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Recent economic weakness in Brazil, particularly in the labor market, has strengthened our view that the central bank is close to the end of its painful, but necessary, tightening cycle. We expect the BCB to increase its policy rate by 50bp to 14.25% at next week's monetary policy meeting, and then leave the rate on hold for the foreseeable future.
The publication yesterday of the first BCB quarterly inflation report under the new president, Ilan Golfajn, revealed his initial views on inflation, the currency, and monetary policy. Overall, Mr. Golfajn has taken a hawkish approach. We think Brazil's first rate cut will come no earlier than Q4, likely at the final meeting of the year, providing the government continues the fiscal consolidation process and inflation keeps falling.
The publication yesterday of the BCB's second quarterly inflation report under the new president, Ilan Golfajn, revealed that inflation is expected to hit the official target next year, for the first time since 2009. The inflation forecast for 2017 was lowered from 4.7% to 4.4%, just below the central bank's 4.5% target.
Brazil's central bank conformed to expectations on Wednesday, cutting the Selic rate by 75 basis points to 12.25%, without bias. Overall, the BCB recognises that the economic signals have been mixed in recent weeks, but the Copom echoed our view that the data are pointing to a gradual stabilisation and, ultimately, a recovery in GDP growth later this year.
Brazilian inflation is off to a good start this year, and we think more good news is coming. The January mid-month IPCA-15 index rose an unadjusted 0.3% month-to-month, a tenth less than expected. This was the smallest gain for January since 1994 and the sixth consecutive month in which the number came in below expectations.
Brazil's central bank again matched expectations on Wednesday, cutting the Selic rate by 100 basis points to 10.25%, without bias. The COPOM s aid that a "moderate reduction of the pace of monetary easing" would be "adequate".
Brazil's benchmark inflation index, the IPCA, rose 0.7% month-to-month in May, above market expectations. The stickiness of some components explains the surprise upshift; food prices in particular rose by 1.4% in May, after a 1% increase in April. Housing also rose at a faster rate than we had expected, due mainly to a 2.8% jump in the electricity component, the largest single contributor to May's headline increase.
Brazilian inflation has been well under control in the past few months, laying the ground for a final rate cut at the monetary policy meeting on March 21.
Brazil's monetary authority adopted a neutral tone and kept its main rate on hold at 6.5% at its monetary policy meeting on Wednesday, surprising investors.
Brazil's mid-April inflation report delivered more evidence that inflation is decelerating; it fell to 9.3% from 10.0% in March, reaching the slowest pace since July 2015. The unadjusted month-to-month increase surprised marginally to the upside, but the key story is of a declining year-over-year trend. Core inflation, which is a lagging indicator of the business cycle, slowed again, in line with the decline in services and market prices inflation.
Brazil economic and political outlook is still opaque, but grim, after a vast array of negative news. Impeachment of President Rousseff remains a possibility; the process of fiscal consolidation is messy and politically bloody; rumors that Finance Minister Levy might leave his post next year have intensified; and the latest data showed that the recession worsened in Q3. As a consequence, the BRL and interest rates have been under pressure and we see no clear signs that the turmoil will ease soon.
Brazil's Monetary Policy Committee--Copom--increased the Selic rate by 50bp to 13.75% on Wednesday, as widely expected. The short statement was unchanged from the previous four meetings, indicating the decision was unanimous and without bias, maintaining uncertainty about the next steps. Many Copom members, especially its President, Alexandre Tombini, have signaled that they intend to persevere in their attempt to bring the inflation rate down to 4.5% by the end of 2016.
The Brazilian industrial sector started this year on a very downbeat note, despite a 2% month-to-month jump in output. The underlying trend in activity is still very weak. Production fell 5.2% year-over-year.
Brazil's central bank doubled the pace of rate increases last Wednesday, in the wake of the re-elected Rousseff government's promise to tackle the severe inflation problem.
Banxico raised its benchmark interest rate by another 25bp to 7.0% at last Thursday's policy meeting. This hike follows nine previous increases, totalling 375bp since December 2015, in order to put a lid on inflation expectations and actual inflation. Both have been lifted this year by the lagged effect of the MXN's weakness last year, the "gasolinazo", and the minimum wage increase in January.
Brazil has made a convincing escape from high inflation in the past few months, laying the groundwork for a gradual economic recovery and faster cuts in interest rates. Mid-March CPI data, released this week, confirmed that inflation pressures eased substantially this month.
Inflation pressures in Brazil are still easing rapidly. The mid-May unadjusted IPCA- 15 index rose just 0.2% month-to-month, much less than the 0.6% historical average for the month. Base effects pushed the year-over-year rate down to 3.8% from 4.1% in April. Food prices, healthcare and personal costs were the main drivers of the modest month-to-month increase.
The latest CPI data in Brazil confirm that inflationary pressures eased considerably last month. Inflation fell to 8.5% year-over-year in September, from 9.0% in August, as a result of both lower market- set and regulated inflation.
Brazil's central bank is desperately trying to get a grip on inflation. It has raised the Selic rate by 225bp, to 13.25%, in just the last six months, and real rates now stand at a hefty 5.0%. And, at last, we are seeing tentative signs that policymakers and the government, after hiking rates and adjusting regulated prices, are making some headway.
Inflation in Brazil ended 2017 well under control, despite December's modest overshoot. This will allow the BCB to cut rates further in Q1 to underpin the economic recovery.
Two key points can be extracted from the minutes of the last BCB meeting, when policymakers increased the Selic interest rate by 50bp to 12.75%. First, the bank recognized that the balance of risks to inflation has deteriorated, due to the huge adjustment of regulated prices and the BRL's depreciation, but it specifically referred only to "this year" in the communiqué.
In recent weeks Brazilian central bank officials have reinforced their message that they will continue fighting inflation with "determination and perseverance". CPI inflation is failing to subside, at least at the headline level, where the latest readings are very disappointing, and expectations have remained stubbornly high. And the BRL has fallen 13% year-to-date, posing further inflation threats ahead. All these factors mean that the BCB will increase its main interest rate yet again in July.
Friday's inflation report for Brazil confirmed that inflation is rapidly falling towards the BCB's target range, helping to make the case for stepping up the pace of monetary easing to 50bp at the Copom's January meeting.
Brazil's headline CPI has been well above the upper limit of the BCB's target zone since January 2015. We expect this situation will continue for some time, due to the lagged effect of last year's sharp increases in regulated prices, El Niño, the BRL's sell-off in 2015, and, especially, widespread price indexation.
The BCB's Copom kept Brazil's Selic rate at 14.25% this week, as expected. The brief accompanying communiqué was very similar to the January statement, saying that after assessing the outlook for growth and inflation, and "the current balance of risks, considering domestic and, mainly, external uncertainties", the Copom decided to keep the Selic rate at a nine-year high, without bias.
Brazil's improving economic and political situation allowed the BCB to cut the Selic rate by 100bp to 8.25% at its Wednesday meeting, matching expectations.
Brazil's inflation rate remained well under control over the first half of February. We see no threats in the near term, indicating that more stimulus will be forthcoming from the BCB.
Brazil's April CPI data this week showed that inflation pressures remain weak, supporting the BCB's focus on the downside risks to economic activity. Wednesday's report revealed that the benchmark IPCA inflation index rose 0.1% unadjusted month-to-month in April, marginally below market expectations.
Brazil is now paying the price of President Rousseff's first term, which was characterized by unaffordable expansionary policies. As a result, inflation is now trending higher, forcing the BCB to tighten at a more aggressive pace than initially intended--or expected by investors--depressing business and investment confidence.
While we were out, Brazil's economic and political situation continued to improve, allowing the BCB to cut the Selic rate by 100bp to 9.25% at its July 26th meeting, matching expectations.
In Brazil, the minutes of the Copom's November meeting, released yesterday, are consistent with our forecast for a 50bp rate cut in January. At its last two meetings, the BCB cut the Selic rate by only 25bp, to 13.75%, amid concerns about services inflation, global uncertainty, and the Fed's likely rate hike next week.
Economic data released on Friday underscored our view that bolder rate cuts in Brazil are looming. The BCB's latest BCB's inflation report, released on Thursday, showed that policymakers now see conditions in place to increase the pace of easing "moderately" .
The monetary policy committee--Copom--of the BCB kept Brazil's main interest rate on hold at 14.25% at its Wednesday meeting. After seven consecutive increases since October 2014, totaling 325bp, policymakers brought the tightening cycle to an end. They are alarmed at the depth of the recession, even though inflation remains too high and public finances are collapsing.
This week's November mid-month inflation reports in Brazil and Mexico underscored their divergent trends. Inflation pressures are steadily falling in Brazil, but in Mexico, the pass-through from the MXN's sell- off is driving up inflation and inflation expectations.
Brazil's decision to keep interest rates at 14.25% on Wednesday was a surprise. The consensus forecast immediately before the meeting was for a 25bp increase. As recently as Tuesday, though, most forecasters expected a 50bp increase, following hawkish comments from Board members since the last meeting in November, and rising inflation expectations. But the day before the meeting, the IMF revised its forecast for 2016 GDP to -3.5%, much worse than the 1% drop it predicted in October.
Improving fundamentals have supported private spending in Mexico during the last few quarters. This week's soft retail sales report does not change the picture of a strong underlying trend in consumption. Sales were weaker than expected, falling 1.1% month-to-month in September, but this followed a 1.5% jump in August, and average gains of 1.1% in the previous three months. Mexican retail sales are much more volatile than in most developed economies, and we have been expecting mean reversion following rapid gains during the first half of the year and most of Q3.
Mexico's private spending stumbled at the start of the second quarter.
Brazil's economic outlook is gradually improving following a challenging Q2, which was hit by political risk, putting business and consumer confidence under pressure.
The data in LatAm have been all over the map in recent weeks. Brazil's cyclical stabilization continues, while Mexican numbers confirm that the economy has come under pressure in recent months.
We are going to print two days before the July 1 presidential election in Mexico.
Brazil's central bank looked through the recent dip in the BRL and left interest rates at 6.50% at Wednesday's Copom meeting, in line with the consensus.
In a relatively light week in terms of economic indicators in Brazil, the inflation numbers and the potential effect of the recent BRL sell-off garnered all the attention.
The Colombian economy--the star of the previous economic cycle in LatAm--is now slowing significantly, due mostly to strong external headwinds. Exports plunged by 40% year-over-year in January, down from -29% in December, with all of the main categories contracting in the worst performance since 1980.
The COPOM meeting was the centre of attention in Brazil this week. The committee cut the main rate by 25 basis points to a new historical low of 6.50%, in line with market expectations.
Brazil's recession eased considerably in the first quarter, due mainly to a slowing decline in gross fixed capital formation, a strong contribution from net exports, and a sharp, albeit temporary, rebound in government spending. Real GDP fell 0.3% quarter-on-quarter, much less bad than the revised 1.3% contraction in Q4.
The bad news just keeps coming for Brazil's economy. The mid-month CPI, the IPCA-15 index, rose 1.2% month-to-month in March. Soaring energy prices remain the key contributor to the inflation story in Brazil, pushing up the housing component by 2.8% in March, after a 2.2% increase in February.
Before this week's earthquake, the resilience of Mexico's economy in the face of a volatile and challenging global backdrop owed much to the strength of domestic demand, especially private consumption.
Brazil's economic performance has improved marginally in recent months, with inflation falling and economic activity and sentiment data stabilizing, or even increasing modestly. The latest regional economic activity report, for instance, showed that although overall output declined again on a sequential basis in March-to-May, three of the five regions expanded.
Brazil's inflation data continue to disappoint, but they are showing some signs of improvement, at the margin. The mid-month CPI, the IPCA-15 index, jumped to 9.3% year-over-year in July, up from 8.8% in June, soaring well above the upper bound of the inflation target and reaching the highest level since December 2003, as shown in our first chart.
Mexico's economy continues to withstand several headwinds, especially the sharp currency depreciation--shown in our first chart--falling commodity prices, and the tough external environment. The country is still one of the economic bright spots in the region, thanks to its resilient domestic demand. June retail sales rose 5.4% year-over-year, well above expectations, and up from 4.1% in May. The underlying trend is positive, averaging 4.8% in the second quarter, well above its 2014 pace.
Brazil's central bank kept the SELIC rate on hold on Wednesday at 14.25% for the eight consecutive meeting. The decision, which was widely expected, was unanimous, but the post-meeting statement was more detailed and informative than the central bank's June communiqué. We think the shift was intentional; the central bank's new board, headed by Mr. Ilan Goldfajn, is eager to strengthen the institution's credibility and transparency.
Brazil's central bank is finally decisively facing its demon, persistently high inflation. The eight-member policy board, known as Copom, decided unanimously on Wednesday to increase the Selic rate by 50bp to 12.25%, the highest level in more than three years, in line with the consensus.
The recovery of some key commodity prices, policy action in China, and stronger expectations that the U.S. Fed will start hiking rates later during the year, have helped reduce volatility in LatAm financial markets. Oil prices have rise by around 20% year-to-date, iron ore prices are up about 60% and copper has risen by 7%.
Recent inflation numbers across LatAm have surprised, in both directions. On the upside, Brazil's IPCA index rose 0.2% month-to-month in September, above the market consensus forecast of 0.1%.
EM risk sentiment remains grim as the Trump administration dispenses protectionist trade measures. LatAm's biggest economies, Brazil and Mexico, have been hit the hardest, with their currencies falling 3.3% and 2.2% respectively in the last week, the most in the EM world.
Economic data released in recent weeks underscore that Brazil emerged from recession in Q1, but the recovery is fragile and further rate cuts are badly needed. The political crisis has damaged the reform agenda, and political uncertainty lingers.
The Brazilian central bank cut its benchmark Selic interest rate by 50bp, to 7.0%, on Thursday night and confirmed our view that the end of the easing cycle is not far off.
Markets have been positively surprised by Brazil's rapid disinflation, the efforts at fiscal reform, and the prospect of growth in the economy this year. The Ibovespa index is now above its pre-crisis high and the real has approached the key level of three per USD in recent months. But the latest GDP report, released yesterday, showed that the economy struggled in Q4. Real GDP fell 0.9% quarter-on-quarter, worse than the revised 0.7% drop in Q3.
Brazil's recent data show that inflation is still falling, allowing the central bank to ease further next month, while economic activity is improving, though the rate of growth has slowed.
The Brazilian central bank cut the benchmark Selic interest rate by 25bp, to 6.75%, on Wednesday night, as expected.
Brazil's central bank is in a very delicate situation. The economy is on the verge of another recession, but at the same time the BRL is falling, inflation expectations are rising and the inflation rate is overshooting. Fiscal policy is also tightening to restore macro stability magnifying the squeeze on growth.
Last week's data supported our view that monetary policy across LatAm will continue to diverge in the short term. Brazil will have to prolong its monetary tightening cycle, while economies such as Colombia and Chile will remain on hold despite the recent slowdowns in their economic cycle.
Brazil's industrial sector came roaring back at the start of Q3, following a poor end to Q2. Industrial production jumped 0.8% month-to-month in July, driving the year-over-year rate higher to 2.5%, from 0.5% in June and just 0.1% on average in Q2.
LatAm assets have struggled in recent days as it has become clear that the Fed will hike next week. But we don't expect currencies to collapse, as domestic fundamentals are improving and the broader external outlook is relatively benign.
While we were out, the economic news in LatAm was mostly positive. The main upside surprise came from Mexico, with the IGAE activity index--a monthly proxy for GDP--rising 2.9% year-over-year in August, up from 1.2% in July, and an average of 2.4% in Q2. A modest rebound was anticipated, but the headline was much better than we and the markets expected.
While we were out, Brazil's central bank delivered a widely-expected 75bp easing, cutting the benchmark rate to 7.5% in an unanimous vote.
Colombia's peso has been one of the most battered currencies in LatAm this year, due mainly to the sharp fall in oil prices, the country's primary export. The COP has dropped about 23% this year against the USD. At the same time, other temporary factors, most notably the impact of El Niño on food prices, have done a great deal of inflation damage too. October's food prices increased 1.4% month-to-month, pushing the year-over-year rate up to 8.8% from an average of 6.6% in the first half of the year. Overall inflation has jumped to 5.9% in October from 3.8% in January, forcing BanRep's board to act aggressively.
Data released last week confirm that Brazil's recovery has continued over the second half of the year, supported by steady household consumption and rebounding capex.
Brazil's manufacturing PMI edged down to a six-month low of 45.2 in December, from 46.2 in November. This marks a disappointing end to Q4, following a steady upward trend during the first half of the year, as shown in our first chart. December's new work index fell to 45.2 from 47.7 in November, driving a slowdown in production, purchases of materials, and employment. The new export orders index also deteriorated sharply in December, falling close to its lowest level since mid-2009.
Wednesday's Brazilian industrial production data were worse than we expected but the details were less alarming than the headline. Output slipped 1.8% month-to-month in March, the biggest fall since August 2015, setting a low starting point for Q2.
Brazil's economy likely will bounce back during the second half of this year and into 2018, after the second quarter was marred by political risk.
Friday's Brazilian industrial production data were relatively positive. Output was unchanged month-to-month in May, and April's marginal gain was revised slightly higher. The flat monthly reading pushed year-over-year growth in output up marginally to -8.9% from -9.1%. May production rose month-to-month in two of the four major categories.
Brazil's industrial sector continued to support the economy in Q3. The underlying tr end in output is rising and leading indicators point to further growth in the near term.
Brazilian political risk remains high but, as we have argued in previous Monitors, it is unlikely to deter policymakers from further near-term monetary easing. The political crisis, however, does suggest that the COPOM will act cautiously, waiting until the latest storm passes before acting more aggressively, despite ongoing good news on the inflation front.
Brazil's inflation rate is in double digits for the first time in 12 years. The benchmark IPCA price index rose 1.0% month-to-month in November, lifting the year-over-year rate to 10.5%, the highest since November 2003. The core IPCA increased 0.7% month-to-month, pushing the year-over-year rate in November up to 8.9% from 8.6% in October.
The MPC was relatively bullish on the outlook for households' spending when it signalled its view, in February's Inflation Report, that the case for raising interest rates before the end of this year had strengthened.
Inflation pressures are falling rapidly in Brazil, suggesting that the Copom will continue to ease aggressively in the near term. January's CPI report,released Wednesday, showed that inflation plunged to 5.4% year-over-year, from 6.3% in December, chiefly as a result of continued disinflation in key components, such as food, housing prices--including utilities--and transportation.
Brazil's consumer recession finally eased in November. Retail sales jumped 2.0% month-to- month, following an upwardly-revised 0.3% drop in October, and the year-over-year rate rose to -3.5% from -8.1%. November's astonishing performance probably reflects seasonal adjustment problems related to Black Friday discounting. Sales have climbed in the last four Novembers, suggesting that consumers' pre-Christmas spending patterns have shifted permanently.
Brazil's April economic activity index--a monthly proxy for GDP--surprised to the downside, again. The IBC-BR index was unchanged month-to-month but contracted a dreadful 4.8% year-over-year, down from a revised 3.2% contraction in March. These results imply Q2 GDP of about -1.9% quarter-on-quarter, much worse than the 0.2% contraction in Q1. The release offers no details, but the report signals a continued steep, steady deterioration.
Economic growth in Brazil is not likely to improve significantly this year. Our pessimism was underscored by the November industrial production data last week, showing a contraction of 0.7%, and pushing output to its lowest level since June.
The latest IPCA inflation data in Brazil show the year-over-year rate fell to 8.8% in June from 9.3% in May. This is the slowest pace since May 2015, with inflation pulled lower by declines across all major components, except food. Indeed, food prices were the main driver of the modest 0.4% unadjusted monthto-month increase, rising by 0.7%, following a 0.8% jump in May. The year-over-year rate rose to 12.8% in June from 12.4%.
While we were out, Brazil's Monetary Policy Committee--Copom-- increased the Selic rate by 50bp to 14.25% on July 29th. The short statement indicated that the decision was unanimous and without bias. But it also signaled that the Copom is ready to end the tightening cycle if the data and, especially, the BRL, permit.
Brazilian inflation hit its lowest rate in almost seven years in March, while Mexico's rate is the highest since July 2009. Yet we expect Mexico to tighten policy only modestly in the near term, while Brazil will ease rapidly.
Brazil's recession has been severe, triggered by the downturn in the commodity cycle, which revealed the underlying structural weaknesses in the economy. This set off an acute shock in domestic demand, but it has bottomed in recent months and we now expect a gradual recovery to emerge.
While we were out, monetary policy in Latin America was unchanged, except in Brazil, where the Monetary Policy Committee--Copom--this week raised the Selic rate by 50bp to 13.25%, in line with expectations. Looking ahead, we now expect no changes in policy in Brazil or elsewhere over the next few months, or at least until the Fed starts hiking rates.
While we were out, Brazil's economic, fiscal and political position continued to deteriorate further. The recession deepened in the fourth quarter, with Brazil's economic activity index surprising yet again to the downside in October, falling for the eight consecutive month. The index fell 0.6% month-to-month and 6.4% year-over-year, the biggest contraction since the index began in 2004. And the prospects for first quarter consumption and industrial output have deteriorated substantially. Unemployment increased further in November, and inflation continues to rise, with the mid-month CPI--the IPCA-15 index-- increasing 1.2% month-to-month in November, after a 0.9% increase in October.
Yesterday's first estimate of full-year 2016 GDP in Mexico indicates that growth gathered momentum over the second half of last year. But risks are now tilted to the downside, following the U.S. election. GDP rose 0.6% quarter-on-quarter in Q4, after a 1.0% increase in Q3. Growth was much slower in the firs t half, as shown in our char t below.
The fact that Brazilian economy shrank in the first quarter was never in doubt; what really mattered was the pace of contraction. Surprisingly; the decline was just 0.2% quarter-on-quarter in Q1, above market expectations, but still down after the meagre 0.3% gain in Q4.
Data released on Wednesday confirmed that the Brazilian economy was relatively resilient in Q1. Leading indicators suggest that it will do well in Q2 and Q3, but downside risks are rising.
Brazil and Argentina, South America's biggest economies are going through a metamorphosis. Brazil is emerging from its recession and a modest recovery is on the horizon. Exports have rebounded, thanks to the lagged effect of the BRL's sharp sell-off last year, and confidence has improved significantly in recent months. The likelihood that interim President Michel Temer will stay on as head of Brazil's government has also helped to boost sentiment.
Political risks in Brazil recently have simmered alongside the modest cyclical recovery, but they are now increasing. President Michel Temer's future remains hard to predict as circumstances change by the day.
Consumers' spending in Brazil weakened at the end of Q4, but we think households will support GDP growth in the first quarter.
Economic data in Brazil over the second quarter were relatively positive, and June reports released in recent weeks, coupled with leading indicators for July, are encouraging.
Inflation pressures in LatAm are moderating, and governments have been taking steps to pursue fiscal consolidation. These factors, coupled with a relatively favourable external environment, are providing policymakers with the opportunity to start relaxing monetary policy.
Political risk in Brazil has increased substantially, following reports that President Temer was taped in an alleged cover-up scheme involving the jailed former Speaker of the House. If the tapes are verified, calls for Mr. Temer to face impeachment will mount.
Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff was removed from office on Wednesday, following an impeachment trial triggered by allegations that Ms. Rousseff used "creative" accounting techniques to disguise Brazil's growing budget deficit, ahead of her re-election in 2014. The Senate voted 61-20 to convict Ms. Rousseff; only 54 votes were needed to oust her. For Ms. Rousseff's leftist Workers' Party, her removal marks the end of 13 years in power.
Copom's meeting was the focal point this week in Brazil. The committee eased by 25bp for the second straight meeting, leaving the Selic rate at 13.75%, and it opened the door for larger cuts in Q1. Rates sat at 14.25% for 15 months before the first cut, in October. In this week's post-meeting statement, policymakers identified weak economic activity data, the disinflation process--actual and expectations--and progress on the fiscal front as the forces that prompted the rate cut.
Economic data released yesterday underscored that Brazil emerged from recession in the first quarter, but further rate cuts are needed. Indeed, the monthly economic activity index--the IBC-Br--fell 0.4% monthto- month in March, though this followed a strong 1.4% gain in February.
Mexico's central bank, Banxico, last night capitulated again, reacting to the depreciation of the MXN by increasing interest rates by 50bp--for the fourth time this year--to 5.25%.
Evidence of a modest upturn in Brazilian consumers' spending continues to mount. Retail sales rose 1.0% month-to-month in April, pushing the year-over-rate up to +1.9%, from an upwardly-revised -3.2% in March.
Brazil's July economic activity index, released yesterday, showed that the economy started the second half of the year strongly. The IBC-Br index, a monthly proxy for GDP, rose 0.4% month-to-month, pushing the year-over-year rate up to 1.4%, from -0.4% in June.
The consumer in Brazil was off to a strong start to the first quarter, and we expect household spending will continue to boost GDP growth in the near term.
The recession in Brazilian consumers' spending continues, but the severity of the pain is easing. Retail sales plunged 0.9% month-to-month in March, pushing the year-over-rate down to -5.7%, from a revised -4.2% in February. The March headline likely was depressed by the early Easter.
Chile's central bank left rates unchanged on Tuesday for the fourth consecutive month, as recent data confirmed the sluggish pace of the economic recovery and inflation edges down closer to the target range. In the statement accompanying the decision, the BCCh kept its tightening bias, saying that the normalisation of monetary policy needs to continue at a data-dependent pace, in order to achieve its 3% target.
Consumption has been a serious weak spot in Brazil over the past year. After reaching record growth rates in 2010, it has gradually slowed to its lowest pace in more than ten years.
Private consumption remains resilient in Brazil and recent data suggest that growth will continue over the coming months.
Brazil's central bank started the year firing on all cylinders. The Copom surprised markets on Wednesday by delivering a bold 75bp rate cut, bringing the Selic rate down to 13.0%. In October and November, the Copom eased by only 25bp, but inflation is now falling rapidly and consistently. The central bank said in its post-meeting communiqué that conditions have helped establish a "new rhythm of easing", assuming inflation expectations hold steady.
Brazil's monetary policy committee, the Copom, cut the Selic rate by 25bp to 14.0% in a unanimous decision, without bias, on Wednesday. This marks the start of the first easing cycle since 2012, and it arrives after 15 months with rates held at 14.25%.
Brazilian inflation rate remained well under control at the start of this year, and we think the news will continue to be favorable for most of this year.
Inflation in Brazil remained subdued at the start of the second quarter, strengthening the odds for an additional interest rate cut next month, and opening the door for further stimulus in June.
The bad economic news in Brazil is unstoppable. The mid-month CPI index rose 1.3% month-to-month in February, as education, housing, and transport prices increased. School tuition fees jumped 6% month-to-month in February, reflecting their annual adjustment, and transport costs rose by 2% due to an increase in regulated gasoline prices.
Brazil's economic data last week were appalling. The IPCA-15 price index rose 1.3% month-to-month, the fastest pace in 12 years, pushing the annual rate to 7.4% in mid-February from 6.7% in mid-January,well above the 6.5% upper bound of the BCB's target range.
Brazil's macroeconomic scenario is becoming easier to navigate for the central bank. Both actual inflation and expectations are slowing rapidly, as shown in our first chart. And since the March BCB monetary policy meeting, the BRL has appreciated about 10% against the USD, while commodity prices and EM sentiment have also improved markedly.
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