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Internet Heats Up Latin American Markets

Internet activities are heating up across Latin America even as the battering high-tech stocks have received on global markets spreads into the region.

In the last 15 months, Chile has seen 35 mergers and acquisitions of Web portals worth $1.27 billion, according to a study by the Chilean chamber of commerce.

Chilean online companies are spending more on advertising — $1 million in January, twice as much as the comparable year before figure. Almost half that amount went to traditional media, the rest to the Web.

The survey also found that 75 percent of Chilean portals offer online shopping and almost that many had chat room facilities while two-thirds had free e-mail.

In Mexico, the portal field became more crowded late last month when Grupo Televisa launched a Web portal in Acapulco — esmas.com, a conventional news and chat site.

Although Televisa is a major Mexican media player, its portal went online well behind such heavyweight rivals as StarMedia, El Sitio and Terra. The Spanish Telefonica daughter beefed up its market position when it bought U.S. portal Lycos earlier in May.

Telmex, the nation’s leading telecommunications company, launched an even heavier site in March when it teamed up with Microsoft for Timsn.com, which can draw on not only Microsoft content but Telmex’s CompUSA, a U.S. computer distributor, and the Internet services provider Prodigy.

The company also plans a July launch of a high-speed Internet access service using ADSL technology that will link four Mexican cities before going national later in the year.

The company is out to boost its mobile phone market share with a $1.8 billion investment designed to increase subscribers from the current 6.5 million to 10 million by the end of the year and to 12 million next year.

Mexico seems a promising market for online buying. Marketing survey firm Select IDC reported that 341,000 Mexicans bought something online last year for a total of $223 million. One catch: The bulk was bought from U.S. sites.

El Sitio, which has a seven-country network in Latin America with one hub in Buenos Aires and another focused on U.S. Hispanics in Miami, has added a Brazilian auction site.

The partnership with Lokau.com is set to run for a year and will be featured on all the network’s sites, giving it exposure it has not yet had. For El Sitio, Lokau means another 350,000 registered users.

An IT site opened last month in Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Mexico offering products and services. Latin eVentures Ltd.'s Web-based subsidiary, eAqui, built the site after forming an alliance with Ingram Micro, a huge IT product retailer.

But perhaps the most ambitious recent move in the Latin American Web market came from InvestShop, an online investment site. It plans to spend $100 million for expanding its Latin American business.

Some $50 million will go to Brazil where InvestShop is already a market leader with 150,000 customers this spring compared to 36,000 last December. It is looking for 200,000 by the year's end.

The other $50 million is ticketed for opening a Spanish-language Web site. InvestShop has set up an office in Miami from where it will coordinate its Spanish activities.

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