The Brazilian real hit the skids on Monday, tumbling by the most in over five months as falling commodity prices and a move by president-elect Jair Bolsonaro to add another military man to his cabinet unnerved investors and gave some a reason to take profits.

The real fell as much as 2.9 per cent — the most since early June — to hit a seven-week low of R$3.9398 per dollar. The drop takes the currency’s losses over the past month to nearly 8 per cent — although it remains some 6.5 per cent higher from their mid-September lows.

The country’s benchmark Bovespa stock index, which hit a record high at the start of the month, also came off its recent peak, dropping as much as 1.1 per cent to 85,314.50.

The sharp moves lower come as iron ore prices were hammered once again on Monday. Futures for iron ore were down 4.8 per cent on China’s Dalian Commodity Exchange in early Asian trade, taking their drop since an October high to just over 15 per cent. Weaker commodity prices tend to have negative implications for major exporters like Brazil.

Adding to jitters, Mr Bolsonaro, who is set to take office on January 1, continued to fan fears of a drift to authoritarianism after he announced via Twitter the appointment of retired general Carlos Alberto Dos Santos Cruz as government secretary earlier on Monday.

Mr Bolsonaro — a former army captain who has expressed nostalgia for the country’s 1964-85 military dictatorship — has been packing his cabinet with military men since cruising to victory last month on a pledge to fight corruption and restore law and order. In addition to Mr Cruz, Mr Bolsonaro has also appointed retired generals as deputy president, national security adviser and defence minister.

The decline makes the real the day’s worst performing major currency and second worst performing EM currency after the Argentine peso.


Source: Financial Times

Brazil’s inflation rate has dropped more than expected below the official target’s midpoint, reinforcing a view that the central bank can take its time before hiking interest rates from all-time lows.

Consumer prices tracked by the benchmark IPCA index rose 4.39 percent in the 12 months through mid-November, government statistics agency IBGE said on Friday. Economists polled by Reuters had expected a 4.44 percent increase.

The central bank targets a 4.5 percent year-end rate in 2018 and 4.25 percent in 2019, plus or minus 1.5 percentage points.

Lower fuel, power and healthcare costs accounted for the bulk of the deceleration in inflation, offsetting an increase to food prices. When stripped of volatile components, so-called core inflation remained closer to 3.5 percent.

Economists at Capital Economics said the IBGE release suggests policymakers “won’t be rushed into tightening policy”.

“Overall, there is still little sign of a significant build-up in core price pressures,” they wrote in a note to clients.

The IPCA index rose 0.19 percent from mid-October, IBGE said, below a median estimate of 0.24 percent.

An underwhelming economic recovery has kept unemployment high, curbing wage gains. Meanwhile, the victory of far-right lawmaker Jair Bolsonaro in the presidential election dispelled concerns over a potential currency selloff that could boost inflation.

Subdued price pressures have driven the central bank to keep rates at an all-time low even as inflation accelerated past this year’s target midpoint in recent months.

The central bank last month kept the benchmark Selic rate at 6.50 percent and acknowledged reduced upward risks to inflation. In the minutes of that meeting, which took place just after the election, policymakers said inflation would likely peak in the second quarter of 2019 before easing towards its targets.


Source: Reuters

Record-low interest rates and a one-off windfall from the release of pent-up worker savings funds likely helped Brazil’s economy bounce back strongly in the third quarter after a nationwide truckers’ strike disrupted production earlier in the year, a Reuters poll showed.

Yet newfound strength is likely to ease soon as firms anxiously await clear signs that newly elected President Jair Bolsonaro will address their concerns over a ballooning fiscal deficit that have held back capital spending.

Gross domestic product (GDP) probably rose 0.8 percent from the second quarter, according to the median of 25 forecasts, the fastest since the first quarter of 2017.

Even the lowest estimate, of 0.3 percent, would represent an acceleration from the 0.2 percent rate seen in the second quarter, when truckers protesting high diesel prices blocked highways across Brazil, choking off flows to major industries and forcing farmers to cull their flocks and dump milk.

At the other end of the scale, the most optimistic forecaster, HSBC, predicted an expasion of 1.7 percent, which would be the highest rate since the second quarter of 2013.

Economists at JPMorgan highlighted that a statistical bounce from the strike, as well as a non-recurring government measure allowing workers to withdraw from inactive severance accounts, accounted for much of the accelerated expansion.

That measure is estimated to have injected 15 billion reais in the economy this year.

“As the effects of these events should phase out during the last quarter of the year, this strength should be temporary,” they wrote in a report.

JPMorgan expects Latin America’s largest economy to expand only 0.4 percent in the fourth quarter, in line with wider market expectations.

A weekly central bank survey of over a hundred economists put 2018 growth at 1.39 percent, which would imply a fourth-quarter expansion of only 0.3 percent.

This suggests that Brazil’s recovery from its deepest recession in decades is likely to remain slow and steady as opposed to fast and furious.

The GDP data, scheduled for Friday at 9:00 a.m. local time (1100 GMT), is expected to show a 1.6 percent expansion from the year before, based on 26 estimates ranging from 1.1 to 2.0 percent.<brgdpy=eci>

All components of demand – consumer spending, investments, government spending and net exports – likely contributed positively to growth in the third quarter, according to most of the 12 economists who replied to additional questions.

Interest rates at all-time lows helped support a recovery in corporate investments, despite uncertainty around October’s presidential election. Corporate investments had slumped 1.8 percent in the strike-depressed second quarter versus the previous three months.

While continuously rising government spending did boost growth in the short term, it is likely to crowd out corporate spending in the future — as has been the case in recent quarters, economists said.

Bolsonaro, a far-right lawmaker who won the presidency campaigning for a tough stance on crime and corruption, privatizations and deregulation, has pledged to plug the budget deficit in a matter of years.

Yet that would require negotiating an unpopular overhaul of the nation’s costly pension reform with a fragmented Congress.

Contradictory statements from Bolsonaro’s own team mean that is hardly a done deal.

“It’s been years since we’ve been saying that a pension reform is an urgent necessity and that has not changed,” said Luciano Rostagno, a strategist at Mizuho.

“We’re past the point where we can give anyone the benefit of the doubt. Unless we see clear signs that the pension reform will be a reality, companies will not invest, banks will not lend and the economy will remain as sluggish as ever”.


Source: Reuters

Brazil’s president-elect, Jair Bolsonaro, and his economic transition team selected Roberto Castello Branco to be chief executive at state-led Petrobras.

According to a statement released Monday, Castello Branco will replace current CEO Ivan Monteiro, who appears to be headed back to state-owned Banco do Brasil.

Castello Branco’s appointment is in the first of several energy policy decisions expected this week amid the transition to the new administration.

Monteiro took over as CEO after Pedro Parente was ousted in the wake of a truckers’ strike earlier this year.

Petrobras confirmed Monteiro’s term will end January 1 in a separate statement filed with local stock regulators.

Bolsonaro will be sworn in as Brazil’s president on January 1, with Castello Branco likely installed with other ministers and institutional appointments during government inauguration ceremonies.

The selection of Castello Branco is expected to ease market concerns about the future direction of Petrobras after initial forecasts that Bolsonaro, a former military officer, would appoint someone from Brazil’s army to head the country’s dominant oil producer and refiner. Castello Branco briefly served on Petrobras’ board at the height of the Car Wash corruption scandal in 2015, but left the company and criticized the speed of change at the scandal-ridden giant.

The University of Chicago-trained economist also served in high-ranking positions at the Brazilian Central Bank and mining heavyweight Vale. He currently serves as the director of the Economic Growth and Development Studies Center at Brazil’s private Getulio Vargas Foundation, which is active in promoting the opening up of Brazil’s oil and gas industry to greater competition.

The appointment of Castello Branco underscores Bolsonaro’s commitment to election promises to end Petrobras’ de facto monopoly in areas such as refining, fuel distribution, logistics and transportation. Bolsonaro has pledged to take steps toward opening up Brazil’s economy, with measures likely aimed at ending barriers to asset sales by state-led companies.

Petrobras will fall short of its $21 billion target for asset sales during the 2017-2018 period after several promising deals were undermined by lawsuits. The company planned to sell natural gas pipeline operator Transportadora Asociada de Gas, or TAG, as well as fertilizer plants and stakes in four refineries representing about 25% of the country’s installed processing capacity before a Supreme Court judge handed down an injunction blocking the sales without congressional approval.

Castello Branco, meanwhile, has previously supported the privatization of Brazil’s many state-led entities, arguing the government locks up key resources needed for ailing public services in areas that should be led by the private sector.

While Bolsonaro has supported privatizations of key parts of Petrobras, the president-elect has said he will not privatize the entire company. Petrobras is considered a national icon, so a full privatization would face massive public and political resistance.

Castello Branco takes over the top spot with Petrobras on better footing after Monteiro kept the company from defaulting during the corruption scandal and the collapse in oil prices. Monteiro pieced together several major financing deals, including several oil-for-cash swaps with state-owned Chinese banks while the company was cut off from global capital markets after failing to submit financial statements.

Monteiro arrived at Petrobras in 2015 as chief financial officer along with former Banco do Brasil CEO Aldemir Bendine, who was named to head Petrobras at the same time. Bendine has since been arrested and implicated in the scandal. Monteiro then stayed on when Parente was named Petrobras CEO in 2016. He took the top job in May after Parente was ousted following a 10-day strike by independent truckers protesting high diesel prices.

Despite his dismissal from Petrobras, Monteiro was recognized by Bolsonaro. Monteiro is expected to be named CEO at Banco do Brasil.

Bolsonaro and Castello Branco, meanwhile, still need to deal with vestiges of the truckers’ strike, which caused widespread shortages of food, fuel and medical supplies. The government implemented a diesel subsidy to settle the strike that expires on December 31, which represents one of the first issues that the two will need to address.

Bolsonaro wants Petrobras to implement a hedge to minimize the impact of foreign exchange and international price volatility on prices at the pump. The company did make a slight change to the way it adjusts gasoline prices in the third quarter that could be tweaked and used for diesel while still maintaining parity with import prices.

Castello Branco will also take over as Petrobras’ crude output is set to jump over the next 12 months. Petrobras is in the process of bringing 1.4 million b/d worth of production onstream at offshore fields in the prolific subsalt region, with nine additional floating production, storage and offloading vessels coming onstream by mid-2019.

Bolsonaro’s appointment of a new Petrobras CEO has, however, raised eyebrows among government and industry officials as it came before a mines and energy minister was named. That was considered a sign that the recent shift toward greater freedom from government interference at Petrobras will likely continue, officials said.

Several market-friendly names, however, have been mentioned as potential top dogs at the ministry, including Adriano Pires, head of local consultancy the Brazilian Infrastructure Center, and former ministry executive secretary Paulo Pedrosa.

Bolsonaro’s transition team is expected to announce the appointment this week.


Source: S&P Global Platts

Investors on Friday welcomed the appointment of Santander executive Roberto Campos to head Brazil’s central bank as a sign President-elect Jair Bolsonaro will entrust economic and monetary policy to a market-friendly team of economists.

Sao Paulo’s Bovespa stock index surged as much as 2.65 percent on Friday and Brazil’s real currency strengthened 1.2 percent against the dollar following Thursday’s announcement by incoming finance minister Paulo Guedes.

Analysts said Bolsonaro, a former army captain and lawmaker who has admitted having scant knowledge of economics, was assembling an experienced economic team to implement his plans to slash government spending, simplify Brazil’s complex tax system and sell off state-run companies.

Campos, currently the treasury director at Banco Santander Brasil SA with hands-on trading desk experience, will take over the central bank early next year from Ilan Goldfajn.

Under Goldfajn, the bank’s benchmark interest rate dropped to 6.5 percent from 14.25 percent in 2016 and inflation retreated to below government targets.

“I know Roberto Campos very well and I can assure you we will be in good hands. Wherever he has worked there have been excellent results,” said Rogerio Xavier, partner at SPX Capital, which manages about 40 billion reais ($11 billion) in assets.

Another indication of the orthodox slant of Bolsonaro’s economic team was the appointment of former finance minister Joaquim Levy, currently managing director and World Bank chief financial officer, to be the next president of Brazil’s powerful state development bank BNDES, investors said.

They also welcomed an announcement from Guedes – himself a trained economist and investment banker – that well-respected Treasury Secretary Mansueto Almeida, a fiscal policy expert, had agreed to stay on.

UBS economist Tony Volpon, a former central bank director, called these announcement “very positive” in a note to clients.

The central bank said on Friday that Carlos Viana, its board member in charge of economic policy, had agreed with Campos to stay in his position for a “considerable” amount of time.

Campos still must be confirmed by the Senate when it returns in February.

But markets saw his appointment as a sign that Bolsonaro will give his economic team headed by Guedes full autonomy to run the economy, eschewing nationalist and protectionist development policies he has advocated in the past.

Campos’ grandfather, Roberto de Oliveira Campos, was instrumental in founding Brazil’s central bank in 1964. He served as planning minister in the first years of Brazil’s 1964-1985 military government, championing free-market policies and foreign investment in Brazil, especially from the United States.

“We don’t expect significant changes in monetary policy with Campos, and Goldfajn will continue until the new president is confirmed,” Brasil Plural asset management firm said in a note to clients.

Almeida retaining his role reinforces the liberal profile of the team, the XP Investimentos brokerage said.


Source: Reuters

Brazil’s incoming far-right government on Monday turned to a University of Chicago-trained economist who has spoken in favor of privatizing Petroleo Brasileiro SA (PETR4.SA) to be the head of the state-controlled oil company.

The nomination of Roberto Castello Branco is the latest in a string of appointments of Chicago-trained, free-market economists to the team President-elect Jair Bolsonaro, who takes office on Jan. 1.

Castello Branco has in the past advocated the privatization of Petrobras, Brazil’s largest company by market capitalization and the employer of 60,000 people.

He shares his University of Chicago ties with Bolsonaro’s influential pick for economy minister, Paulo Guedes, as well as Joaquim Levy, who has been tapped to lead Brazil’s powerful state development bank, BNDES.

Chicago’s economics department has long been known for orthodox economics, particularly in Latin America, and much of Brazil’s business elite is enthused by the prospect of Chicago-linked appointees in top posts in public administration.

“He’s been public in the past about advocating for less government intervention … all the way to privatizing parts of Petrobras,” James Gulbrandsen, chief investment officer for Latin American investments at NCH Capital, said of the appointment.

“We basically have the University of Chicago economics department taking over the Brazilian economy.”

Castello Branco, a member of Petrobras’s board until 2016, has also held executive positions at Brazil’s central bank and at iron ore miner Vale SA (VALE3.SA).

He will take over from Ivan Monteiro, who will remain CEO of the oil company until Castello Branco is officially appointed by Bolsonaro, Guedes said on Monday.

In a June letter to newspaper Folha de S.Paulo, Castello Branco wrote in favor of privatizing Petrobras, a strong hint that he will aggressively push forward with the company’s ambitious divestment plans.

“We expect Petrobras’ deleveraging process and divestment program to continue under Castello Branco’s tenure,” Vincente Falanga and Oscar Camilo, analysts at Banco Bradesco BBI, wrote in a note to clients.

Castello Branco will take the helm at Petrobras amid a debate within Bolsonaro’s team over the direction of the oil producer.

 Guedes has advocated a full privatization of the company while military generals around Bolsonaro oppose such an idea. Bolsonaro himself has said he favors keeping the company in state hands but is open to privatizing certain assets.

Petrobras, which has played a leading roll in developing a bonanza of deep-water oil finds in recent decades, is a source of national pride for many Brazilians.

Yet its central role in the “Car Wash” investigation, considered by many to be the world’s largest corruption probe, has hurt its public image and bottom line in recent years.

With Petrobras burdened by some $88 billion of gross debt, the market is eager to see an ongoing divestment program maintain a full head of steam in coming years.

Castello Branco’s appointment follows the Thursday nomination of banking executive Roberto Campos Neto as head of Brazil’s central bank. University of California-trained Campos is a senior executive at Banco Santander Brasil SA (SANB11.SA).

Bolsonaro’s team first sounded out Castello Branco about his interest in the job in October, shortly after Bolsonaro won the presidential election, sources with knowledge of the matter told Reuters.

Traders said the appointment of a market-friendly CEO at Petrobras was widely expected. Some said they would have seen keeping Monteiro on as a positive as well.

“I preferred that Ivan (Monteiro) stay on, but given the change, given that (Castello Branco) was on the board, he already knows the company and he has a good profile,” said a Rio de Janeiro-based trader, who requested anonymity to speak frankly.

Preferred shares of Petrobras were down 0.3 percent in early afternoon trade, while Brazil’s benchmark Bovespa index .BVSP was off some 1.2 percent.


Source: Reuters

The Brazilian Central Bank (BC) is introducing instant payments next year as part of a number of measures geared at increasing market attractiveness and growth of the fintech segment.

Under the current system, in order to buy goods or services Brazilians need to use cards, cash or the boleto – a barcoded payment slip referring to a purchase, which can be settled at payment points such as lottery shops, supermarkets or any bank branch.

Cost of payment services currently ranges between 2.30 reais ($0.53) to 143.20 reais ($38.20), according to BC data. Same-day money transfers are only credited when transactions occur on weekdays between 6:30AM and 5PM.

The idea under the new model is to allow real-time, 24/7 payments through QR Codes and therefore allow receipt of payments without the need for equipment such as point of sale terminals. This would mean speed and lower costs to consumers as well as small businesses.

working group comprising of BC and industry representatives will define the architecture of the service and the details of the new payments ecosystem by year-end. Instant settlements are expected to be under a phased approach from next year and be fully operational by 2021.

By introducing instant payments, the Central Bank also expects to attract the interest of fintechs focused on money transfers. This will in turn bring more market competition, says the BC, as well as more choices to consumers at lower prices.

The Central Bank has also released a decree on October 30 that allows foreign investment of up to 100 percent into credit fintechs. Since May, such ventures can be defined as direct credit or peer-to-peer lending entities.

Despite having a much more limited scope than a traditional financial institution, these new ventures are part of the financial system, so foreign investment relied on the interest of the government and also involved editing a presidential decree.

Such bureaucracy restricted the investment of foreign venture capital firms until now. Under the new decree, credit fintechs can attract external investment as long as they are authorized to operate by the BC.

When announcing the new rules, the Brazilian Central Bank stated that this is part of a new agenda focused on “stimulating the market entry of new institutions, as well as competition and the process of innovation.”


Source: ZD Net

World Bank chief financial officer and former Brazilian finance minister Joaquim Levy has accepted far-right President-elect Jair Bolsonaro’s offer to lead state development bank BNDES, Bolsonaro adviser Paulo Guedes said on Monday.

“With extensive experience in public management and a PhD in economics from the University of Chicago, Joaquim Levy leaves the World Bank’s finance directorate to join the economic team of President-elect Jair Bolsonaro,” Guedes said in a statement.

Levy joined the World Bank Group in February 2016, according to the institution’s website. He had previously served as Brazil’s finance minister under former leftist president Dilma Rousseff, who was impeached in August 2016 for illegally using money from state banks to bankroll public spending.


Source: Reuters

Since Jair Bolsonaro’s election as Brazil’s next president, he has been rowing back on his criticisms of China and adopting a more pragmatic stance. Why has he done this? And what are the chances of him adopting a more robust position once he takes office in January?

During the recent election cycle, Bolsonaro claimed that “China isn’t buying in Brazil. It’s buying Brazil.” His comments reflected his fear that China was moving beyond purchasing Brazilian products and becoming more enmeshed in the Brazilian economy, including investing in nationally sensitive areas like the country’s energy-related and telecommunication services. As if criticizing China wasn’t enough, he also poked the dragon’s sensibilities when he stopped in Taiwan during a trip to East Asia in April, leading the Chinese embassy to send a letter of protest to the head of his campaign.

Little more than a week after his election on October 28, however, Bolsonaro has suddenly become more measured in his language. On November 5 he met with China’s ambassador to Brazil, Li Jinzhang, and said that China was a “great cooperation partner.” He also welcomed Chinese investment and invited more trade between the two countries.

Two immediate reasons explain Bolsonaro’s change of tack. One is that Bolsonaro’s audience during the election was domestic rather than foreign. Despite having served as a congressman for 28 years, the former army captain stood as an outsider in the presidential election. He criticized the former Workers Party government (2003-16), which oversaw the country’s fall into a severe economic crisis. In the year the crisis hit, in 2014, a massive political corruption scandal was exposed. President Lula (2003-10) was jailed and his successor, Dilma Rousseff, impeached (although for unrelated charges).

Bolsonaro’s outsider status was helped by his controversial and reactionary utterances. He denigrated gays and women and expressed support for the military dictatorship that ran Brazil until 1985. He criticized his rivals as part of a communist conspiracy and was dubbed a “Tropical Trump” after the U.S. president that he admired and with whom he indicated a desire to build closer ties.

The second reason for Bolsonaro’s current pragmatism is Brazil’s increasing economic dependency on China. Since 2009 China has become Brazil’s largest trading partner. During 2018 Brazil’s exports reached around $47 billion, about twice what it earns from the United States. In recent years, Chinese investment in Brazil has grown to $20 billion, much of which is based in more value-added sectors. Before 2010 much of the China trade was in commodities like energy supplies and food. Today it is in telecommunications and financial services.

Observers in both Brazil and China pointed out the problems for Brazil if it pushes against China. Speaking to China’s Global Times newspaper, Xu Shuicheng, a fellow at the Chinese Academy’s Institute of Latin American Studies, said, “[Bolsonaro will] realize that he cannot just cut ties with China. Where would he find such a huge market for Brazilian products? Where would be find such big investments that Brazil badly needs?” In Brazil, former President Fernando Henrique Cardoso criticized Bolsonaro for wanting to act like the United States, saying that “We don’t have this ability. China is our largest trading partner and if Brazil acts in a certain way, they will respond.”

Even if Bolsonaro could downplay the China connection and align more with the United States, the impact would be uncertain. Trump wants to protect the U.S. market by putting up barriers against exporters, like China (and perhaps Brazil). Bolsonaro, in contrast sought to win the economic elite’s support by declaring that he would carry out market reforms. That would mean opening up Brazil’s economy and state firms like the Petrobrás petroleum company or Eletrobrás electricity to privatization – which could mean Chinese buyers.

If cozying up to the United States isn’t an option, then what can Bolsonaro do to redress Brazil’s dependency on China? Here it’s worth looking at how Brazil dealt with the United States previously. Until 1945 it walked in close step with Washington. Then, during an early democratic period in 1945-64, Brazil swung between support and confrontation, before the military regime rejected the latter in favor of a cordial alignment. That position persisted into the present democratic regime after 1985, working with the United States on some issues but not others. This approach was known as “autonomy through distance.”

After the Cold War ended and the world became more globalized, Brazil integrated itself into the global economy. It traded with new partners and joined international organizations like the WTO. This approach – “autonomy through participation” – was subsequently expanded under President Lula, whose “autonomy through diversification” meant cultivating ties with more countries, especially in the developing world. It led to more South-South cooperation and links with fellow BRICS countries like China.

As Bolsonaro’s recent experience shows, direct confrontation with China is unlikely to work. Instead, he could adapt the model of autonomy, to balance Brazil’s relations with China with those of other countries. However, Bolsonaro would need to reverse the country’s foreign policy drift since the economic slowdown and become a more activist president in international affairs. He would also need to become more accommodating of Brazil’s ties with other actors – which his rhetoric suggests he may not do. Whether he follows through on them or not, he has threatened to close Brazil’s embassy with Cuba, expressed little interest in Mercosur (the South American common market which Brazil is a member of), and upset the Arab world by planning to move Brazil’s embassy to Jerusalem.

Given developments to date, then, the greater likelihood is that Brazil’s foreign policy will remain a secondary concern to Bolsonaro’s domestic concerns. In such circumstances then, Brazil’s relationship with China will continue as asymmetrical and guided by contingency rather than strategy.

Source: The Diplomat

On his first visit to Brasília since winning the presidential election, Jair Bolsonaro signaled that he would invite Central Bank President Ilan Goldfajn to stay on the job. The invitation to Ilan has already been made and that Bolsonaro’s team is waiting for an answer. The president-elect also expressed his preference for General Augusto Heleno to stay ahead of the Institutional Security Office (GSI), rather than the Ministry of Defense, as previously announced. Mr. Bolsonado also plans to announce the name of at least four more ministers still this week. During his visit, the president-elect also went to the Ministry of Defense, in a symbolic gesture before visiting the Navy Ministry and the Army’s Headquarters. In talks with military commanders, he addressed two fundamental issues for the country’s economy: the Armed Forces’ budget and military pensions.


Source: Valor International