When Dilma Rousseff, Brazil’s president, presented a budget with a gaping primary deficit (before interest payments) of 0.5% of GDP last week, many (including this newspaper) despaired. It was only a matter of time, the worriers warned, before such fiscal incontinence would cost Brazil its cherished investment-grade credit rating. Few expected the raters to react quite so quickly. On September 9th Standard & Poor’s, which in 2008 had led the way in upgrading Brazil to respectability, became the first agency to downgrade the country’s foreign-currency government debt back to junk. S&P has kept Brazil on negative watch, saying it has a one-in-three chance of sinking deeper into speculative territory.
To some extent, S&P’s decision had been priced in already. For months the cost of insuring Brazilian government bonds against default has been higher than for Turkish ones, which are rated as junk. Following last week’s budget announcement the real slid by 6% against the dollar.
As our article went to press markets were nevertheless bracing for a jumpy Thursday (S&P moved after they closed the night before). In after-hours trading in New York, a basket of Brazilian equities lost 4%; Petrobras, the state-controlled oil giant, saw its American-listed shares drop by 5%. Another hint that not everything was priced in, notes Alberto Ramos of Goldman Sachs, an investment bank, were the 200 anxious e-mails which flooded his inbox in the hour following S&P’s announcement.