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EDITOR’S LETTER – There’s an awful lot of coffee in Brazil

There is a disturbing obsession with “bigness” in the business world: Latin America won’t be the only disaster to prove that size really isn’t everything. these days, and the symptoms are in evidence everywhere around the globe.

There’s been a string of mergers involving companies once considered too big for such get-togethers (unless at least one of them was in serious trouble).

The FTSE-100 rose 14.5% in 1998, but the FTSE-250 index rose just 1.4%, while the smaller companies tracker actually fell 10.4%. We’re told that there’s a queue of venture capital-financed businesses waiting to graduate onto the stockmarket, but that they are unattractive to institutional buyers because their P&Ls are measured in thousands and millions, not thousands of millions.

The single European currency was launched, with one of its stated virtues being that it is a big currency, in fact one of the three great currencies in the world. How can sterling possibly survive in the shadow of such a mighty currency, the euro’s fans wonder. Well, we’ll see …

And the latest developments in Brazil seem to have taken many by complete surprise (at least, all those who didn’t read Dr Gerard Lyons’s comments in Financial Director last October). One of Brazil’s undoubted attractions was the fact that it is (was?) the eighth largest economy in the world.

And, of course, its currency, the Brazilian real, was tied to the dollar.

“What with?” you would have been perfectly entitled to ask.

Like every other business newspaper on 14 January, the Wall Street Journal Europe carried front page headlines about the Brazilian currency crunch.

It also (and this must have been a coincidence) carried a front page feature about the world of work on the eve of the new millennium – a feature that highlighted slavery and debt-bondage in Brazil, a country already notorious for infanticide and its slash-and-burn approach to agriculture.

Whatever “big” thing we are in awe of – merger, currency or economy – we shouldn’t be surprised if it implodes when we should have known all along that it was rotten inside. Yet it seems it’s still far too easy for us to have our view so obscured by bulk, that we can’t see what’s at the core.

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