UPDATE 1-Brazil govt debt ends 2020 at record high 89.3% of GDP

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BRASILIA, Jan 29 (Reuters) - Brazil’s national debt and public sector deficit ended last year at record highs, central bank figures showed on Friday, while a steep decline in official borrowing costs pushed interest payments as a share of the economy to historic lows.

As the COVID-19 pandemic decimated Brazil’s public finances over the course of the year, government debt in December reached 89.3% of gross domestic product, more than economists had expected and the highest level on record.

The public sector deficit in December excluding interest payments was 51.8 billion reais ($9.5 billion), the central bank said, close to the 51.5 billion reais median estimate in a Reuters poll of economists.

Although the public finances deteriorated, the 2020 deficit was narrower than the government had forecast and the debt was lower than many economists had expected, due to the economy’s recovery in the second half of the year.

The annual primary deficit was 703 billion reais ($129 billion), or 9.5% of GDP. The government’s last forecast was for a 844.2 billion reais deficit, or 11.7% GDP, although the Treasury had indicated it could be closer to 800 billion reais.

The figures showed that the central government’s primary deficit of 745 billion reais was countered by surpluses in local authorities and state-run enterprises.

The nominal deficit in December including interest payments widened to 75.8 billion reais, the central bank said, resulting in an annual deficit of 1.02 trillion reais, or 13.7% of GDP.

While debt and borrowing ballooned as the government spent heavily to protect people, businesses and jobs, record low interest rates meant that interest payments as a share of GDP fell to 4.22% from 5% the year before, a series low.

In nominal terms, interest payments last year fell to 312.4 billion reais from 367.3 billion. ($1 = 5.45 reais) (Reporting by Jamie McGeever; Editing by Hugh Lawson)