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Is Brazil's Economy Getting to hot?


Is Brazil’s Economy Getting Too Hot?

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Last night 60 Minutes featured a segment on Brazil entitled “The World’s Next Economic Superpower.” Eike Batista, Brazil’s richest man and the world’s eighth richest man (profiled by Forbes  in March) told Steve Kroft that it’s time for Americans to “wake up” to the economic giant to their south.
Many Americans have already been awake to Brazil for at least some time.
Just today, General Electric demonstrated its interest in Brazil when it announced a plan to buy subsea pipeline manufacturer Wellstream Holdings, which derives a “substantial portion” of revenues from Brazil, for $1.3 billion.
In September, billionaire Stephen Schwarzman, chairman and CEO of investment giant, Blackstone Group, announced a $200 million investment in Pátria, one of Brazil’s largest investment management and corporate advisory firms. “Brazil is the largest economy in Latin America and growing rapidly,” Schwarzman said in the press release. “Partnering with Pátria will enable Blackstone’s limited partners and advisory clients to benefit from the fast expanding business opportunities in the country, as well as from Pátria’s deep knowledge of the local market.”
Real estate magnate Sam Zell has been enthusiastic about investing in Brazil for some time. This year, his investment company, Equity International, sold off a combined $213 million worth of stock in Brazilian home-building company, Gafisa, and retail property company, BR Malls, but Zell insists he remains bullish on opportunities in the country and this was strictly a reallocation of assets (he retains shares in both companies).
As Kroft pointed out last night, Brazil “is poised to overtake France and Britain as the world’s fifth-largest economy.” Its GDP growth today is second only to China, although India will likely advance and overtake Brazil’s spot by the end of the year, pushing Brazil to third place.                                                      
But is Brazil in danger of being in a bubble?
While the country has blossomed into the global stage, its economic boom has simmered down since the beginning of the year, according to the country’s third quarter GDP report released last week. Instead of the 9.3% GDP growth the country experienced during the first quarter of 2010, the GDP increased by just 8.4% this time around.
Does this mean the droves of foreign investors who’ve been coming into the South American giant should samba away with their proceeds before Carnaval sets in this February?
Zell, who’s looking for hotels to invest on in Brazil, says the hype is just that — hype, and not necessarily a threat. “Although I think that market is semi-frothy, I think the reality on the ground is somewhat less insane than the talk on the street,” he told me. “Brazil is everybody’s flavor of the month this month, so everybody is talking about how wonderful Brazil is. And yet the reality is that I’m not seeing the frothiness that created the asset bubble that we’ve seen in the United States. I think everybody’s excited about the future, but I don’t think everyone’s writing checks so fast.”        
Most Brazilian investors and entrepreneurs, including Zell, also do not seem too worried about how the new president who is taking Lula’s place on January 1 will affect Brazil’s friendliness toward business. Dilma Rousseff is Lula’s handpicked choice for a successor and the general consensus among analysts, investors and pundits is that she’ll keep Lula’s economic policies that worked so well. So far, everything she’s said publicly points in that direction, too. (See a Q&A she did with The Washington Post here.)

“It’s hard to say whether there’s a bubble or not,” Princeton economics professor Jose Scheinkman told me soon after Rousseff was elected. “The problem in Brazil right now is that interest rates are very high and that attract a lot of short term capital. My preference for that is that interest rates become lower and better fiscal policies.”
The concern is not new to Guido Mantega, who was reappointed Minister of Finance and who originally spoke of the dangers of an exchange rate war. Although he says that a reduction in government expenses and spending will ensure that inflation stays in control and allow for a potential in a reduction in the exchange rate, “should the Central Bank decide to do it,” he foresees a continuation in the exchange rate war over the next month.
To stay in pace with growth, Scheinkman said the incoming administration will need to focus on stabilizing Brazil’s informal economy, fixing its cumbersome and poorly enforced tax system and contribute more to the country’s savings.
That’s not to mention Brazil’s need to focus on its infrastructure. Last night’s 60 Minutes’ segment pointed to Brazil’s weak public transportation system, unfinished roads and how the country’s already fallen behind in the construction of the 2014 World Cup stadiums.
A lacking education system and safety issues, two intertwined and ongoing problems in Brazil, were brought to the forefront last month when something very close to war broke out in the slums of Rio de Janeiro. Backed by the military, Brazilian police entered the shantytown known as Complexo de Alemao to put a stop to drug traffickers and gangs. Amid tanks and gunfire, police gained control of the shantytown but at least 42 people were killed.
Overall, Brazil’s abundant natural resources combined with the respect it’s been earning among global investors should put the country in a good trajectory to continue growing. The manner in which the country handles the growth and deals with the issues outlined above will dictate whether a bubble will form.      

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