May 16, 2014 / 1:05 PM / 4 years ago

Longtime Morgan Stanley Latin America economist Newman retires

SAO PAULO, May 16 (Reuters) - Morgan Stanley economist Gray Newman, one of the longest tenured and most respected followers of Latin America on Wall Street, is retiring, he said in a note to clients on Friday.

Newman, 55, covered Latin America for two decades, first from Mexico City and then from New York. As Morgan Stanley’s chief economist for the region since 2000, he was a well-known figure in central banks and finance ministries and enjoyed unusual access for a foreigner.

In a volatile region that has often bedeviled prognosticators with its frequent financial crises and political turmoil, Newman got several key calls right.

In late 2002, as markets in Brazil worried over the imminent inauguration of President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, a onetime radical leftist, Newman not only predicted that the economy would prosper but that the currency would sharply strengthen.

Newman recalled a dinner in Brazil at which a client grabbed his business card and skeptically scrawled his target level for the currency - 2.80 reais per dollar - all over it.

The currency was nearing 4 per dollar at the time, and many analysts were predicting it would weaken further. But after Lula took office and embraced orthodox financial policies, the crisis dissipated and the real closed 2003 at 2.87 per dollar.

Brazil’s economy boomed for much of the next decade. The client later called and congratulated Newman for his forecast.

Newman was “always rigorous and insightful, and never afraid to fight the consensus,” Arminio Fraga, who was Brazil’s central bank chief during part of that period and is now a leading fund manager, said via e-mail.

More recently, Newman began highlighting imbalances in Brazil’s economy in 2010, long before many other economists. He also predicted that current Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto would successfully pass a wave of free-market reforms.

Newman has told friends that he plans to spend time with family and stay involved in Latin America, possibly as a teacher. He told them he would remain in the job through May. (Editing by Todd Benson and Bernadette Baum)

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