The Economist, 4/8/2014
“IN BRAZIL,” Pedro Malan, a former finance minister, likes to say, “even the past is unpredictable.” The dictum has come to haunt Itaú Unibanco, the advisory board of which Mr Malan chairs. The bank, along with Banco do Brasil and Spain’s Santander, awaits judgment by the supreme court over its actions a quarter of a century ago. Depositors claim the trio’s subsidiaries took advantage of government efforts to quash hyperinflation to fleece owners of inflation-linked accounts. If the justices side with depositors, other lenders that offered similar instruments may also be on the hook. The bill could reach 150 billion reais ($62 billion), according to the central bank.
The finance minister, Guido Mantega, and the central bank’s governor, Alexandre Tombini, have signed an open letter warning that a defeat for the banks may starve the economy of credit. (So did all their living predecessors, regardless of political or economic persuasion.) Such a decision might also prompt Banco do Brasil and Caixa Econômica Federal, which are state-controlled and between them hold roughly half of all savings accounts, to seek a government bail-out, denting Brazil’s already fragile public finances.
Walter Faiad of the Consumer Protection Institute, an outfit involved with the savers’ claims, argues that banks would lose closer to 15 billion reais, mainly because relatively few of their former depositors have the will and resources to go to court. Murilo Portugal, head of the Federation of Brazilian Banks (Febraban), which co-ordinates the industry’s legal strategy, counters that between 2005 and 2013, as the 20-year statute of limitations drew near, banks received as many as 1.4m claims. And the court may interpret some pending class actions brought by public prosecutors as representing all of the tens of millions of Brazilians who held a savings account at the time.
The Economist, 10/18/2013
IN THIS week’s print issue we wrote about the huge increase in government-subsidised credit in Brazil in recent years, funnelled through state-controlled institutions such as the national development bank, BNDES, and Caixa Econômica Federal, a state retail bank. This is weakening the banks’ balance-sheets and cutting their credit ratings—and damaging the credibility of official statistics as the government manoeuvres to try to hide the impact on its own finances.
On October 14th the finance minister signalled a change of course, saying that over the next few years the government would gradually stop capitalising BNDES with transfers from the treasury. But as we explained in print, the electoral appeal of cheap consumer credit and the government’s desire to use BNDES to fund a big upcoming infrastructure-concession programme make it doubtful that such good intentions will become reality.
Equally worrying for Brazil’s public finances is the news that the federal government is about to make it easier for states and municipalities to take on more debt. The Fiscal Responsibility Law of 2000 bailed out local governments who had taken on debts they could not repay, with one of the conditions being the acceptance of strict limits on total future indebtedness. The law is generally regarded as having been an essential precondition for Brazil’s subsequent economic stabilisation and growth, including keeping inflation under control, gaining investment-grade status, rescuing tens of millions from dire poverty and creating a vast new lower-middle class.
The Economist – 10/19/2013
IN 2008 Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, then Brazil’s president, boasted that by the time the “tsunami” unleashed by Lehman Brothers’ collapse hit his country’s shores it would dwindle to a “little ripple”. The stimulus programme he put in place helped to carry Brazil through the credit crunch relatively unscathed. But five years later public money is still pumping into its economy, with ever more negative consequences. Public debt is rising. State banks are taking more of the credit market. And the government is warping accounting standards in its attempts to disguise all this.
Concerned that consumers are overstretched, private banks have held back on lending in recent years. But since 2008 the corporate loan book of BNDES, the national development bank, has grown by 24% annually, far above nominal-GDP growth of 11%. Caixa Econômica Federal, a state retail bank, has expanded lending by 42% annually for the past three years (see chart). By June state banks had 50.3% of all outstanding credit, up from 33% in 2008—the first time they passed the halfway mark since a wave of bank privatisations in 1999.
Claudia Trevisan – Estado de S. Paulo, 09/21/2013
Nelson Barbosa, former Deputy Minister of Finance, noted on Friday that in the coming months the government of Brazil will be presented with the challenges of suppressed inflation, high costs of credit by state banks, and the likely depreciation of the Brazilian real.
In his first public statements since leaving government four months ago, Barbosa observed that the policy of stimulating the economy through financing from BNDES (Brazil’s development bank) and the Caixa Economica Federal (financial institution created as a public company, bound to the Ministry of Finance) is no longer viable. “The policy was useful to address the crisis, but at some point, it has to end,” he stated.
“Brazil’s gross debt grew rapidly in recent years and this cannot continue forever. If some thing is unsustainable, it will end at some point,” declared Barbosa in Washington, during a seminar on the Brazilian economy hosted by the Brazil Institute at the Woodrow Wilson Center.
Read full article in Portuguese here.
Simon Romero – The New York Times, 09/14/2013
As Brazil’s leaders consider whether consumption should be an antidote for a sluggish economy, a department store tycoon is racing ahead with his answer, taking unfettered American-style consumerism to a gaudy new level.
Proclaiming the gambling mecca Las Vegas as his ideal city, the tycoon, Luciano Hang, has been opening department stores this year at a pace of one every 15 days, from southern Brazil to the Amazon in the northwest. Each cavernous new structure is an homage to American capitalism, with columns intended to evoke the White House and giant replicas of the Statue of Liberty, some more than 100 feet high, stationed at its entrance.
“My philosophy is pro-capitalism, so of course the best symbols for this come from the United States,” said Mr. Hang, who flies around Brazil on a Learjet to visit the nearly 60 stores in his chain, called Havan. “I tell people that we’re about freedom: the freedom to stay open when we choose, the freedom to work for us and the freedom to shop,” he added. “I know this can be controversial, but I think those who disagree with my approach are few and far between.”
Cristiane Lucchesi & Francisco Marcelino – Bloomberg, 07/01/2013
Brazil is the only so-called BRIC emerging economy where companies not owned by the government, such as Credit Suisse Group AG (CSGN) and Grupo BTG Pactual, still earn the most investment-banking fees. That may soon end.
Banco do Brasil SA and Caixa Economica Federal, both government-controlled, are using their dominance of the nation’s loan markets and special relationship with President Dilma Rousseff’s administration as a wedge to unseat non-state firms in the race for investment-banking fees.
Banco do Brasil, already the country’s biggest lender by assets, wants to be the No. 1 investment bank as well, said Paulo Rogerio Caffarelli, vice president for wholesale banking. Caixa asked regulators in October for a license to create a 300-person unit. They would compete with BTG, Banco Itau BBA SA and Credit Suisse, the top three companies by investment-banking fees, according to London-based research firm Dealogic.
Rogerio Jelmayer – The Wall Street Journal, 06/17/2013
The new lending program by Brazil’s state run bank Caixa Economica Federal to provide credits for low-income families to buy furniture and appliances will increase banks’ credit risks, said the rating agency Moody’s Investors Service.
“The provisional measure is credit negative for Caixa because it will further increase its credit risk exposure to low-income borrowers who will finance these purchases at subsidized interest rates for long tenors,” Moody’s said.
Last week, Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff announced a special credit program for low-income families called the Minha Casa Melhor (My Home, Improved) program that will distribute credit cards with a 5,000 Brazilian reais ($2,344) credit-limit, specifically to buy furniture and appliances for homes bought under the government’s affordable-housing program, Minha Casa, Minha Vida (My Home, My Life).