Brazilian Credit Expansion Hits A Bump

Aug 1, 2001

Brazilian banks aggressively expanded credit to their customers last year, with average loan portfolios at the largest banks growing by a third. But the country's energy crisis is constraining loan growth and earnings, and testing the lending prowess of local banks.

"Too good to be true" was the frequent echo of credit analysts visiting Brazilian companies and banks during late 2000 and early 2001, the same refrain heard in third quarter 1997 just before the Asian financial crisis. Brazil's recovery from the currency devaluation of early 1999, steady GDP growth, declining interest rates and strong optimism were dimmed only by concern about elections in late 2002. Business and banks projected unusual growth and prosperity for 2001. Questions about possible stresses were uniformly returned with confident assurances. Absolutely no one cited electricity rationing in conversations. Then, like a bolt from the heavens, rationing suddenly began occupying everyone's thoughts. Rainfall in recent years has been unusually sparse but the drought in central Brazil caught the government and business by surprise and will cause an unexpected business recession in third quarter this year and perhaps beyond. Banks will now struggle to meet loan...

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