Brazil Downgrade – what’s Next?

Rio de Janeiro

Win Thin discusses the outlook for Brazil and explains why nothing on the horizon could be perceived as “good” news for the nation’s investment outlook.

The reasons why Brazil was downgraded to sub-investment grade are clear, and don’t need further discussion beyond noting that the numbers are going to get much worse before they get better.  While it’s always tempting to say that Brazil selling has gone too far, too fast, we see nothing on the horizon that could be perceived as “good” news for the nation’s investment outlook.

We ran Brazil’s macro numbers in our sovereign rating model ahead of our usual quarterly update in October.  Using the current readings and consensus forecasts, Brazil’s implied rating has fallen two notches to BB-/Ba3/BB-.  While we had originally thought that S&P maintaining its negative outlook was perhaps a bit aggressive given our previous implied rating of BB+/Ba1/BB+, the new implied rating totally justifies more downgrades ahead.

To state the obvious, we thus see continued downgrades beyond what S&P has done.  Indeed, Fitch’s BBB for Brazil stands out as too generous and will have to be cut soon.  Moody’s recently cut Brazil a notch to Baa3 but inexplicably moved the outlook to stable; that should change too.  Lastly, Brazil’s local currency rating was cut two notches by S&P to BBB-.

Some funds have mandates that allow them to invest in certain countries as long as two of the three major agencies have an investment grade rating.  As such, we see forced selling ahead when one of the other agencies pulls the trigger and cuts Brazil below investment grade too.  It’s only a matter of time, in our view, and so Brazil bonds are likely to continue underperforming.  YTD, Brazil USD bonds are amongst the worst performers (10-year yield +148 bp), as are its local currency bonds (10-year yield +294 bp).

With regards to equities, the growth outlook is so poor that Brazil is likely to continue underperforming.  Charts point to a test of the 2008 low for the Bovespa near 29435.  Other countries are facing headwinds from the drop in commodity prices, but none are undertaking the sort of pro-cyclical tightening that Brazil is right now.  And that is no one’s fault but that of Brazil’s policymakers.  Rather than spending prudently during the commodity boom, the PT ramped up public spending to a level that is simply unsustainable now.  MSCI Brazil is the worst performer in EM, -38% YTD vs. -16% for MSCI EM.

On the FX side, BRL faces a perfect storm of negative external (Fed, China) and internal developments.  That is unlikely to change anytime soon, and so we look for continued BRL underperformance.  With EM as an asset class likely to remain under pressure, the all-time high for USD/BRL near 4.00 from 2002 is likely to be broached soon.  Due to the likelihood of overshooting, we see USD/BRL trading up to 4.50 over the next 3-6 months.  BRL is the worst performer in EM YTD, at -31% and counting.

Lastly, the Brazil downgrade also sends a strong signal that the agencies won’t hesitate to cut investment grade countries.  Some of the rating agencies have been warning recently of downgrade risks to South Africa and Turkey, both of which are currently investment grade.  However, our sovereign ratings model has both of these countries at sub-investment grade, so we see scope for significant downgrades ahead.