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UPDATE 1-Brazil's primary deficit this year could top 9% of GDP, says Treasury Secretary

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BRASILIA, May 14 (Reuters) - Brazil’s government could post a record primary budget deficit of more than 9% of gross domestic product this year on plunging revenues and increased emergency spending due to the coronavirus crisis, Treasury Secretary Mansueto Almeida said on Thursday.

That would be around 700 billion reais ($117 billion), and even greater than recent estimates from officials, including Almeida, of around 600 billion reais.

Speaking at a virtual public hearing in Congress broadcast online, Almeida said he was not worried about the deficit this year or the size of national debt, which could exceed 90% of GDP, because the emergency measures need to be implemented.

Around half of Brazil’s hefty debt load can be financed by record low nominal interest rates of 3% and real rates, after inflation is taken into account, of around zero, he said.

The trajectory of Brazil’s debt matters more than its size, he said.

“It is very important that investors are sure that the country will, over time, gradually be able to repay its debt, and control the growth of its debt in relation to the size of the economy,” Almeida said.

This is why a debt load of 90% of GDP becomes a concern when the economy is only growing around 1% a year, as Brazil has done for the past three years, he said. This year is likely to be Brazil’s biggest annual economic crash since records began in 1900.

“That is why it is so important to grow,” Almeida said.

He also said the Treasury is currently selling around 10 billion reais of debt a week, which will have to rise sharply as the country’s borrowing requirements rise. The government is more likely to issue shorter-dated debt because longer-term interest rates are steepening quite a bit, he said.

But even if benchmark interest rates fell to zero, the Treasury could not borrow at 0% because investors would still demand a risk premium, he said.

Meanwhile, the government will not meet its fiscal “golden rule” of not raising debt to pay for current expenses such as public sector salaries and pensions until 2023, and so that will have to be modified somehow, he added. (Reporting by Marcela Ayres Writing by Jamie McGeever Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Chris Reese)