As Outbreak Roils Markets, Mexico Bankers Jet Off to Acapulco

Michael O'Boyle

(Bloomberg) -- For years, Mexico’s bankers have traded their suits for white embroidered linen shirts and headed to a famed hotel in Acapulco. Only this time, the venue isn’t nearly as packed and sanitizing gel is as ubiquitous as the Corona beer bottles.

While bankers across Europe, the U.S. and Asia spurn in-person meetings big and small, hundreds of finance executives and bank CEOs are in the the Mexican beach town for an annual banking conference. Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador is set to speak to the group tomorrow afternoon. Central Bank Governor Alejandro Diaz de Leon is also on the agenda.

If it weren’t for the nervous chatter and the fact that a number of conference attendees were glued to their phones rather than the bar, it’d be hard to tell that the world beyond the city’s sandy beaches was in the middle of a global market meltdown. Mariachis in blue suits serenaded the guests arriving this week at the pyramid–shaped Princess Mundo Imperial hotel surrounded by lush gardens and pools with swans and pelicans.

On Thursday, Mexico’s peso sank to a new low as stock markets on every continent tumbled because of an oil-price war and a panic-inducing stream of bad news about the widening Covid-19 pandemic. “It feels like the end of the world, and here we are at the beach,” said one bank director, who asked not to be identified to avoid the impression he’s making light of the matter.

The annual gathering runs through Friday, even as much more famous events around the world -- from music festival South by Southwest and the National Basketball Association’s entire season -- were scrapped. In Mexico, the government announced Thursday that it’s postponing the Tianguis Turistico, the country’s top tourism event, citing coronavirus concerns.

Luis Nino de Rivera, head of Mexico’s banking association, insisted that despite the chaos abroad, only 56 people out of 830 confirmations from banks decided to skip the convention. (Moody’s Investors Service was among those companies saying it wouldn’t go to Acapulco, while BlackRock country chief Samantha Ricciardi also canceled.)

About a dozen Covid-19 cases have been officially confirmed in Mexico, but the government is facing criticism by some health experts that it hasn’t been fast enough to test patients or take measures to slow the spread. Lopez Obrador, meanwhile, said the country had “the best experts” on the matter. A decade ago, Mexico City was locked down after the outbreak of the new H1N1 flu, which deepened the country’s recession following the global financial crisis.

Read More: Mexico’s Low Coronavirus Count Spurs Doubts On Testing Rate

When asked why the banking association didn’t follow the lead of other groups in canceling, Nino de Rivera shrugged off the concern.

“We see no reason to cancel,” he said, adding that they pushed ahead on the advice of government authorities. “You have to trust them. They are the authorities.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Michael O'Boyle in Mexico City at moboyle7@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Courtney Dentch at cdentch1@bloomberg.net, ;Juan Pablo Spinetto at jspinetto@bloomberg.net, Jessica Brice

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