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Brazil Foreign Investments Rise on Strong Growth, Currency

RIO DE JANEIRO--Backed by strong domestic growth and a robust currency, Brazilian companies more than tripled their holdings of foreign assets over a decade, according to a study by New York's Vale Columbia Center on Sustainable International Investment. Foreign assets held by Brazilian companies grew from $52 billion in 2000 to $181 billion in 2010, according to the study. The study pointed to the strengthening of the local currency and strong domestic economic growth as primary reasons for the acceleration in investment outflows. From January 2000 to December 2010, the Brazilian real strengthened from BRL1.80 to the dollar to BRL1.67 to the dollar, and year-on-year growth in gross domestic product averaged 3.5% over the same period. But there is another reason Brazilian companies have invested increasingly overseas--the excessive tax and regulatory burden in Brazil, the study said. The majority of Brazilian foreign direct investment is channeled through tax havens, with the Cayman Islands leading all recipients of Brazilian investments from 2000 to 2010. These investments flow through special purpose entities and then on to their final destinations in larger economies, making them difficult to track, said the study. The largest recipients of investments outside of the Caribbean have been the United States, Europe and other Latin American countries. Despite the surge in investment outflows, foreign investment by Brazilian companies rarely has exceeded inflows into Latin America's largest economy. Among its emerging-market peers, Brazil still trails China and Russia in overseas investments. Brazil's top multinational companies, or national champions, lead the country in foreign direct investment. The bank Itau Unibanco (ITUB, ITUB4.BR) leads all Brazilian companies with $75.2 billion in foreign assets as of 2010. Miner Vale SA (VALE, VALE5.BR) comes in second, having bought Canadian nickel miner Inco in 2006. Construction company Odebrecht SA weighs in at third, while state petroleum company Petroleo Brasileiro (PBR, PETR4.BR), or Petrobras, takes fourth. Professors Milton de Abreu Campanario and Marcello Muniz da Silva of the University of Sao Paulo and Professor Eva Stal of the University of Nove Julho in Sao Paulo authored the report. The Vale Columbia Center for Sustainable Development is a joint center of Columbia Law School and the Earth Institute at Columbia University. Write to Brian Asher at brian.asher@dowjones.com

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