* Growth slows to 2.7 pct in 2011 from 7.5 pct in 2010
* GDP expands 0.3 pct in Q4 after contraction in Q3
* Agriculture, consumer spending sustain growth
By Brian Winter
SAO PAULO, March 6 Brazil's economy grew
just 2.7 percent in 2011 as soaring business costs and
uncompetitive industries took the shine off of what had been one
of the world's most dynamic emerging markets, and data released
on Tuesday pointed to only a modest recovery ahead this year.
The sharp slowdown during President Dilma Rousseff's first
year in office, which saw Brazil underperform almost all of its
peers in Latin America following 7.5 percent growth in 2010,
will pile pressure on the left-leaning leader to take new
measures to stimulate the economy in coming weeks.
Investors bet the weak performance would also lead the
central bank to slash interest rates more aggressively, with a
cut of at least half a percentage point, and possibly 75 basis
points, expected following the bank's meeting on Wednesday.
Strong activity in agriculture and resilient consumer
spending helped Brazil return to modest growth in the fourth
quarter, reinforcing economists' expectations that growth will
accelerate somewhat during 2012. Activity expanded 0.3 percent
following a revised 0.1 percent contraction in the previous
quarter, government statistics agency IBGE said.
Yet overall, the data reinforced the biggest concern of
Rousseff and many business leaders - that Brazil may be
downshifting into a new era of mediocre 3 percent annual growth
as a tight labor market, an overvalued exchange rate and other
costs prevent the economy from expanding any faster.
"Things just aren't taking off," said Senator Valdir Raupp,
the head of the PMDB party, which is part of Rousseff's
coalition. "Investments aren't happening. There are just a few
sectors where things are going well."
"If this year continues at the same rhythm as last year, the
(economy) could frustrate us again. Starting now, we're going to
have to give it a boost."
The biggest drag on Brazil's economy continues to be
industry, which contracted 0.5 percent in the fourth quarter
compared with the previous quarter. Manufacturers have blamed
most of their problems on Brazil's currency, which has
strengthened about 40 percent since the depths of the financial
crisis in 2009 and 6 percent this year.
Rousseff has implemented targeted tax incentives in recent
months to try to help sectors such as autos and consumer goods
that have struggled. Her government has also raised the ire of
some countries and multinational companies by threatening to
raise tariffs on auto imports from Mexico, for example.
Rousseff's aides say that more stimulus measures are likely
in coming weeks. However, many business leaders and politicians
say that the core problems are more related to high taxes and
other costs that will necessitate tough economic reforms to fix
- something Rousseff has shown little interest in doing.
"Worse than the GDP result is the proof that Brazil is
becoming an uncompetitive country," said Senator José Agripino,
from the opposition DEM party.
WELL BEHIND REST OF LATIN AMERICA
Rafael Bistafa, an economist for Rosenberg & Associados in
São Paulo, said the growth in the fourth quarter showed that
"the worst is past" and that the stage should be set for a light
acceleration throughout 2012.
Interest rate futures fell across the board
following the data release, as investors bet that steeper rate
cuts will be needed to boost the economy.
Rousseff and other officials have in recent days blamed rich
countries for Brazil's problems, saying that Europe's efforts to
escape its crisis by flooding the globe with cheap money has
caused costs to rise in emerging market nations like Brazil.
By the standards of its peers, Brazil fared especially
poorly last year. Latin American economies are believed to have
averaged 4.6 percent growth in 2011, while emerging-market
countries as a whole likely notched 6.2 percent growth,
according to data released in January by the International
Most analysts expect Brazil to make a modest recovery in
2012. The IMF and most independent forecasters expect 3 percent
growth this year, while Rousseff has pledged to secure stronger
growth of at least 4 percent.
Brazil's gross domestic product had been expected to expand
0.2 percent quarter-over-quarter in the fourth quarter,
according to the median forecast of 29 analysts polled by
The economy grew 1.4 percent in the fourth quarter compared
to the year-earlier period, IBGE said, in line with expectations
of 1.4 percent growth in the Reuters survey.