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Anadolu Agency

LONDON — Brazil lost 1.54 million jobs in 2015, officials said Thursday, as the country’s economy continues to contract amid the worst recession in a generation.

Industrial, civil construction and services sectors were worst affected, according to statistics issued by Brazil’s Ministry of Labor and Employment, which represent the worst result in 24 years.

Labor Minister Miguel Rossetto admitted 2015 had been a “difficult” year. “It is not a good result. We saw a reduction in jobs and average salaries, but the victories of previous years have been preserved as the level of jobs remains high,” Rossetto was quoted by local media as saying.

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Anadolu Agency

LONDON — Brazil’s economy will shrink by nearly 3 percent in 2016, according to estimates published Monday in a weekly central bank survey of 100 of the country’s economic institutions.

Gross domestic product in Latin America’s largest economy will contract by 2.95 percent in the thirteenth consecutive cut in the outlook for 2016.

The predictions are more than previously expected by economists, as economic output and confidence continue to dwindle amid a prolonged political crisis.

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Anadolu Agency

SÃO PAULO – The Brazilian economy has fallen into recession a little more than a month before the country’s general elections, according to figures released on Friday by Brazil’s national statistics agency, the IBGE.

Economic output fell 0.6 percent in the second quarter of 2014, compared to the first quarter, the agency said.

Previous figures indicated that the GDP had grown 0.2 percent between January and March, but the revised numbers show the economy had actually shrunk 0.2 percent in the first quarter, signaling a technical recession – defined as two consecutive quarters of negative growth.

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Anadolu Agency

SÃO PAULO – Market analysts in Brazil have predicted, for the first time, that the country’s economy will expand by less than 1% in 2014, according to a Central Bank report published on Monday.

Analysts now believe the Brazilian economy will grow by 0.97% this year, according to the bank’s most recent Focus Bulletin, after analysts cut their GDP (gross domestic product) growth forecasts for an eighth consecutive week.

The figures, based on a survey of around 100 Brazilian economists, are the worst estimate recorded since the Central Bank began publishing the data. Last week the figure stood at 1.05%.

The news is yet another blow to the economic credentials of the government of President Dilma Rousseff, who is seeking re-election in October, and is also likely to hit confidence in Latin America’s largest economy, already hampered by low confidence and concerns over above-target inflation.

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On the face of it, Thursday brought some sorely-needed good news for Brazil.

The country’s national office of statistics, the IBGE, confirmed the country’s economy had bounced back, if only modestly, with better-than-expected results for the last quarter of 2013 and the year overall, achieving annual GDP growth of 2.3% – more than the US, the UK and other advanced economies.

Brazil Finance Minister Guido Mantega. Photo: Marcello Casal Jr/Agência Brasil

Brazil’s Finance Minister Guido Mantega said the figures were a ‘surprise’ for the government. Photo: Marcello Casal Jr/Agência Brasil

After negative growth in the third quarter of 2013, some economists feared Brazil could be facing a technical recession.

In the end the fourth quarter rebounded with 0.7% growth, buoyed by strong consumer spending, investment and 2.0% growth in the country’s services industry, upon which 70% of the economy relies.

The surprise uptick in the economy is a much-needed boost for the government of President Dilma Rousseff, who is seeking re-election in this October’s general elections, and has been suffering from a compounding of anti-government protests, World Cup concerns, political scandals, and more recently problems with water and power supplies – all of which have seen approval ratings for both Ms Rousseff and her government slide.

Finance Minister Guido Mantega told reporters the positive fourth quarter results had come as a surprise, saying 2013 had seen “quality growth spurred among other things by investments”.

It was certainly better than in 2012, when Brazil grew just 1%; however, the general feeling among analysts surveyed by Anadolu Agency appears to be that the results are mildly encouraging at best, and indeed, nobody is expecting growth to return to the impressive 7.5% seen in 2010 or even to the 4% average seen over much of the last decade, when the economy was boosted by China’s seemingly unstoppable demand for Brazilian commodities.

Over the past decade, Brazil has used available cheap and plentiful external finance options to catalyse a consumption boom, which led to the ‘feel-good factor’ experienced particularly by new middle-class Brazilians in recent years.

But it also led to significant consumer debt and over-target inflation. Now China is no longer buying such vast quantities of commodities, and the global economy is still struggling to recover.

Growth grounded?

Mr Mantega said industry in Brazil was suffering from a “lack of dynamism in the global market”, but was upbeat about the future, defending Brazil as now being in better shape to tackle international instability.

However, once touted as a star among emerging markets, today Brazil’s economic prowess is being described more than ever in shades of ‘fragile’ and ‘vulnerable’, and the IMF recently labelled Brazil as one of the most susceptible emerging economies.

In truth, Brazil has always been a vulnerable economy.

Although international instability, currency volatility, and dwindling demand from China certainly play a role, economists say internal problems – substandard infrastructure, rampant consumer debt and dismal confidence in both the country’s market and policymakers’ decisions at the Central Bank – are also hampering growth and believe Brazil now faces a long period of uninspiring annual growth of around 2%.

I’m sceptical about the economy’s future. We have major issues with infrastructure and the labour market and reforms are sorely needed,” Fernando Chague, professor of economics at the University of São Paulo (FEA-USP), told Anadolu Agency.

According to the USP economist, Brazil failed to implement the necessary fiscal changes in the last decade, while the going was good, and grew largely “in spite of the government”.

“There’s no political strength to do so now, and the uncertainty we are facing is not good for the economy,” Professor Chague warns.

Neil Shearing, chief emerging markets economist at London-based macroeconomic research company Capital Economics says Brazil could in theory get back to annual growth of four percent: “First, economic reform would have to take place to rebuild the supply side of the country’s economy, but politically this would be very difficult at the current time.”

Brazil is now entering the home straight to this year’s general elections, with political campaigns set to start in earnest later this year.

“The much more probable scenario is therefore one of continued weak annual growth of around two percent,” says Mr Shearing.

Boosting confidence

But there have been some positive comments emerging from the situation, and a few economists praised the results and the country’s 6.3-percent increase in investment last year.

That jump in investment should go some way to convincing wary investors that improvements to the economy are occurring and that the government is likely to be more market-friendly should President Rousseff win a second term in office.

Regaining sagging market confidence at home and overseas is also going to be key to getting Brazil back to more impressive results, but investment is still below the level that many investors would like to see and pessimism is said to reign among business leaders – who bemoan the incumbent government’s monetary policy as having been too overbearing.

Businesses also want Brazil to tackle the toxic mixture of suffocating bureaucracy, a poorly educated labour force and infrastructure that is not fit for purpose – all of which increases the price of doing business in Brazil, often referred to as the “Brazil cost”.

Professor Chague cites the example of Brazil’s ports which, despite investment, still experience major backlogs in getting goods in and out of the country.

Investments have been promised in the government’s official acceleration plans (PAC) and in some cases made – but progress is slow and many projects have hit obstacles.

Tough year to come

The overseas market has also not been enamoured by Brazil’s national debts, even though the government has promised to cut US$18.5 billion in public spending this year to show it is tackling the issue.

With extra investments promised for infrastructure, the World Cup and the Olympics to pay for, and more money pledged for cash-strapped public services in response to protesters, few people are expecting Brazil to spend less this year, and ratings agencies have hinted they might put Brazil on a negative outlook if signs of economic improvement fail to appear.

Most market analysts put GDP growth forecasts for 2014 at 1.7 percent and the government’s official prediction has recently been slashed from 3.8 to 2.5 percent.

Despite this Mr Mantega says he believes the Brazilian economy to be “on a trajectory of gradual acceleration [that] will continue in 2014” and described 2013 as a “difficult year”.

But the government is in a Catch 22 situation: they must spend more to appease social unrest and prove they are investing more and improving infrastructure, but also simultaneously cut spending to allay market concerns and bolster confidence.

Several additional issues – including a severe drought in parts of the country affecting harvests, economic chaos in neighbouring Argentina and Venezuela, as well as ongoing protests and the make-or-break of this year’s World Cup – could also collude to stymie economic activity further and make 2014 yet another difficult year.

Extended version of article for Anadolu Agency

Brazil’s Central Bank has revealed that foreign investors have reduced the amount of capital they are investing in Brazil from US$12.4 billion to US$7.5 billion in the first six months of 2012, representing a drop of 40%.

External investors have been disappointed after the weaker performance posted by Brazil in the past two years, and analysts say government fiscal policy altering the exchange rate of Brazil’s currency, the real, has eroded investors’ bank balances and led to a change in the mood of the market.

President Dilma Rousseff is set to unveil a new stimulus package this week, expected to include tax relief and reduced energy bills for industries, as well as privatization schemes for roads, railways and airports.

However despite previous interventions from the government – including slashing interest rates and increasing access to cheaper loans – official predictions for 2012 growth have been cut from 4.5 to 3.0%, and some are predicting as low as 1.5%.

Brazil’s main stock exchange – the Ibovespa – has taken a tumble in the past few months. (Image: Yahoo Finances)

Some in the Brazilian media have described the fiscal policies as “a bucket of cold water” in investors’ faces.

However, it appears the story isn’t this simple: economists are divided as to whether the foreign capital exodus is based on facts concerning the slowdown of the Brazilian economy due to reduced demand for commodities from China, and the rippling effects of the Europe economic crisis and general lacklustre mood of the world economy, or whether it’s got more to do with an overly negative, pessimistic impression of Brazil’s economy by foreign investors.

Some are saying that foreigners have humoured the Brazilian economy long enough, and are seeking an alternative: Mexico – dubbed by some as the “New Brazil”. Its main stock exchange skyrocketed over 17% this year alone.

However, Brazil’s main São Paulo-based Ibovespa stock exchange has had 4.15% wiped off its dollar value year-on-year, after a noticeable exodus by foreign investors began some four months ago – now totalling nearly US$1.8 billion in lost shares.

Read more on this in my business article for The Rio Times here.