Brazil Blackout

Brian Hicks

Written By Brian Hicks

Posted November 15, 2009

Thousands of middle-class Brazilians slept on subway station floors on Tuesday night, November 10.

This wasn’t a solidarity project to see what life is like for the homeless. . . It was the result of a blackout that hit 60 million Brazilians in 800 cities.

The trigger? Three — count ’em, THREE! — transmission lines. Officials say torrential rain and thunderstorm conditions caused the trio of high-voltage lines to simply collapse and in turn Itaipu, the world’s largest hydroelectric dam, totally broke down.

Three is the magic number that can evidently bring one of the world’s top emerging markets, enshrined in the BRIC pantheon with Russia, India, and China, into primitive darkness. Three downed lines plunged the proud hosts of the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics into literal obscurity.

This is a problem whose solution requires urgent investment.

I spent two weeks in Brazil this spring, chatting with folks in corner cafes, speaking with businesspeople, and learning about the country’s ProInfa clean energy infrastructure expansion plan where international companies are set to play a major role. More on ProInfa in a bit. . .

First, I have to tell you that I spent several days talking to friends of mine in Brazil, and reading the accounts of others who e-mailed the local Portuguese-language press about their individual ordeals. Each story is heart-rending, and I tell you sadly that they are more reminiscent of terror attacks than of major power outages.

Stories from the Great Brazilian Blackout of 2009

In Rio, Alessandra told the newspaper O Globo how she and her brother set out for a night on the town. Instead, they walked in complete darkness down a subway tunnel alongside the soccer stadium that will host the Cup final in four years. On arriving at the station, they waited hours longer without water, food, and the worst thing to lack during a disaster. . . news.

Jose, who lives in the world famous Copacabana beach district, experienced both the psychological and technological reality of a sudden blackout. He started to hear "the shouts of people asking for help because they were trapped in elevators, and cries of children who were afraid of the dark."

Fortunately, Jose had just turned off his computer when the lights started to flicker.

Nevertheless, countless computers were fried that night, destroying school work, music, and millions of dollars worth of business information. I can tell you first-hand that even in the hillside favelas (as the slums in Rio are called), there is a computer in nearly every home. Computers are a gateway to the world for a rising middle class around the world, and the demise of a PC can mean the death of a dream for students, artists, and others who saw a picture of a better future on their monitors.

Things won’t be normal for a while. Traffic signals were still sending people at the wrong time on Wednesday morning in Rio, causing car crashes and pointing to just one lingering cost of the blackout.

Despite this nationwide infrastructure calamity, with all the money lost and Brazilians now terrified of what might happen during the World Cup and Olympics, international investors haven’t lost confidence in Brazil.

Why the Lights Are Still Bright for Brazilian Stocks
The broadest indicator that I follow is the iShares MSCI Brazil Index, which is listed as an exchange-traded fund (ETF) on the New York Stock Exchange. NYSE: EWZ has gained nearly 10% since Monday, and the ETF barely dipped on the day after the power outage. EWZ rose by over 26% from mid-August to mid-November, nearly tripling the S&P 500 rally over the same period.

And this brings us to a major point you must understand if you want to outperform U.S. stock averages like the Dow and S&P. . .

Investors aren’t bullish on China, Brazil, and other emerging markets despite their problems; they’re bullish because solutions require money. You get your car repaired when something goes wrong, right? You only put in the money up to a point, of course, because the benefit of keeping the thing running has to outweigh the cost in the long run.

Brazil is in urgent need of investment from both domestic and international sources, and Brazil will get the money it needs. At the Renewable Energy Finance Forum in Rio this spring, I met plenty of suits who were licking their chops at the chance to put money into Brazil’s energy infrastructure upgrades. . . and that was well before the Olympics were awarded to Rio!

Most appetizing to everyone there was Brazil’s upcoming auction of national wind energy permits. I told you about it back in April, but it seemed far off.

Now, the December 14 Brazilian wind energy auction date is rapidly approaching, and dependence on hydroelectric generation has just caused an emergency that has scarred citizens and leaders alike (7 million Sao Paulo residents also lost water service Tuesday night due to the dam failure). Brazilians shudder to think about what would happen should a blackout of any size repeat in 2014 or 2016 when the sporting world gathers in Brazil.

Brazil’s Upcoming Wind Energy Auction

ProInfa, the national renewable energy incentive campaign, will help integrate 2 GW of wind energy capacity at a cost of about $6 billion by 2012. The companies that get ahead in the December auction will have to move fast to get capacity up by 2014, which means more production, higher profile, and higher share price.

The New York Times cites Pedro Perreli of the Brazilian Wind Energy Association’s amazement that overall, 441 proposals for over 13.3 gigawatts in Brazilian wind power have come in already from companies all over the world. That more than doubles what government and local industry officials anticipated!

Green Chip International
readers are already profiting from two Brazilian clean energy and infrastructure stocks, and we’re watching the run-up to Brazil’s wind-only auction closely.

I’ll also be in Peru soon, visiting wind power facilities and talking with people with knowledge of how these deals get done across South America.

Don’t miss the next play — check out GCI for yourself and start investing in energy solutions to avoid future blackouts!


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