"Brazil is the country of the future and always will be," goes the old joke. Previous periods of strong growth in Brazil have ended in turmoil, but the country has come a long way over the last few years and finally seems set to fulfil its potential and develop into an advanced economy.
Over the past decade, inflation has been tamed, with an operationally independent central bank keeping it below 10% for almost all of the past decade, compared with 2,500% in 1993. Growth is running at 4%-5% a year, external debt has declined dramatically, commodity exports are underpinning large trade surpluses, and foreign reserves have ballooned to $200bn. All this makes Brazil far less vulnerable to global crises.
And the country has just received a "strong vote of confidence" from ratings agency Standard & Poor's (S&P), says Economist.com. S&P awarded Brazil's foreign-currency-denominated debt investment-grade status. It claims Brazil's pragmatic policies have created a "sounder foundation for economic growth and fiscal improvement over the past five years that should continue".
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The upgrade, which in due course seems likely to be followed by upgrades from the other major ratings agencies, Moody's and Fitch, will gradually lower the cost of capital in Brazil as borrowing costs fall with a better credit rating and money flows into the country boosting growth prospects.
International funds that are barred from buying sub-investment-grade bonds will now be eyeing up Brazil and interest among global equity investors should mount amid optimism over future growth; with new fixed-income and equity flows and more foreign direct investment on the cards, the move is a "strong long-term positive for Brazil's financial markets", says Citigroup's Geoffrey Dennis. The stockmarket has gained over 8% since the upgrade and the Bovespa index is at a new record of around 70,000; it has risen sevenfold since 2002.
There is ample scope for further gains in the long-term. Brazil is ideally placed to cash in on the secular commodities boom, given its own oil, a thriving ethanol production sector thanks to its sugar cane world-beating iron-ore production and "one of the most efficient agricultural sectors in the developing world", says Stephen Foley in The Independent.
Bulls also point to the fact that exports comprise just 14% of GDP, shielding Brazil from "changes in the export environment", as Daiwa puts it; growth has been led by domestic demand as job and household income growth has fuelled consumption among the expanding middle class. Retail sales were up by an annual 12.2% in February.
But now short-term interest rates are rising, says Dennis. In April, the central bank hiked rates by 0.5% to 11.75%, and with growth strong, inflation back to 4.7% and inflation expectations rising steadily, rates may have to go higher than the 13% economists are pencilling in. He also points to "notably rich valuations", with the market's forward p/e of 12.4 42% above the historical average and the price to book value ratio at a record 3.5.
Moreover, as the past year has shown, Brazil will not be immune to a likely relapse in global markets amid fears over the American and global economies note that the Bovespa index is highly cyclical, with the energy and materials sectors comprising 60% of the index. There will probably be better long-term buying opportunities in the months ahead.
For more on investing in Brazil, see: Resource-rich Brazil has plenty to offer investors
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