(Adds comments from Fitch analysts, background)
By Walter Brandimarte
RIO DE JANEIRO, April 10 (Reuters) - Fitch Ratings on Thursday said it expects Brazil’s next government to support the country’s credit rating by making policy adjustments to improve its fiscal performance and boost investor confidence.
In a conference call with investors, Fitch analyst Shelly Shetty said low growth rates and a deterioration in fiscal accounts are the firm’s main concern about Brazil, which remains rated at BBB with a stable outlook.
Her remarks suggest Fitch is willing to give the benefit of the doubt to the next Brazilian president, to be elected in October. They also may help to allay fears Brazil would soon suffer another sovereign downgrade, following Standard & Poor’s decision to cut the country’s rating to near junk level last month.
“We believe that the deterioration in credit fundamentals that we’ve seen so far in Brazil is broadly within the tolerance level of the BBB rating,” Shetty said.
In coming years, however, Fitch wants to see adjustments to “attract private investment and boost confidence, which has been affected due to policy uncertainty.”
Without improving the rate of investment, it will be “very hard” for Brazil to grow at a pace of around 4 percent a year, Shetty said.
The Brazilian economy has been unable to grow above 3 percent since President Dilma Rousseff took office in 2011. This year, it is forecast to expand less than 2 percent even as Brazil hosts the World Cup, which Fitch believes will have “insignificant” impact on activity.
Fitch expects Brazilian companies to suffer more downgrades than upgrades this year as declining global liquidity makes financing conditions more difficult for lower-rated firms.
It said, however, that the ratings for government-run oil company Petroleo Brasileiro SA, or Petrobras, are likely to remain in line with Brazil’s sovereign rating despite challenges to finance the company’s massive expansion plan.
Fitch said it has already incorporated into Petrobras’ BBB rating the impact of possible delays in the planned expansion of its refining capacity, mainly due to local-content requirements.
Major expansion delays that consistently boost Petrobras’ leverage ratios to above five times its total debt to EBITDA could hurt its rating, said Mauro Storino, Fitch’s analyst for Brazilian corporates.
That is not Fitch’s base-case scenario, however.
“Even though there are some scenarios in which we may separate the rating (of Petrobras) from the rating of the sovereign, it still remains highly linked to the rating of the government,” Storino said.
Petrobras “still has a manageable leverage, despite the fact that the downstream segment continues to report losses and the company is under an aggressive capex program of $220 billion until 2018,” he added. (Reporting by Walter Brandimarte; Editing by James Dalgleish)