by Denyse Godoy, Filipe Pacheco and Paula Sambo at Bloomberg
As Brazilian markets went wild this week, trading desks fell silent.
Unlike previous scares that rocked Latin America’s biggest economy -- a 50-minute selloff triggered by a blackout, for example, or fear a corruption scandal is getting ever closer to the presidency -- this time around there’s no shouting as clients call to demand updates or computer screens explode with instant messages. Instead, panic has given way to a shocked silence as traders watch markets unravel, according to interviews with half a dozen brokerages.
“There’s a saying that helps explain our mood around here,” saidGuilherme Esquelbek, a currency trader at Correparti Corretora de Cambio in Curitiba, Brazil. “When the sea is this turbulent, the only thing you can do is sit on the sand and watch. It’s not time to get in a boat.”
It’s a startling turnaround for a country that was the darling of international investors just a few years ago. The bonds of oil giant Petrobras, once Brazil’s biggest company, are trading at distressed levels. The Ibovespa stock index fell for a sixth straight session, wiping out about $24 billion in market value. The nation’s currency, the real, is posting the biggest drop this year among major tenders, a collapse one Rio de Janeiro asset manager likened to a “death spiral.”
“The worst part is there’s no light at the end of the tunnel,” saidVitor Suzaki, an analyst at the brokerage Lerosa Investimentos in Sao Paulo. “There’s a very serious political crisis that threatens fiscal balance, that leads to economic deceleration, that hurts companies. And we just can’t imagine what kind of news would bring confidence back."
Markets got some breathing room Thursday after central bank President Alexandre Tombini said the country could use its reserves to support the real and pledged to stay vigilant. The real rebounded from its record low and rallied as much as 5.5 percent. The Ibovespa declined 0.1 percent to 45,291.96 at the close in Sao Paulo.
Still, Tombini stopped short of delivering the silver bullet many investors are looking for: higher interest rates.
“The blood is in the water and the sharks are swarming,” James Gulbrandsen, chief investment officer for Latin America at asset manager NCH Capital, said in an e-mail from Rio de Janeiro. The central bank “can harpoon them with one swift interest-rate increase and this current crisis ends.”
Tombini’s comments served as a temporary palliative, traders said, but aren’t enough to change the mood. Investors have turned bearish on Brazil as President Dilma Rousseff struggles to persuade a fractured Congress to approve tax hikes and spending cuts to shore up the nation’s budget. A sweeping corruption scandal has ensnared Petrobras and the country’s biggest builders and left Rousseff fighting for her political survival. As the economy is forecast to shrink this year and next, which would be the longest recession since the 1930s, unemployment rose to a five-year high in August.
For investors expecting today’s real bounce to continue, Rabobank currency strategist Christian Lawrence has another old saying he points to: “You only have two hopes: Bob Hope and no hope, and Bob Hope is dead.”