Eucalyptus trees fuel growth of Brazil fund

SAO PAULO • With Brazil's economic and political crises roiling the nation's financial markets in recent years, investors have searched far and wide for a moneymaking venture that is immune to the turmoil.

Claritas Investimentos, a Sao Paulo-based money manager, has found just the thing: eucalyptus trees.

It began snapping up forestry land in Brazil and selling the pulp produced by the trees during an earlier period of upheaval in 2008.

Its two tree funds, with 635 million reais (S$248 million) in combined assets, have delivered average annual returns of 17.5 per cent since 2008, according to Claritas, as pulp prices soared 42 per cent from the lowest level in over a decade in 2009.

Brazil's stock market, meanwhile, has saddled investors with average losses of 4.7 per cent.

Claritas is now seeking to start a third such fund to withstand Brazil's longest recession in more than a century. The company, which has 3.5 billion reais of assets under management, and counts local pension funds among its clients, grows eucalyptus trees in the Brazilian states of Mato Grosso do Sul, Minas Gerais, Bahia and Tocantins, where it owns a 130,000ha farm.

"These are assets that grow all year long, no matter if there is a crisis or not," said forestry engineer Helton Lopes, who was hired by Claritas three years ago to help manage the funds.

Claritas  chief executive Carlos Ambrosio and Mr Lopes map out parts of the country where they believe it is viable to grow the trees. They sell the pulp to Brazilian companies like Suzano Papel e Celulose SA.

The pulp-exporting giants have been among the biggest beneficiaries of a 38 per cent plunge in Brazil's currency over the past two years.

Latin America's biggest country offers certain advantages, said Mr Ambrosio. For one thing, eucalyptus trees in Brazil take five to seven years to reach a size that allows them to be harvested, compared with a seven to 10-year average in the US, and over 15 years in Europe.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 21, 2016, with the headline 'Eucalyptus trees fuel growth of Brazil fund'. Print Edition | Subscribe