Barclays Retreats from Asia, Brazil and Russia

Martin Arnold, Don Weinland – The Financial Times, 01/21/2016

Barclays has told staff it aims to remain a “bulge-bracket investment bank” while outlining plans to cut up to 1,200 staff by closing many operations in Asia, Brazil and Russia and exiting precious metals trading.

Tom King, head of Barclays’ investment bank, said in a memo seen by the Financial Times: “By focusing our business on areas where we have sustainable competitive advantage, we are putting ourselves in a position where we cannot just survive but thrive in a dynamic, complex operating environment.”
The retrenchment comes as many of the world’s biggest investment banks are cutting staff and pulling out of non-core countries in response to growing pressure from regulators and declines in fixed income trading.

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Brazil’s Real Weakens After Central Bank Abandons Rate Increase

Paula Sambo – Bloomberg Business, 01/21/2016

Brazil’s real sank to a four-month low and traders priced in faster inflation after the central bank surprised economists by keeping interest rates unchanged even with consumer-price increases running at more than twice the target.

Policy makers said in a statement accompanying Wednesday’s decision that the global economic outlook was increasingly uncertain, signaling they’re prioritizing economic growth over taming consumer-price increases. Central bank President Alexandre Tombini, in an unusual statement released Tuesday, said he would take into account the International Monetary Fund’s forecast for a deeper recession in Brazil this year.

While forecasts for Brazil’s deepest and longest recession in more than a century could justify a decision to keep interest rates unchanged, the central bank didn’t communicate its strategy clearly in the weeks leading up to the meeting, said Nicholas Spiro, a London-based managing director at Spiro Sovereign Strategy. The decision to hold interest rates at 14.25 percent, when most economists expected an increase, stokes concern that it’s susceptible to political influence.

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Brazil’s Carnival Lovers Face Sobering Moment as Country Braces for Recession

Jonathan Watts – The Guardian, 01/12/2016

When it comes to mood making in Brazil, there are few institutions that can match the samba schools of Rio de Janeiro.

For a week each year at Carnival, they embody exuberance with a pulsating parade of spectacular floats, gyrating dancers and bateria throbbing with the rhythms of tamborims, chocalhos, surdos and drums.

But even these professionally upbeat performers are wondering how long the party can last as the country’s economy suffers what is forecast to be the deepest recession in more than a century.

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Brazil’s Unpromising New Year

Paulo Sotero – The Huffington Post, 12/28/2015

A president fighting impeachment names a finance minister not trusted by markets as Brazilians, dismayed by the country’s politics, prepare for more hardship in 2016.

The debilitating political and economic crisis that engulfed Brazil in 2015 is bound to continue, regardless of the outcome of the opposition effort to impeach a discredited President Dilma Rousseff. The impeachment process started in early December is expected to drag on for months. Procedural wins by the president at the Supreme Court before Christmas dissipated a sense of inevitability of her removal from office, but did not improve her chances of regaining credibility to govern in the three years remaining in her second term. The political battle that paralyzed the congressional agenda in 2015 will deepen, undermining efforts to address the growing fiscal and structural problems that turned Brazil from a once promising emerging economy into an economic disaster in the first year of Rousseff’s second term.

The negative outlook was reinforced as the year ended by the departure of Finance minister Joaquim Levy, a fiscal conservative Rousseff named after her narrow reelection in October 2014 to rebalance the nation’s fiscal accounts and restore investors’ confidence. “It looks like the government is afraid of the reforms,” a frustrated Levy said in an exit interview.

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Brazil’s New Finance Minister Faces a Big Test After Friday’s Rout

Raymond Colitt, Anna Edgerton – Bloomberg Business, 12/20/2015

Nelson Barbosa could, of course, turn out to be the man who fixes Brazil’s finances, tames soaring inflation and revives the sinking economy, but investors sure aren’t betting on it.

As word spread across Sao Paulo trading floors Friday that Barbosa would be the country’s next finance minister, replacing the beleaguered Joaquim Levy, markets plunged. By day’s end, the currency was down 2.6 percent, stocks 3 percent. (Markets were little changed early Monday, with the currency swinging between positive and negative territories.)

That harsh reception is the exact opposite of the broad rally that greeted Levy when he took the post a year earlier. Levy, though, was the market’s golden boy, with his University of Chicago-training, asset-manager experience and reputation as a fierce budget cutter. Barbosa, while generally respected by analysts for his technocratic skills, isn’t seen as being quite as tight-fisted on spending, a perception he only reinforced when suggesting Friday that he was amenable to granting subsidies to some industries.

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Economic report adds to Brazil’s mounting woes

Simon Romero – The New York Times, 12/01/2015

It keeps getting messier.

A senator close to the president has just been arrested in a widening graft scandal. Lawmakers are wielding the threat of impeachment over the president, thwarting efforts to deal with the tumbling economy.

And then, on Tuesday, Brazil reported its worst economic performance in two decades. The dismal result — the economy shrank 1.7 percent in the third quarter — is the culmination of months of economic crisis and political paralysis, casting a pall over Latin America’s largest country.

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Brazilian waxing and waning

The Data Team – The Economist, 10/30/2015

IN THE past few years Brazil’s economy has disappointed. It grew by 2.2% a year, on average, during President Dilma Rousseff’s first term in office in 2011-­14, a slower rate of growth than in most of its neighbours, let alone in places like China or India. Last year GDP barely grew at all. It contracted by 2.6% in the second quarter, compared to the same period last year, and is expected to shrink by 3% in 2015.

Household consumption has registered the first drop, year-on-year, since Ms Rousseff’s left-wing Workers’ Party (PT) came to power in 2003. At the same time, public spending has surged. In 2014, as Ms Rousseff sought re-election, the budget deficit doubled to 6.75% of GDP (the bill has since swelled by another 2.5 percentage points). For the first time since 1997 the government failed to set aside any money to pay back creditors. Its planned primary surplus for this year, which excludes interest owed on debt, of 1.2% of GDP is now expected to turn into a 0.9% deficit.

Brazil’s gross government debt of 66% may look piffling compared to Greece’s 175% or Japan’s 227%. But Brazil’s high interest rates of around 14% make borrowing costlier to service. Debt payments eat up more than 8% of output. To let businesses and consumers borrow at less exorbitant rates, public banks have increasingly filled the gap, offering cheap, subsidised loans. These went from 40% of all lending in 2010 to 55%.

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