UPDATE 2-Brazil posts record primary budget surplus in January

Wed Feb 27, 2013 11:36am EST

* Spike in tax revenues boosts surplus to 30.251 billion reais

* Government likely to miss fiscal goal despite strong surplus

* Officials say strict fiscal saving rules can be eased

By Alonso Soto

BRASILIA, Feb 27 (Reuters) - Brazil posted a record primary budget surplus in January because of a jump in tax revenues, central bank data showed on Wednesday, indicating an unexpected improvement in fiscal accounts after dismal results last year.

The country posted a surplus of 30.251 billion reais ($15 billion) in January after a surplus of 22.25 billion reais in December, the central bank said. The January surplus bested market expectations of 22.8 billion reais.

The strong result was due mainly to the central government's record surplus for January following an increase in tax collection last month. The central government's primary surplus includes the federal government, central bank and social security results.

The country's primary balance includes the results from the central government, states and municipalities and some state-owned enterprises.

Despite the record surplus, Brazil is expected to miss its primary surplus goal in 2013 for the second straight year as a sputtering economy weighs on tax collection. The jump in tax revenues last month came after many companies brought forward the payment of some taxes.

President Dilma Rousseff's government has said it remains committed to fiscal discipline, but will be forced to miss its primary surplus goal this year so that it can increase investments and help the economy.

Senior economic officials have said the government could ease some of the strict fiscal saving rules.

The Rousseff administration introduced legislation to allow the government to exclude up to 65 billion reais in investments and tax breaks from its primary surplus target of 155.9 billion reais, or 3.1 percent of gross domestic product.

This would free the government to give more benefits to businesses and consumers at a time when it is considering eliminating federal taxes on staple foods and expanding payroll tax breaks to all sectors of the economy.

In the 12 months through January, the primary surplus equaled 2.46 percent of GDP, up from the 2.38 percent in December.

The primary budget surplus is a gauge of fiscal discipline that investors watch closely because it measures a country's ability to service its debt. It represents the excess of revenue over expenditures before interest payments are taken into account.

Although some worry that Brasilia may be turning its back on the fiscal discipline that secured a decade of financial stability for Brazil, most analysts agree that a lower surplus does not threaten its ability to repay debt.

"The government is likely to continue to use the budget to stimulate demand," Alberto Ramos, a senior economist with Goldman Sachs, said in a note. "The lower primary fiscal surplus should, however, not compromise the moderate downward trend of public-debt-to-gross domestic product (ratio)."

The country's public sector net debt remained stable at 35.2 percent of GDP in January, nearly half the levels of only a decade ago.

Brazil's overall budget balance, which includes interest payments, posted a surplus of 7.602 billion reais in January from a surplus of 3.15 billion reais in December.

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