Brazil’s economy The only way is up


Cheer up. The Economist is calling a bottom

Brazil’s economy

The only way is up

The recession rages on. But there are incipient signs of recovery

FOR many Brazilians, the high point of the Olympic games in Rio de Janeiro came in the rain-drenched Engenhão stadium on August 15th. That was when Thiago Braz (pictured) won an unexpected gold medal, and set an Olympic record, in pole vaulting. Brazil’s beaten-down economy is nowhere near performing a feat that would remind anyone of Mr Braz’s jump. But it may be starting to pick itself back up.

The signs are still tentative. Manufacturers are investing again: imports of capital goods were 18% higher in dollar terms in June than in the same month last year, the first year-on-year rise since September 2014. Industrial production increased in June for the fourth consecutive month after two years of nearly uninterrupted decline. Firms’ stocks of unsold goods are starting to shrink, and the number of lorries on motorways has stopped falling.


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Brazil versus Rousseff: democracy won

The Brazilian Congress impeached the head of the executive, president Dilma Rousseff. All senators voted, under the processual supervision of the president of the Supreme Court, Ricardo Lewandowski. The result: 61 in favor and 20 senators against the impeachment.


Presidents of the Senate, Renan Calheiros and of the Supreme Court, Ricardo Lewandowski during the judgment of the impeachment of president Rousseff.

Is it a coup d’etat? Funny to even make this question after seeing more then 70 hours of judgement. Brazil is a republic. The executive, the legislative and the judiciary are equal powers. The law that rules impeachment was made in 1950.

As Kenneth Rapoza, Forbes contributor points out:

The impeachment is not a coup because:

  • The constitution has a list of impeachable offenses. Breaking the budget law is one.
  • The decision to impeach comes from Congress, starting in the Lower House.
  • The Senate is the final judge and jury on the matter, regardless of third-party interpretations of the law. Senators interpret the law.
  • Dilma’s attorneys appealed to the Supreme Court at least two times, citing procedural errors. Once, the Court agreed and took Cunha out of the committee to rule on whether to impeach in the Lower House. All other appeals were dropped.
  • Dilma can appeal the Senate impeachment vote to the Supreme Court. If it was a coup, she could not appeal.
  • Dilma lives in the Presidential Palace. Usually a coup is an illegal takeover that runs the president out of town.
  • Dilma is being investigated for receiving illicit campaign funds from Petrobras, but she is not being tried for anything related to the Petrobras scheme. Therefore, it is irrelevant that Cunha’s co-conspirators are tainted by that scandal.  If the co-conspirators had also allowed for, or spent money the government did not have, then we could compare the two ‘crimes’ .
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State reform and the privatization of a Brazilian champion: the case of Vale

Privatization is a controversial subject in Brazil. It has been so for a while. After the Petrobras scandals, the interest of the public role in the economy remains active. Vale is an historical case. Privatized in 1997, the company has evolved into the 2nd largest mining group. In this perspective, I presented a paper in the Quinto Congreso Latino-Americano de Historia Económica (CLADHE V)  about the subject. This is an outline of this paper and there is a link to the ppt presentation below.

International presence of Vale in 1997

mapa Vale 1997

As continental country with substantial potential for development, in the 2000s Brazil became one of the emerging economies. Coincidently or not, the previous decade was a period characterized by reforms and privatizations. Among the numerous companies privatized in that period, one stands up: the mining company Vale. The relevance of Vale’s case derives from multiple aspects. It shows the intersection of macro and micro history, during a period of intense transformations.

From its foundation in 1942, Vale was a tool of Brazil’s industrialization and economic development. Over time, the company’s influence in the economy was reinforced by the weight that natural resources acquired to Brazil’s trade balance. In 1975, Vale became the world leader in iron ore exports. Although the period and the company have been largely, Vale’s privatization remains a subject that fuels the debate of the public role in promoting economic development in contrast with the liberalization policies inspired by the Washington Consensus.

Research Questions 

What were the macroeconomic factors influencing the privatization of Vale and what rational was used for the valuation of the company, in particular the difficulties in assessing mining assets, the debate of national resources ownership and the questioning of the sale price.

This paper was presented at the section “l’Etat et les privatizations dans l’Amérique Latine et le Sud de l’Europe”at the Quinto Congreso Latino-Americano de Historia Económica (CLADHE V) that took place at the University of São Paulo – USP on July 21th 2016.  The ppt presentation can be download at Research Gate.

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Brazil versus Rousseff. (I witnessed the largest protest ever)

Brasilia, March 13th. Early in the morning I started hearing the cars honking. It was just the beginning of a memorable day. A spontaneous popular manifestation is not an ordinary thing. On the streets, I saw people wearing yellow shirts, Brazil colors were everywhere… windows dressed with Brazil’s flags, wrapping cars, bikes.

Brazilians are generally complacent when it comes to politics. The sentiment that corruption is a cultural treat has been part of the nation’s “personality” for quite some time. So what draws millions of people all over the country to protest against the labor party (PT) of Lula and his successor Dilma Rousseff?


“You paid for this” a triplex presumably built for Lula (under investigation)

After the Mensalão scandal, when many PT leaders went to prison for corruption, a number of factors piled up. Critics of the dubious conduction of the economy including fiscal fraud and lethargy in implementing structural reforms, begin to partner with the sentiment that the only interest of Lula and his friends were to get rich and stay in power for as long as possible.

This Sunday’s protests are a clear expression of what the majority of the population wants. The message is simple: no more corruption. In a peaceful and even humorous way, the popular spontaneity also reinforced  the independence from political parties.

Brazilians are not looking for a new charismatic leader,  but the goal is to reinforce the principle that nobody is above the law, no matter how rich and powerful. Lula is under investigation and the same people who elected him, now wants him to be judged with severity.

The hero is the judge. Sergio Moro, the head of the team investigating the scheme of corruption on the highest level of the republic, was honored while even the opposition leaders like Aecio Neves, had to cancel his speech due to poor popular reception in São Paulo.

It was really a memorable day.



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World to halt investments in Brazil? Not Marriott.

Just came across this piece saying that Marriott will keep its plans to invest in Brazil despite the economic situation and political uncertainties. Worth debating..

Why Marriott Still Plans Expansion in Brazil, Regardless of Economic Woes

A Marriott VP of development explains why a struggling economy won’t put the brakes on Marriott’s plan to expand in Brazil.

Marriott Sao Paulo


Forget about a struggling economy and other issues:Marriott International (NASDAQ:MAR) still plans to increase its number of locations in Brazil nearly threefold by 2018. A few years ago, Brazil was thought to be the next high-growth developing economy, as China was a few decades ago. However, now that Brazil’s economy is contracting and the country is facing inflation issues, why is Marriott still planning this aggressive development effort in Brazil?

Marriott’s surging development throughout Latin America
Marriott’s first hotel in Latin America was in Mexico in 1990, and over the next 20 years Marriott added 50 hotels in the region. However, from there development exploded, and that number doubled in the next five years from 50 to 100. Now Marriott says it will add another 60 in the region over the next three years.

Those 60 hotels are spread throughout the Latin American region, but Brazil seems to be the country with the biggest increase. The company now has six locations in Brazil, with 11 more in the pipeline to open by 2018.

Isn’t Marriott concerned about Brazil’s struggling economy?
Brazil’s economy is expected to contract about 3% over the next year, while inflation rises over 9%. Isn’t Marriott concerned about these issues? I posed this question to Marriott VP of Development Guilherme Cesari. He told me that he believes these economic issues are short term, saying:

This pipeline today is a result of the efforts from four years ago, and there’s no reason to slow it down. Although Brazil is struggling now, we believe the economy will recover and that the demand is still strong and has potential to grow in the long term. Marriott is focused on the long term.

Cesari noted that Brazil still has a strong domestic market, not only with international travelers, but also with many local business and other professionals traveling nationally and needing professional-level hotels. He also noted that Brazil has more than 15 cities with more than 1 million residents, which he calls gateway cities.

With a strong and growing middle class and domestic market, Cesari says there’s a hole in the market for the kind of service Marriott offers — consistent quality in the moderate tier. Marriott sees potential to be the moderate-tier hotel of choice in Brazil, not only for foreigners but also, and more importantly, for locals. To make sure it’s the hotel of choice for the local consumer, Marriott is adapting its brand specifically to Brazil.

“Adapting the brand to the market”
Marriott operates 19 various brands around the world, ranging in levels of luxury and service. However, Marriott is only bringing brands it thinks will be the most successful to this market, as well as altering each brand to fit the local market appropriately. This is what Cesari told me:

We are picking brands that will be most successful in the region, bringing in about nine of the 19. Besides that, we are adapting the brand to the market. On all fronts we have a mind-set that is more adaptive to local markets working with local staff that understand those markets. In terms of brands we are adapting to what works in those markets, for example room size. We reviewed how to do the breakfast, how to size the rooms, et cetera.

That’s also why Marriott owns some of these locations and why some are being built by local partners in a franchise type of agreement. Of the seven hotels already under construction in Brazil, Marriott owns only two. The others are under construction by local partners, which Cesari says helps to localize Marriott’s offerings.

Brazil is just one small part of a large global expansion plan
Cesari’s comments make it clear that Marriott is focused on the long-term potential of the Brazilian market, regardless of the current economic woes Brazil is facing, and that the company is working to adapt to be the moderate-tier hotel of choice for the local population, not just international travelers.

In addition, Brazil represents just one small part of a massive expansion push worldwide. As of the most recent quarterly earnings release, Marriott has more than 260,000 rooms in the pipeline worldwide that are in construction or waiting to start construction soon. While this expansion in Brazil is surprising given current economic conditions, it’s just one of many regional bets that Marriott is making — others include its development in other seemingly unique regions such as Africa. It’s the long-term focus, diversified bets, and impressive expansion plans worldwide over the next few years that make Marriott look especially interesting now.

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Brazil’s Economy – Desperation

I have a friend in Brazil who tried to send herself a package with cloths, the value of which was maybe $100 dollars. The Brazilian government tried to levy a tax of $1563 reais ($350 dollars). At both the small scale, personal level, and at the macroeconomic level, I am afraid that Brazil has become a joke. Serious people, my friends from Harvard, Stanford, and Jesuit schools think that Brazil is shorthand for corruption, mismanagement, and outright stupidity, with a population so uneducated that almost every simple job requires 3 or 5 Brazilians, just to make work for the uneducated masses. Here, the President of Brazil shows where the money that the Brazilian government tries to collect is going — to pay for the primary deficit in the budget. Is it any wonder that so many Brazilians with any money are putting it in American banks, or sending their children to America or Europe for extended educations?

Brazil’s economy

Desperate times, desperate moves

Beset by dismal economic data, Dilma Rousseff tosses Congress a challenge

WHEN a president has single-figure approval ratings, faces calls for her impeachment, and has lost control of her political base, is she in a position to play hardball with the country’s legislators? Brazilians will soon find out.

On August 31st Dilma Rousseff, their president, sent Congress a budget for 2016 with a gaping primary deficit (before interest payments) of 30.5 billion reais ($8 billion), or 0.5% of GDP, challenging its members to close the gap. It was a break with the sound-money practices that have underpinned Brazil’s economy. It was, some critics say, illegal. Certainly nothing similar has happened since at least 2000, when Fernando Henrique Cardoso, then the president, transformed public finances.

On a charitable view, Ms Rousseff was shocking legislators into making hard decisions rather than simply blocking her fiscal proposals. A harsher reading is that she does not know how to lead Brazil out of recession. The markets took that view. The day after the budget bombshell, the Ibovespa stock index fell over 2% and the currency closed at 3.7 per dollar, its lowest since December 2002.  On September 2nd, the central bank held steady a key interest rate it had been raising since last year.

Public finances have already deteriorated this year. Having originally planned a primary surplus of 1.1%, in July the government cut that target to just 0.15%, as interest rates rose and tax receipts fell. The total deficit this year will be 8-9% of GDP. In August Moody’s, a rating agency, cut its assessment of Brazil by a notch to just above junk status. It hinted at worse to come by calling the latest news a sign of “the fiscal challenges that Brazil continues to face”.

The risk of a downgrade is one reason for the pessimism which, some pundits think, is now the prevailing mood in the corridors of power. “The government is basically throwing in the towel,” says Alberto Ramos, an economist with Goldman Sachs, an investment bank.

Ms Rousseff is in a tight corner. She issued her budget after scrapping a plan to reinstate a tax on financial transactions that would have brought in 80 billion reais in 2016. She retreated after her vice-president, Michel Temer, rejected the idea and told her Congress would block it. Several opposition figures say that, far from finding a way to make Congress do homework, the president has broken a fiscal-responsibility law enacted in 2000 as part of an effort to mend Brazil’s finances after decades of chaos. They say they may take her to court.

On this point, the president may be right. Mansueto Almeida, an economist who is critical of Ms Rousseff, says that though the law requires the executive to show how its spending will be funded, it allows a rise in debt. Júlio Marcelo de Oliveira, a prosecutor for the Federal Court of Accounts, agreed that the president, whose alleged budgetary misdeeds he has previously investigated, acted legally this time.

Legal or not, the president’s move weakens her American-trained finance minister, Joaquim Levy, who was reported to have lobbied for further spending cuts and was a reassuring figure for markets. Ms Rousseff has consistently failed to hit economic targets since being elected in 2010, but in the early days she dodged the political flak. Many people blamed her then finance minister, Guido Mantega, who was known for over-promising. Replacing him with Mr Levy was supposed to fix that problem; his loss of face bodes ill.

To restore credibility, Mr Ramos argues, the government needs to end up with a primary surplus of 3.0-3.5% of GDP. Simply stabilising the debt-to-GDP radio is not good enough, he says: it is already too high. At a minimum, tough horse-trading with Congress looms. Renan Calheiros, the president of Brazil’s Senate who has had several rows with Ms Rousseff this year, said on September 1st he would not send the budget back to her, as many opposition people want. “It is up to Congress to improve it,” he accepted. And on any fair assessment, Congress shares a lot of blame for Brazil’s economic woes; for example, it neutered many of Mr Levy’s better ideas.

Is there any way out? It looks unlikely that tax rises can be avoided: about 90% of the budget is ring-fenced, leaving little discretion for spending cuts. If the government were strong and confident, it might acknowledge the need for a short-term rise in debt while seeking ways to limit spending on pensions, health and education, and laying out a long-term plan to restore fiscal health. But pushing such reforms through Congress would take political will and capital, and this was not done during Brazil’s boom years when it would have been easier. Now, says Mr Almeida, “We are paying for all of the mistakes [of] the past five years.” The mystery, he adds, is why Brazil has not lost its investment grade already.

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Standard & Poor’s demote Brazil’s debt to junk status; Petrobras, not Investment Grade

The Economist has this piece out, today. I must ask, is it just my impression, or are many wealthy Brazilians actually out of the country, trying as hard as possible to give birth in America, etc.?

“Petrobras, the state-controlled energy firm which is also at the centre of Brazil’s biggest-ever corruption scandal, earned another dubious distinction as the world’s largest company without an investment-grade credit rating.”

Brazil’s sagging economy

Recession’s sharp bite

The shrinking of a once-vibrant economy is shocking ordinary folk as well as number-crunchers

JOB centres are rarely upbeat places. In Brazil, where they are often a last resort for those who lack the personal connections that lubricate much of life in the country, they can be particularly bleak. Francisco, a 54-year-old driver queuing at one in downtown São Paulo, has had no work for over two years. The lines have never been longer, he sighs. “It’s the crisis.”

Brazil’s growth has been anaemic for years. It averaged 2% a year during President Dilma Rousseff’s first term in office from 2011 to 2014—despite booming global demand for the country’s soyabeans, iron ore and oil. Government meddling with the private sector, combined with excessively loose monetary and fiscal policy, sapped confidence; investment dried up and inflation soared. Without the crutch of high commodity prices, GDP has now collapsed (by 1.9% in the second quarter of 2015, compared with the first), pulling the hitherto resilient labour market with it.

Nearly 500,000 jobs have been cut since January. Researchers at Fundação Getulio Vargas, a business school, reckon another 2.5m will be shed before the end of 2016. Unemployment rose to 7.5% in July, from 4.9% a year earlier—the fastest annual rise on record (see chart 1). It is expected to hit roughly 10% at the end of next year, and stay there for some time. Speak to Brazilians and it is hard to find anyone without a friend or family member on the dole.

From flophouses to boardrooms, moods darkened further in the wake of the decision last week by Standard & Poor’s to demote Brazil’s debt to junk status, following Ms Rousseff’s inept efforts to cast onto an unco-operative Congress the responsibility for balancing the budget. The rating agency subsequently downgraded dozens of big Brazilian companies, including several large banks. Petrobras, the state-controlled energy firm which is also at the centre of Brazil’s biggest-ever corruption scandal, earned another dubious distinction as the world’s largest company without an investment-grade credit rating. At the start of the year Petrobras accounted for about one-tenth of total Brazilian investment; now it may need to trim its capital expenditure by even more than the 40% it announced in June.

S&P’s decision mainly reflected pre-existing worries about the Brazilian economy. Neither the stockmarket nor the real—down by 30% against the dollar since January—nosedived in the days after the announcement; this suggested that a return to junk status had largely been priced in. But the news has certainly added to the gloom. Already-high borrowing costs for both the public and private sector will rise, and with them the risk of further downgrades. Pension and mutual funds that can only hold investment-grade assets will offload Brazilian bonds at a brisker pace, in anticipation of similar moves by Moody’s and Fitch. (Typically, two of the big three rating agencies need to slap a “junk” label on a country’s bonds before such funds are obliged to divest.)

This will not cripple the Brazil of today, with its diversified economy and plump foreign-exchange reserves, as it might have in earlier, more chaotic times. Ilan Goldfajn of Itaú, a big Brazilian bank, expects net inflows into Brazil’s capital markets to bottom out at $10 billion in 2016, down from $45 billion in 2014.

But divestment will make it harder for Brazil to shake off its worst recession in decades. This week analysts polled by the Central Bank once again once took an axe to growth forecasts (see chart 2). The OECD, a rich-country club, thinks GDP could shrink by 2.8% this year and 0.7% next. A weaker currency has stoked inflation, which the Central Bank has been trying hard to quench with (contractionary) interest-rate rises. This has failed to boost exporters much—leaving aside Brazil’s hyper-competitive farmers. Few expect growth to rebound before 2018, when the next presidential election is due. Income per person, which peaked in 2011, may take longer to recover.

Since disavowing the interventionist policies of her first term, Ms Rousseff has tried, unsuccessfully, to pick a path between fiscal orthodoxy, championed by her finance chief, and stimulus demanded by her planning minister and many in her left-wing Workers’ Party. To appease the former camp, on September 14th the government presented another set of belt-tightening measures worth 65 billion reais ($17 billion), including a pay freeze for some public servants and a controversial tax on financial transactions.

Just like the government’s earlier efforts, these look half-hearted: insufficient to repair public finances and unleash a spirit of exuberance, but more than enough to enrage Congress, over which the increasingly unpopular president has no control and where a movement to oust her is gaining steam. Ms Rousseff is clinging on to her job for the time being. Many ordinary Brazilians have not been so lucky.

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