Brazil’s faltering economy needs some tough love

Samantha Pearson – Financial Times, 5/12/2015

For Brazil’s economists, 2015 will certainly be a year to forget. Latin America’s biggest economy is expected to contract by more than 1 per cent this year, marking the country’s worst recession in 25 years.

Meanwhile, inflation is set to end the year above 8 per cent, breaking the target range for the first time since 2003.

To add to the country’s woes, the corruption scandal at state-controlled oil company Petrobras — believed to be the biggest of its kind in Brazilian history — has the potential to slow growth further and accelerate job losses.

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Brazil’s economy: A tight squeeze

The Economist, 4/30/2015

DO NOT envy Brazil’s monetary policymakers. The economy is faltering. With business confidence plumbing record depths, unemployment up and real wages down—by 3% year-on-year in March, the most in more than a decade—demand remains fragile. Supermarket sales fell by 2.6% last month, compared with the previous one. Output will probably contract by at least 1% this year. Yet with prices rising at the fastest rate since 2003, the central bank’s rate-setters had little choice when they met on April 29th but to raise interest rates by another half a percentage point, to 13.25%.

If Brazil is fortunate, the painful rate hike could leave policy-makers with a bit more room to manoeuvre when they next convene in June. One source of inflationary pressure is easing: the real has rebounded by more than 10% against the dollar since its 12-year trough six weeks ago. This, notes Alberto Ramos of Goldman Sachs, an investment bank, mainly reflects the prospect that the Federal Reserve will keep its own rates rock-bottom for a while longer, given the recent underwhelming performance of the American economy. But it also illustrates the markets’ belief that the wily finance minister, Joaquim Levy, will manage to keep his pledge and turn a primary budget deficit (excluding interest payments)‎ of 0.6% in 2014 into a surplus of 1.2% this year.

This faith was shaken on April 30th, when official figures showed that in March the government managed to set aside a piffling 239m reais ($79m) to pay creditors; analysts had been expecting something closer to 5 billion reais. Meanwhile, the total public-sector deficit ballooned to 7.8% of GDP, inflated by a 34.5 billion reais monthly loss stemming from the central bank’s currency-swap programme. The economic slowdown also appears to be hurting the government’s tax take.

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Brazil’s biggest problem isn’t Petrobras

Matt Phillips – Quartz, 4/28/2015

It’s not the scandal, stupid.

Last week the Brazilian oil giant Petrobras wrote down the value of its assets by some $17 billion, including $2.1 billion reflecting the impact of bribes and graft. The scandal—in which company executives allegedly received kickbacks in exchange for awarding contracts at inflated values—has prompted worries that it could creep closer to President Dilma Rousseff, who served as the chairwoman of Petrobras, during the years when much of the alleged bribery took place. So far, she hasn’t been implicated.

But as the nation’s attention continues to be riveted by the scandal, Brazil’s economy is decelerating rapidly. Numbers out this morning show that unemployment rose to 6.2% in March, up from 5.9% in February and the highest since March 2012.

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Brazil’s March Unemployment Rate Climbs in Blow to Rousseff

David Biller and Mario Sergio Lima – Bloomberg Business, 4/28/2015

Brazil’s March unemployment rate climbed to the highest level in three years as Latin America’s largest economy slips closer to recession amid rising interest rates and fiscal tightening.

The jobless rate rose to 6.2 percent from 5.9 percent a month earlier, according to data released by Brazil’s national statistics agency (IBGE). That was higher than the 6.1 percent median estimate from 32 economists surveyed by Bloomberg.

Market reaction to the report was mixed. Swap rates fell, while the currency rose and stock futures pointed to a higher opening in Sao Paulo.

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Haitian immigrants’ ‘Brazilian dream’ sours as work hard to find for tens of thousands

Adriana Gomez Licon (AP) – U.S. News, 3/3/2015

Under a scorching sun, dozens of Haitians shuffled impatiently about the brick-walled courtyard of Our Lady of Peace Catholic Church. The sight of an approaching employer sparked a skirmish, with the men pushing against each other, jostling for attention.

“How many people you need?,” several men shouted. “I need a job, what do you want me to do?” No matter what the job was, someone in the crowd yelled out, “I can do that!”

There are fewer jobs in Brazil than there are Haitians looking for work. An open-door policy intended to help migrants from the impoverished island is fueling Brazil’s largest immigration wave since World War II and prompting calls for lawmakers to do more to help the new arrivals.

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Rousseff’s austerity plan for Brazil runs into trouble with allies

Anthony Boadle and Alonso Soto – Reuters, 2/13/2015

President Dilma Rousseff’s austerity push has run into stiff opposition from her own allies in Congress that could derail her efforts to restore Brazil’s fiscal credibility and avoid a damaging credit rating downgrade.

The leftist leader’s allies, including members of her own Workers’ Party, are seeking to water down a first batch of unpopular bills that trim unemployment and pension benefits and save some 18 billion reais ($6.32 billion).

The bills are part of an austerity drive led by Finance Minister Joaquim Levy, a fiscal conservative picked by Rousseff to plug a growing public-sector deficit with spending cuts and tax hikes aimed at saving the once booming economy’s coveted investment grade.

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Brazil’s jobless rate drops as fewer people seek work

Asher Levine and Silvio Cascione – Reuters, 1/29/2015

Brazil’s jobless rate returned to historic lows in December, but wages dropped from the month before in another sign that a once-booming labor market was losing momentum.

The non-seasonally adjusted jobless rate BRUNR=ECI fell to 4.3 percent in December from 4.8 percent in November, statistics agency IBGE said on Thursday, matching the previous all-time low hit in December 2013.

The number was below the median forecast of 4.6 percent in a Reuters poll of 26 economists.

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