SAO PAULO (Reuters) - When Fabio Calderaro was a 23-year-old cadet at Brazil’s military academy in 2000, he invested a couple of thousand dollars in the stock market.
At first, the value of his investment plummeted. But as he grew more market savvy, his fortunes changed -- so much so that a few years later Calderaro quit the military and started living off his gains.
By the time he was 29, Calderaro was worth well over a million reais ($630,000) thanks to big bets on steel, mining and banking stocks just as Brazil’s economy was taking off after decades of lackluster growth. Since then, his fortune has swelled even more, cementing his status as a full-fledged member of Brazil’s new rich.
“I was in the right place at the right time,” said Calderaro, who is now 31 and teaches seminars on the stock market when he is not managing his own expanding portfolio. “All this was possible because of the economy.”
Thanks largely to a commodities and credit boom, Brazil is seeing a burst of economic growth that is lifting millions out of poverty in a country long known for its stark inequality. On top of that wave, riding a stock market that tripled in four years, is a breed of millionaires like Calderaro being created at a breakneck pace -- at least 23,000 last year.
Only India and China churned out millionaires at a faster pace in 2007 than Brazil, according to the latest world wealth report by Merrill Lynch and Capgemini. The number of Brazilians worth more than $1 million jumped 19.1 percent last year to more than 143,000, up from a 10 percent increase in 2006.
Brazil’s billionaire club is also growing at an unprecedented pace. According to a survey by local business magazine Exame, at least 14 Brazilians became billionaires last year, almost a fivefold increase over 2006.
Like Calderaro, many struck it big in the stock market, cashing in on a wave of initial public offerings. A record 62 companies went public last year in Brazil, turning scores of investors and entrepreneurs into millionaires overnight.
The IPO craze has subsided this year because of a rout in global markets, but it is now showing signs of picking up. Just last month, oil and gas startup OGX Petroleo e Gas Participacoes raised $4.1 billion in the biggest IPO in Brazilian history as investors lined up to get a piece of the country’s newfound oil wealth.
OGX is owned by Eike Batista, a mining mogul whose fortune has grown so much in recent years that he has become the public face of Brazil’s new rich. A former powerboat champion who keeps a Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren race car parked in his living room, Batista openly says his goal is to become the world’s richest man in five years.
Nowhere is the jump in disposable income more apparent than in Sao Paulo, the country’s financial capital and largest, most cosmopolitan city. On a recent Saturday, the stores on Rua Oscar Freire -- Sao Paulo’s version of Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills -- were so crowded that shoppers nearly tripped over each other as they vied for the latest in designer clothing.
Shopping malls catering to the rich are opening all over the city, housing exclusive boutiques like Giorgio Armani and Hermes. New car sales are hitting records month after month, and plush apartment buildings are sprouting up in droves.
According to a recent study by local consulting firm MCF, the luxury goods market in Brazil grew 17 percent last year, ringing up $5 billion in sales. The economy as a whole, by contrast, expanded 5.4 percent.
“It’s not there yet, but Brazil is on its way to becoming a priority market for luxury brand names,” said Carlos Ferreirinha, the founder of MCF and a former president of Louis Vuitton in Brazil.
The increase in high net-worth individuals has also been a boon for private jet and helicopter manufacturers. Embraer is selling so many of its new Phenom small business jets in Brazil that it expects the plane to soon account for the majority of the country’s private jet fleet.
Helicopter sales are growing almost 13 percent a year. The hottest market is traffic-clogged Sao Paulo, where there are already more than 500 helicopters, making it one of the largest urban fleets in the world.
TAM Taxi Aereo Marilia, an air taxi company and sales representative for Cessna and Bell Helicopter, used to be able to meet orders in less than a year. Now customers have to wait up to four years for a new helicopter.
“In all my years in the business, I’ve never seen demand so strong,” said Rui Aquino, the company’s chief executive.
But not all the newcomers to Brazil’s millionaire’s club are big spenders. Calderaro, the cadet-turned-investor, still lives in a rented apartment and prefers investing his money in the stock market rather than on flashy cars and beach houses.
“My mother likes to say I‘m economical, not a cheapskate,” he said. “I think I get more pleasure out of making money in the market than I do spending it.”
Editing by Stuart Grudgings and Doina Chiacu