Cablegate: Brazilian Growth Prospects

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.





E.O. 12958: N/A
SUBJECT: Brazilian Growth Prospects

Ref. Brasilia 606

1. (U) Summary. The Brazilian economy grew a modest 1.5%
in 2002, as a strong export performance offset falling
domestic consumption and investment. The Central Bank
expects growth will reach 2.8% in 2003, led by trade and
agriculture and a modest increase in domestic consumption
and manufacturing. Many market analysts are more
skeptical, though, noting that with high interest rates
there are few new sources of growth that will drive
economic expansion. End summary.

2002 Rescued by Trade

2. (U) The Brazilian economy grew modestly in 2002, 1.5%,
while GDP growth per capita was almost flat, 0.2%. These
results are almost the same as in 2001 (GDP growth of 1.4%,
per capita GDP growth of 0.1%).

3. (U) Growth was spread relatively evenly across the four
quarters in seasonally adjusted terms, although the fourth
quarter turned in a relatively impressive year-on-year
result, 3.4%, in part because production in the the last
quarter of 2001 was depressed because of the energy crisis.

4. (U) For the year, agriculture registered the strongest
growth, 5.8%, while industry and services both came in at
1.5%. However, industry did have a strong fourth quarter,
growing at 6.9%.

5. (U) A more striking picture about the performance of
the Brazilian economy in 2002 comes from the demand side.
For the year, family consumption (-0.7%) and business
investment (-4.1%) both fell, while the government
increased by a modest 1.0%. (Business investment finally
began to pick up in the fourth quarter, growing 4.2%.)
However, the real force behind what growth that took place
was on the trade side, with exports up 7.8% and imports
down 12.8%. Together, these two factors contributed 2.8
percentage points towards growth, offsetting falling
domestic consumption and investment.

What's in Store for 2003?

6. (SBU) According to the Central Bank's survey of market
analysts, the average GDP growth forecast for 2003 is 2%.
However, that average disguises a wide range of views on
2003 growth potential. In early February, Luis Fernando
Lopes of JPMorgan increased his forecast to 2.5%, arguing
that the strong performance by the trade sector should
continue to pull the economy along, while underplaying the
impact of interest rate increases, saying that they have
little impact on the average consumer. Rodrigo Azevedo of
Credit Suisse First Boston, on the other hand, estimates
that growth will only be 1.0% for the year. He allows that
the trade sector should be strong, but asserts that it will
be the only factor for growth, while domestic consumption
and investment will be suppressed by tight fiscal and
monetary policy. Andrei Spacov of Unibanco lowered his
forecast for 2003 from 2.0% to 1.5% because of the recent
tightening of monetary policy (reftel).

7. (SBU) Econoff discussed 2003 growth prospects with
Altamir Lopes, Chief Economist at the Central Bank. Lopes
defended the Central Bank's 2.8% growth projection as
realistic. He said the projection is based on continued
growth for agriculture. He noted that the industrial
sector had been growing for seven months, and the 2003
projection does not call for additional acceleration but
assumes the sector will maintain its reasonable performance
from the last quarter of 2002 (2.4% growth). Lopes added
that that two subsectors, petroleum and electricity, should
grow rapidly, providing an additional impetus for overall
growth. He noted that the construction sector has begun to
pick up as well, and the Central Bank forecast assumes it
will continue to grow at a relatively modest 2.4%.

8. (SBU) On the demand side, Lopes expects continued
strong growth due to exports and import substitution. (He
noted that the impact of growing exports has been magnified
domestically since, with the depreciation of the real,
dollar-denominated trade has increased its weight in the
Brazilian economy.) Lopes argued that family consumption
should pick up even with suppressed real wages, pointing to
increased income in the agricultural sector, increased one-
time disbursements of unemployment benefits (FGTS), and
increased social payments under the Lula administration.
And Lopes expects that certain industries will continue to
invest, noting that some export industries are operating at
capacity or are anticipating continued growth.

9. (SBU) Lopes ended by noting that the 2.8% projection
assumes little economic fallout from a quick war in the
Middle East. He said a protracted war might reduce growth
by around 0.3 percentage points.

10. (SBU) Comment. Lopes highlights a range of factors
that could sustain growth in 2003, although we would be
surprised if the economy expands 2.8% this year. Given
that domestic consumption and investment has been flat for
two years because of economic turbulence, we suspect that
there is significant pent-up demand that could be released
if the overall economic environment is benign. That is a
big if, however, given uncertainties about a war with Iraq
and the ability of the Lula government to deliver economic
reform. On top of that, the government is going to have to
maintain tight monetary and fiscal policy. Therefore we
expect that growth is more likely to be in the range of
1.5-2.0%, and at most around 2.5% if everything breaks the
right way.


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