ENRIQUE QUINTANA taps his electronic mouse.
Seconds later, the "Rumors" window opens on the computer screen to reveal a juicy financial morsel: Business mogul Carlos Hank Rhon may be selling his 58.13 percent stake in Banca Cremi. At least, that's the buzz on the floor of the Mexican Stock Exchange.
Rumors is one of the more intriguing sections of Informacion Selectiva (InfoSel). This unique Mexican electronic financial news service was started in late 1990 by El Norte, a Monterrey-based newspaper that many analysts consider to be Mexico's best independent daily in a country where the majority of newspapers are government supported.
To date, InfoSel stands essentially alone in a market with a voracious appetite for Mexican business news. InfoSel is similar to services found in the United States such as Citibank's Global and Dow Jones's Telerate. Other financial and media firms here are planning similar news services, but only a few have gotten off the ground and none yet have the breadth of information available from InfoSel.
"For international information, we rely on Reuters. But for live domestic-market information, rumors, and quarterly reports, Infosel is unquestionably the best. And for a very good price everyone can access it on their own computers," says Gabriel Loaiza, director of analysis for Baring Research, a subsidiary of Baring Securities.
For $600 a month, InfoSel gives real-time stock quotes from the Mexican Bolsa, continually updated corporate and financial news services, corporate analysis, money market prices, short news items from newspapers (USA Today, the Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, etc.), story summaries from major Mexican dailies, quarterly corporate reports, statistical economic databases, and a electronic messenger service.
InfoSel has 16 corporate analysts, plus four of its own reporters. But it also shares information, reporters, and office space with its parent, El Norte.
With minimal promotion, 1,000 clients - mostly stock brokers, corporations, banks, and government financial offices - have signed up for the Spanish-language service. Another 1,000 new subscribers are expected this year. About 50 clients reside in the US. An English-language service is foreseen, but no date has been set.
"The demand is huge. We have almost no competition," says Mr. Quintana, co-editor of InfoSel.
"Until now, only a small group of people within the stock exchange had access to this information. We're making this information less elite, giving it a more democratic diffusion," Quintana says.
InfoSel is on the crest of a wave of demand for information - not just about the stock market - about all aspects of the Mexican economy. During the past year, a flood of foreign and domestic money has been pouring into the Mexican stock market sending it to record heights. "More market activity and more volatility increase the demand for 'live' information. Investors can't wait for tomorrow's paper," Quintana notes.
Investor interest is a reflection of the dramatic economic changes taking place here. Mexico now boasts three straight years of strong economic growth after almost a decade of backsliding. The banks and other state-owned enterprises are being sold off. Trade between the US and Mexico has tripled since trade barriers were lowered in 1986. Expectations of a North American free trade agreement are also fueling interest.
"Everyone's looking for objective, time-saving information," says Michael Zellner, editor of El Financiero international edition, a weekly English edition (started in 1991) of the respected Mexico City-based financial daily.
Responding to the demand, several economic consulting firms now publish newsletters. Another financial daily, El Economista, has appeared on the market. Mexico Business, a magazine published by the American Chamber of Commerce, has gone from quarterly to monthly issues.
Carving a niche and a reputation in this blossoming market is not easy. But Grupo de Economistas y Asociados (GEA) appears to be making a mark. Formed in September 1990 by 18 partners, GEA is a research and consulting firm with an emphasis on publishing. For the annual subscription price of $11,000, GEA faxes daily reports on world financial markets and produces packages of industry-specific statistics and forecasts. But its most influential publications are regular reports on Mexico's economic, labor, a nd political scenes.
GEA has a small number of subscribers, less than 100, but they include state and federal offices, corporations, and banks.
In a short time, GEA has become widely known and quoted in the mainstream Mexican press. An English-language version is on the drawing board and could be available by the end of this year.