Brazil’s real weakens further against dollar on political, economic turmoil

March 4, 2015

Jeffrey T. Lewis – The Wall Street Journal, 03/04/2015

The Brazilian real plummeted against the dollar Wednesday as a burgeoning scandal at state-controlled oil company Petrobras and a steady stream of bad economic indicators pushed investors to seek safety in the U.S. currency.

The real was trading at 2.9755 at 11:21 a.m. São Paulo time, according to Tullett Prebon via FactSet, the weakest level since 2004. The real closed at 2.9111 on Tuesday.

On Tuesday night, Brazil’s attorney general asked the country’s Supreme Court for permission to proceed with investigations against a number of politicians, and local news media have reported that several prominent politicians have been implicated.

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Brazil attorney general seeks investigation into political figures in big kickback scandal

March 4, 2015

US News/AP – Brad Brooks, 03/02/2015

Brazil’s attorney general on Tuesday asked the Supreme Court for permission to investigate 54 people, the majority top political figures, for alleged involvement in what prosecutors say is the country’s largest corruption scandal yet uncovered.

Attorney General Rodrigo Janot’s request opens an expansive new phase of the investigation into the kickback scheme at state-run oil company Petrobras.

“We’re going to work with tranquility, with balance. Those who must pay will pay,” Janot told supporters outside his office late Monday night. “We’re going to investigate. This will be a long process, we’re just now beginning. The investigation begins and we’ll follow it through to the end.”

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5 reasons why the impeachment of Dilma is improbable, according to Brazilianists

March 3, 2015

Alessandra Corrêa – BBC Brasil, 3/2/2015

A series of problems confronted by President Dilma Rousseff in the start of her second mandate was already indicated by some as a signal of a threat to her government.

In response to the Financial Times blog post published last week on ten reasons why Dilma should be impeached, BBC Brasil offers five reasons why this likely will not happen. These reasons include the lack of solid grounds for impeachment and the absence of evidence proving the involvement of Dilma in the Petrobras scandal. Brazil Institute Fellow Matthew Taylor states, “Until now, there is still no evidence that Dilma is guilty of anything other than bad management (in the case of Petrobras).” Taylor also goes on to show why the opposition parties are not interested in having Dilma go through the impeachment process, observing, “I don’t think that the PSDB would have much to gain. Furthermore, they would need the support of the PMDB and other parties in the government’s coalition. And frankly, none of these parties would like to see Dilma suffering an impeachment.”

The article continues with evidence showing that Dilma’s support in congress is still much higher and stronger than that of former president Fernando Collor de Mello, who was impeached in 1992. Another reason for the unlikelihood of impeachment is that the current problems in Brazil are not rare for the region. Brazil is not alone in the lack of investor confidence and therefore unlikely to stand out by themselves by inciting an impeachment process. Taylor concludes by noting that the Petrobras scandal has left the country “warily optimistic.”

For full article [IN PORTUGUESE], click here.

Translation and summary by Brazil Institute intern Erica Kliment.


Brazil: 10 good reasons to think the two-month-old government will go

February 27, 2015

Jonathan Wheatley – Financial Times, 2/25/2015

So much is going wrong in Brazil that it is hard to keep up. For years, critics have accused the government of incompetence. Now its actions are looking catastrophic – so much so that there are good reasons to think President Dilma Rousseff, who began a second four-year term only on January 1, may not last much longer.

Here is our list of 10 things that threaten to bring her down.

1. Politics.
For a Brazilian president to be impeached, they must do something egregiously wrong. But many do that and survive. What really counts is losing support in Congress. Rousseff’s congressional majority was cut at the election while the number of parties in Congress increased, leaving her coalition more splintered and harder to control. Worse, large sections of her ruling Workers’ Party have turned against her. Some members regard her as a late-coming, opportunistic interloper. Some to the “right” of the party accuse her of messing up. Others to the left are furious at her appointment of the “neo-liberal” Joaquim Levy as finance minister last month.

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Brazil: In a quagmire

February 27, 2015

The Economist (print edition), 2/28/2015

CAMPAIGNING for a second term as Brazil’s president in an election last October, Dilma Rousseff painted a rosy picture of the world’s seventh-biggest economy. Full employment, rising wages and social benefits were threatened only by the nefarious neoliberal plans of her opponents, she claimed. Just two months into her new term, Brazilians are realising that they were sold a false prospectus.

Brazil’s economy is in a mess, with far bigger problems than the government will admit or investors seem to register. The torpid stagnation into which it fell in 2013 is becoming a full-blown—and probably prolonged—recession, as high inflation squeezes wages and consumers’ debt payments rise (see article). Investment, already down by 8% from a year ago, could fall much further. A vast corruption scandal at Petrobras, the state-controlled oil giant, has ensnared several of the country’s biggest construction firms and paralysed capital spending in swathes of the economy, at least until the prosecutors and auditors have done their work. The real has fallen by 30% against the dollar since May 2013: a necessary shift, but one that adds to the burden of the $40 billion in foreign debt owed by Brazilian companies that falls due this year.

Escaping this quagmire would be hard even with strong political leadership. Ms Rousseff, however, is weak. She won the election by the narrowest of margins. Already, her political base is crumbling. According to Datafolha, a pollster, her approval rating fell from 42% in December to 23% this month. She has been hurt both by the deteriorating economy and by the Petrobras scandal, which involves allegations of kickbacks of at least $1 billion, funnelled to politicians in her Workers’ Party (PT) and its coalition partners. For much of the relevant period Ms Rousseff chaired Petrobras’s board. If Brazil is to salvage some benefits from her second term, then she needs to take the country in an entirely new direction.

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Petrobras scandal about to hit Brazil’s political class

February 26, 2015

Anthony Boadle – Reuters, 2/25/2015

Brazil’s top prosecutor is expected to file charges in coming days against politicians implicated in the Petrobras corruption scandal, a political bombshell that could involve members of Congress and President Dilma Rousseff’s government.

Under Brazilian law, lawmakers and cabinet members can only be tried by the Supreme Court. Prosecutor Rodrigo Janot has said he plans to file cases with the court by the end of the month against politicians involved in the graft scheme at Petrobras.

Prosecutors say corrupt executives from Petroleo Brasileiro SA (PETR4.SA), as the company is formally known, conspired with contractors to misappropriate billions of dollars from the company. Some of the funds were funneled to politicians and political parties, the prosecutors say.

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For Emerging Market Investors, Brazil Has Become A Hot Mess

February 26, 2015

Kenneth Rapoza – Forbes, 2/25/2015

For those who like their macro trades to be alluring and exotic, but with an overdose of danger, then Brazil is the place for you. Like Rio de Janeiro itself, pretty but deadly, Brazil has become the hot mess of emerging markets.

Not even Russia, the wild east sanctioned geopolitical disaster zone that it is today, can compare to Brazil. Russia is, well, Russia. It’s always trading at a discount to better managed, diverse and transparent economies like Brazil. But Russia is failing because of geopolitics and oil. Brazil, meanwhile, is shooting itself in the foot.

The most visible problem in Brazil today is the ongoing scandal involving Petrobras. Brazil’s state run oil firm was downgraded by Moody’s to junk bond status on Tuesday. More importantly, the corruption scandal has changed investor perception of Petrobras. It’s no longer trustworthy. Investor sentiment has soured to the point where Petrobras shares have lost 43.6% in the last 12 months. Petrobras’ problems are Brazil’s problems. As the country’s most important company, when sentiment sours on Petrobras, it sours on the political leadership that’s in charge of it. When that happens, investors, like civil society in Brazil in general, lose confidence in government.

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