The return of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva for a third term as Brazil's president 13 months ago initially raised concerns among investors. However, his leadership has gradually won them over, leading to positive outcomes for the country's economy.
Since Lula reassumed power last January, the iShares MSCI Brazil exchange-traded fund has witnessed an impressive growth of nearly 20%. Moreover, the tightening of local-currency bond yields by 300 basis points has illustrated improved market conditions. Rating agencies Fitch and S&P have also upgraded Brazil's sovereign credit.
Daniel Gewehr, head of Latin American equity strategy at Itaú BBA, rates Brazil's current state at a solid seven out of ten. This optimistic sentiment is reflected in the continuous drop in Brazil's central bank interest rates over the past few years, now resting at 11.25%. Experts anticipate further reduction to 9% by the end of this year. This move is expected to boost consumer spending and corporate borrowing, providing a significant 14% year-on-year earnings increase for listed companies.
Verena Wachnitz, a portfolio manager for Latin American equities at T. Rowe Price, sees potential in domestic-related stocks amidst this favorable environment. Gewehr specifically highlights car rental leader Localiza and jewelry chain Vivara as promising investment opportunities.
Varun Laijawalla, an emerging markets portfolio manager at Ninety One, believes that the decline in interest rates will have a positive impact on Brazilian real estate. Laijawalla's recommendations include leading mall franchise Multiplan Empreendimentos Imobiliários and home builder Cyrela Brazil Realty.
Among these picks, Localiza stands out as one of the top 10 Brazilian stocks. However, the dominant sectors in Brazil's index still remain commodities exporters such as Petróleo Brasileiro and Vale, as well as financial institutions.
Wachnitz expresses particular interest in B3, the parent company of the Bolsa exchange. As investors shift from less-profitable fixed-income investments to equities, B3 is expected to benefit greatly. Additionally, with companies beginning to unfreeze their initial public offerings, there is further potential for growth in the stock market.
Overall, Brazil's economic recovery and favorable market conditions have driven investor confidence. With opportunities emerging across different sectors, now is an opportune time to consider investing in this promising market.
The Impact of Falling Rates on Brazilian Banks
The effect of falling rates on big banks like Itaú Unibanco Holding and Banco Bradesco is less straightforward. Lower rates spell lower interest margins, but also fewer nonperforming loans and potential loan growth as money gets cheaper for corporates and households. According to market expert Laijawalla, this presents an opportunity for investors interested in Brazilian bank names. He believes that the peak of the NPL cycle should have a positive impact on future performance.
Challenges for Brazil's Economic Outlook
The biggest question mark over Brazil's economic outlook, however, remains former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, whose social spending goals clash with the need for fiscal discipline. While Lula's government gained some trust from the market last year by pledging to eliminate Brazil's primary budget deficit (excluding interest payments), they quickly deviated from their commitment. Economists predict a budget gap of approximately 1% of the country's gross domestic product (GDP) this year, leading to a total deficit of around 6% of GDP.
"They're moving backward in terms of addressing fiscal problems," warns Alberto Ramos, head of Latin America economic research at Goldman Sachs.
Concerns about Lula's Influence on the Central Bank
Another cause for concern is Lula's increasing influence over the central bank, which successfully controlled post-pandemic inflation. With four out of nine board members already being Lula's appointees, they are expected to take full control when President Roberto Campos Neto steps down by the end of this year.
This poses a threat to future battles against inflation, despite the central bank gaining legal independence during Lula's predecessor Jair Bolsonaro's presidency, emphasizes Arthur Budaghyan, chief emerging markets strategist at BCA Research. "Lula's four members of the board are all on the dovish side," he notes.
Minister of Finance Fernando Haddad as a Key Figure
One political figure to keep a watchful eye on is Minister of Finance Fernando Haddad, as highlighted by Wachnitz. Haddad has been able to temper Lula's populist instincts and has become a favorite target of left-wing colleagues in the process.
"I believe he is the only reasonable person in the government," she asserts.
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