview last October.

Part of BYMA’s potential is in the development of new markets that are still in their infancy-- like derivatives such as stock-index futures, options and interest-rate futures, said Walter Stoeppelwerth, the chief investment officer at Balanz Capital Valores SA. But without a big increase in the number of listed companies, it will take time.

“Buying BYMA in the hopes it develops into some smaller B3 could be a nice trade, but you have to be careful,” Stoeppelwerth said from Buenos Aires. “While I do not think there is any doubt that the stock market will expand in size by several multiples and also in sophistication, we are still a long way from Brazil.”

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.

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