* Bank hikes 2012 inflation forecast to 5.2 pct from 4.7 pct
* Also cuts 2012 GDP forecast to 1.6 pct from 2.5 pct
* Bank director sees limited room for additional rate cut
By Alonso Soto and Silvio Cascione
BRASILIA/SAO PAULO, Sept 27 (Reuters) – Brazil’s central
bank slashed its 2012 economic growth forecast on Thursday but
signaled that it is unlikely to keep cutting interest rates to
boost the economy because inflation looks on track to rise more
than initially expected.
In its quarterly inflation report, the bank predicted that
the world’s sixth-largest economy will expand just 1.6 percent
this year, down sharply from its previous estimate of 2.5
percent but in line with most market forecasts.
The revision highlights President Dilma Rousseff’s No. 1
challenge — restoring Brazil’s economy to the glory days of the
past decade, when annual growth rates above 4 percent helped
lift millions out of poverty and make the South American country
a star among emerging markets.
The Rousseff administration has prevented an even deeper
slowdown by taking a flurry of stimulus measures that include
tax breaks for targeted industries and a year-long rate-cutting
campaign that have brought borrowing costs to an all-time low.
But the easing cycle now looks to be over, as the central
bank raised its inflation forecast for this year to 5.2 percent
from 4.7 percent.
Additional rate cuts could nudge inflation closer to the 6.5
percent ceiling of the government’s target range, a result that
would provide additional fodder for critics who worry that the
central bank has pushed inflation targeting to the back burner
while it focuses instead on economic growth.
Fortunately for the central bank, government plans to reduce
electricity rates should help ease inflation pressures in 2013,
a year when economic growth could climb back above 4 percent,
according to many economists. As a result, the central bank
lowered its inflation forecast for next year to 4.9 percent from
Still, both inflation estimates remain well above the center
of the official target range of 4.5 percent — plus or minus 2
“The bottom line is that the central bank recognizes that
its policy is not helping inflation converge toward the center
of the official target and that makes it more likely that the
(benchmark) Selic will remain where it is now,” said Mauricio
Rosal, economist with Raymond James in São Paulo.
While analysts expect the central bank to leave the Selic
rate unchanged at 7.5 percent at its next meeting on Oct. 10,
investors are somewhat more cautious.
Trading in Brazilian interest rate futures on
Thursday implied a 50 percent probability that the bank will
leave rates unchanged at the bank’s next meeting, according to
Thomson Reuters calculations. The other half is
betting on a cut of 25 basis points.
Central bank director Carlos Hamilton Araujo, a voting
member of the monetary policy committee, added to some analysts’
perceptions that the bank is done cutting rates for now.
“The room to continue lowering rates has been reduced,”
Hamilton told reporters in Brasilia after the release of the
inflation report. He added that any immediate efforts to bring
inflation back to the center of the target this year would have
“high costs” in terms of activity.
In the report, the central bank acknowledged that the path
of 12-month inflation toward the center of the target was not
linear — in other words, there will be ups and downs before the
consumer price index settles around 4.5 percent.
The bank also flagged risks to short-term inflation, saying
it “contemplates relatively benign dynamics for food prices in
the medium term, although price volatility of raw materials and
grains constitutes a risk factor.”
For more than two months, the annual inflation rate has
moved upward. A rise in food prices pushed inflation up to 5.24
percent in August, reversing a downward trend that took
inflation to a near two-year low of 4.92 percent in June.
While the outlook for next year is better, doubts remain
whether Brazil’s economy can regain the momentum of years past.
Fitch Ratings, which cut its estimate for Brazil’s 2012
growth to 1.5 percent, expects the economy to grow 4.2 percent
next year. However, it said its 2013 forecast is uncertain,
“given the international financial volatility and the pace at
which the Brazilian economy responds to monetary and fiscal
The central bank did not provide economic growth estimates
for 2013 in its quarterly inflation report.