Brazil President Celebrates End of Recession. Not So Fast, Say Economists

President Michel Temer posted on his Twitter account celebrating the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) result for the first quarter of this year, which was 1% bigger than the GDP of the last quarter of 2016: “The recession is over!” he said.

Data on Brazilian economy was released this June 1st by the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE). Brazil’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) grew 1% in the first quarter of this year compared to the fourth quarter of last year (seasonally adjusted).

This has been the first increase after two consecutive years of decline. Compared to the same period of 2016, the GDP was down by 0.4%.

In absolute numbers, the GDP totaled US$ 493.2 billion in the first quarter of 2017.

In his Twitter post, the president cited measures adopted by the government and the pension and labor reforms currently being discussed in Congress. “Brazil is growing again. And the reforms will make it grow even more,” the president twitted.

Earlier, Finance Minister Henrique Meirelles also commented on the result: “This is a historic day. After two years, Brazil emerged from the worst recession of the century.”

According to the minister, the significant growth of the economy at the beginning of this year shows there has been a trend shift.

“There’s more we need to do to achieve full economic recovery, but we are on the right track,” he concluded.

For many economists, however, it is premature to declare the crisis is over. In several areas there are still no clear signs of recovery for the coming months. The situation is complicated by recent revelations about corruption in the government, which include President Michel Temer.

Brazil was in the so-called “technical recession” since the second quarter of 2015, after two consecutive quarters of contraction of GDP. Using the same criterion, the economy left the recession territory growing 1% in the 1st quarter and registering two consecutive positive results.

“The country was coming out of the ICU, but it’s back there now,” said the chief economist at Austin Ratings, Alex Agostini, commenting on the recent scandals and the increase of the popular movement in the streets against the Temer administration.

According to Agostini, it will take four consecutive quarters of positive GDP before we can declare the end of the recession.

“We are still in a process of recovering expectations and this has not yet been translated into greater production, investment and consumption in order to remove the country from recession,” he said.

Selic Cut

The Central Bank of Brazil unanimously cut its key Selic rate by 100 basis points to 10.25 percent on Wednesday May 31st of 2017, as widely anticipated. It is the sixth straight rate decline, bringing borrowing costs to the lowest since December of 2013 amid slowing inflation and a gradual recovery.

Wednesday’s decision follows a 100 bps cut in the April 12th of 2017 meeting. Interest Rate in Brazil averaged 15.59% from 1999 until 2017, reaching an all time high of 45% in March of 1999 and a record low of 7.25% in October of 2012.

The Central Bank Copom states that it was unanimously decided to reduce the Selic rate by one percentage point, to 10.25% per year, without bias. The following observations provide an update of the Copom’s baseline scenario:

The set of indicators of economic activity released since the last Copom meeting remains consistent with stabilization of the Brazilian economy in the short run and a gradual recovery during the course of the year. If sustained over long period, high levels of uncertainty regarding the evolution of reforms and adjustments in the economy can have detrimental effects on economic activity;

Stronger global economic activity has so far mitigated the effects on the Brazilian economy of possible changes of economic policy in central economies;

Inflation developments remain favorable. Disinflation is widespread and includes IPCA components that are most sensitive to the business cycle and monetary policy. It is necessary to monitor possible impacts of higher uncertainty on the prospective path of inflation;

Inflation expectations for 2017 collected by the Focus survey fell to around 4.0%. Expectations for 2018 are around 4.4%, and expectations for 2019 and longer horizons are around 4.25%;

Copom’s inflation projections for 2017 and 2018 in the scenario with interest rate and exchange rate paths extracted from the Focus survey are around 4.0% and 4.6%, respectively. This scenario assumes a path for the policy interest rate that ends 2017 at 8.5% and remains at that level until the end of 2018. The Committee emphasizes that its conditional inflation forecasts currently involve a higher level of uncertainty.

The Committee views the heightened uncertainty regarding the speed of the process of reforms and adjustments in the Brazilian economy as the main risk factor. This arises from both a higher probability of scenarios that may hinder this process, and the difficulty in assessing the effects of these scenarios on the determinants of inflation.

Taking into account the baseline scenario, the balance of risks, and the wide array of available information, the Copom unanimously decided to reduce the Selic rate by one percentage point, to 10.25% per year, without bias. The Committee judges that convergence of inflation to the 4.5% target over the relevant horizon for the conduct of monetary policy, which includes 2017 and, to a greater extent, 2018, is compatible with the monetary easing process.

The Copom emphasizes that the extension of the monetary easing cycle will depend, among other factors, on estimates of the structural interest rate of the Brazilian economy. The Committee judges that the recent increase in the uncertainty regarding the evolution of reforms and adjustments in the economy hampers a more timely reduction of estimates of the structural interest rate, and makes them more uncertain. The Committee will continue to reassess these estimates over time.

In light of the basic scenario and current balance of risks, the Copom judges that a moderate reduction of the pace of monetary easing relative to the pace adopted today is likely to be appropriate at its next meeting. Naturally, the pace of monetary easing will continue to depend on the evolution of economic activity, the balance of risks, possible reassessments of the extension of the cycle, and on inflation forecasts and expectations.

The following members of the Committee voted for this decision: Ilan Goldfajn (Governor), Anthero de Moraes Meirelles, Carlos Viana de Carvalho, Isaac Sidney Menezes Ferreira, Luiz Edson Feltrim, Otávio Ribeiro Damaso, Reinaldo Le Grazie, Sidnei Corrêa Marques, and Tiago Couto Berriel.

ABr/Bzz/MP

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It seems the future never arrives in Brazil What Lies Ahead in Brazil? Brazil Has No Exemplary Past or Present. But What Lies Ahead for the Country? Europeans, US, developed country, developing country. Bolsonaro, future B. Michael Rubin For years, experts have debated what separates a developing country from a developed one. The GDP (Gross Domestic Product) of a country is one simple way to measure its economic development. Another way to measure a country's progress is the extent of public education, e.g. how many citizens complete high school. A country's health may be measured by the effectiveness of its healthcare system, for example, life expectancy and infant mortality. With these measurement tools, it's easier to gauge the difference between a country like Brazil and one like the U.S. What's not easy to gauge is how these two countries developed so differently when they were both "discovered" at the same time. In 1492 and 1500 respectively, the U.S. and Brazil fell under the spell of white Europeans for the first time. While the British and Portuguese had the same modus operandi, namely, to exploit their discoveries for whatever they had to offer, not to mention extinguishing the native Americans already living there if they got in the way, the end result turned out significantly different in the U.S. than in Brazil. There are several theories on how/why the U.S. developed at a faster pace than Brazil. The theories originate via contrasting perspectives – from psychology to economics to geography. One of the most popular theories suggests the divergence between the two countries is linked to politics, i.e. the U.S. established a democratic government in 1776, while Brazil's democracy it could be said began only in earnest in the 1980s. This theory states that the Portuguese monarchy, as well as the 19th and 20th century oligarchies that followed it, had no motivation to invest in industrial development or education of the masses. Rather, Brazil was prized for its cheap and plentiful labor to mine the rich soil of its vast land. There is another theory based on collective psychology that says the first U.S. colonizers from England were workaholic Puritans, who avoided dancing and music in place of work and religious devotion. They labored six days a week then spent all of Sunday in church. Meanwhile, the white settlers in Brazil were unambitious criminals who had been freed from prison in Portugal in exchange for settling in Brazil. The Marxist interpretation of why Brazil lags behind the U.S. was best summarized by Eduardo Galeano, the Uruguayan writer, in 1970. Galeano said five hundred years ago the U.S. had the good fortune of bad fortune. What he meant was the natural riches of Brazil – gold, silver, and diamonds – made it ripe for exploitation by western Europe. Whereas in the U.S., lacking such riches, the thirteen colonies were economically insignificant to the British. Instead, U.S. industrialization had official encouragement from England, resulting in early diversification of its exports and rapid development of manufacturing. II Leaving this debate to the historians, let us turn our focus to the future. According to global projections by several economic strategists, what lies ahead for Brazil, the U.S., and the rest of the world is startling. Projections forecast that based on GDP growth, in 2050 the world's largest economy will be China, not the U.S. In third place will be India, and in fourth – Brazil. With the ascendency of three-fourths of the BRIC countries over the next decades, it will be important to reevaluate the terms developed and developing. In thirty years, it may no longer be necessary to accept the label characterized by Nelson Rodrigues's famous phrase "complexo de vira-lata," for Brazil's national inferiority complex. For Brazilians, this future scenario presents glistening hope. A country with stronger economic power would mean the government has greater wealth to expend on infrastructure, crime control, education, healthcare, etc. What many Brazilians are not cognizant of are the pitfalls of economic prosperity. While Brazilians today may be envious of their wealthier northern neighbors, there are some aspects of a developed country's profile that are not worth envying. For example, the U.S. today far exceeds Brazil in the number of suicides, prescription drug overdoses, and mass shootings. GDP growth and economic projections depend on multiple variables, chief among them the global economic situation and worldwide political stability. A war in the Middle East, for example, can affect oil production and have global ramifications. Political stability within a country is also essential to its economic health. Elected presidents play a crucial role in a country's progress, especially as presidents may differ radically in their worldview. The political paths of the U.S. and Brazil are parallel today. In both countries, we've seen a left-wing regime (Obama/PT) followed by a far-right populist one (Trump/Bolsonaro), surprising many outside observers, and in the U.S. contradicting every political pollster, all of whom predicted a Trump loss to Hillary Clinton in 2016. In Brazil, although Bolsonaro was elected by a clear majority, his triumph has created a powerful emotional polarization in the country similar to what is happening in the U.S. Families, friends, and colleagues have split in a love/hate relationship toward the current presidents in the U.S. and Brazil, leaving broken friendships and family ties. Both presidents face enormous challenges to keep their campaign promises. In Brazil, a sluggish economy just recovering from a recession shows no signs of robust GDP growth for at least the next two years. High unemployment continues to devastate the consumer confidence index in Brazil, and Bolsonaro is suffering under his campaign boasts that his Economy Minister, Paulo Guedes, has all the answers to fix Brazil's slump. Additionally, there is no end to the destruction caused by corruption in Brazil. Some experts believe corruption to be the main reason why Brazil has one of the world's largest wealth inequality gaps. Political corruption robs government coffers of desperately needed funds for education and infrastructure, in addition to creating an atmosphere that encourages everyday citizens to underreport income and engage in the shadow economy, thereby sidestepping tax collectors and regulators. "Why should I be honest about reporting my income when nobody else is? The politicians are only going to steal the tax money anyway," one Brazilian doctor told me. While Bolsonaro has promised a housecleaning of corrupt officials, this is a cry Brazilians have heard from every previous administration. In only the first half-year of his presidency, he has made several missteps, such as nominating one of his sons to be the new ambassador to the U.S., despite the congressman's lack of diplomatic credentials. A June poll found that 51 percent of Brazilians now lack confidence in Bolsonaro's leadership. Just this week, Brazil issued regulations that open a fast-track to deport foreigners who are dangerous or have violated the constitution. The rules published on July 26 by Justice Minister Sérgio Moro define a dangerous person as anyone associated with terrorism or organized crime, in addition to football fans with a violent history. Journalists noted that this new regulation had coincidental timing for an American journalist who has come under fire from Moro for publishing private communications of Moro's. Nevertheless, despite overselling his leadership skills, Bolsonaro has made some economic progress. With the help of congressional leader Rodrigo Maia, a bill is moving forward in congress for the restructuring of Brazil's generous pension system. Most Brazilians recognize the long-term value of such a change, which can save the government billions of dollars over the next decade. At merely the possibility of pension reform, outside investors have responded positively, and the São Paulo stock exchange has performed brilliantly, reaching an all-time high earlier this month. In efforts to boost the economy, Bolsonaro and Paulo Guedes have taken the short-term approach advocated by the Chicago school of economics championed by Milton Friedman, who claimed the key to boosting a slugging economy was to cut government spending. Unfortunately many economists, such as Nobel Prize winner Paul Krugman, disagree with this approach. They believe the most effective way to revive a slow economy is exactly the opposite, to spend more money not less. They say the government should be investing money in education and infrastructure projects, which can help put people back to work. Bolsonaro/Guedes have also talked about reducing business bureaucracy and revising the absurdly complex Brazilian tax system, which inhibits foreign and domestic business investment. It remains to be seen whether Bolsonaro has the political acumen to tackle this Godzilla-sized issue. Should Bolsonaro find a way to reform the tax system, the pension system, and curb the most egregious villains of political bribery and kickbacks – a tall order – his efforts could indeed show strong economic results in time for the next election in 2022. Meanwhile, some prominent leaders have already lost faith in Bolsonaro's efforts. The veteran of political/economic affairs, Joaquim Levy, has parted company with the president after being appointed head of the government's powerful development bank, BNDES. Levy and Bolsonaro butted heads over an appointment Levy made of a former employee of Lula's. When neither man refused to back down, Levy resigned his position at BNDES. Many observers believe Bolsonaro's biggest misstep has been his short-term approach to fixing the economy by loosening the laws protecting the Amazon rainforest. He and Guedes believe that by opening up more of the Amazon to logging, mining, and farming, we will see immediate economic stimulation. On July 28, the lead article of The New York Times detailed the vastly increased deforestation in the Amazon taking place under Bolsonaro's leadership. Environmental experts argue that the economic benefits of increased logging and mining in the Amazon are microscopic compared to the long-term damage to the environment. After pressure from European leaders at the recent G-20 meeting to do more to protect the world's largest rainforest, Bolsonaro echoed a patriotic response demanding that no one has the right to an opinion about the Amazon except Brazilians. In retaliation to worldwide criticism, Bolsonaro threatened to follow Trump's example and pull out of the Paris climate accord; however, Bolsonaro was persuaded by cooler heads to retract his threat. To prove who was in control of Brazil's Amazon region, he appointed a federal police officer with strong ties to agribusiness as head of FUNAI, the country's indigenous agency. In a further insult to the world's environmental leaders, not to mention common sense, Paulo Guedes held a news conference on July 25 in Manaus, the largest city in the rainforest, where he declared that since the Amazon forest is known for being the "lungs" of the world, Brazil should charge other countries for all the oxygen the forest produces. Bolsonaro/Guedes also have promised to finish paving BR-319, a controversial highway that cuts through the Amazon forest, linking Manaus to the state of Rondônia and the rest of the country. Inaugurated in 1976, BR-319 was abandoned by federal governments in the 1980s and again in the 1990s as far too costly and risky. Environmentalists believe the highway's completion will seal a death knoll on many indigenous populations by vastly facilitating the growth of the logging and mining industries. Several dozen heavily armed miners dressed in military fatigues invaded a Wajãpi village recently in the state of Amapá near the border of French Guiana and fatally stabbed one of the community's leaders. While Brazil's environmental protection policies are desperately lacking these days, not all the news here was bad. On the opening day of the 2019 Pan America Games in Lima, Peru, Brazilian Luisa Baptista, swam, biked, and ran her way to the gold medal in the women's triathlon. The silver medal went to Vittoria Lopes, another Brazilian. B. Michael Rubin is an American writer living in Brazil.

Brazil Has No Exemplary Past or Present. But What Lies Ahead for the Country?

For years, experts have debated what separates a developing country from a developed one. ...