June 29, 2015 / 10:03 PM / 4 years ago

Brazil's investment message brings hope mixed with skepticism

NEW YORK, June 29 (Reuters) - Nearly two years ago Brazil sought U.S. investors’ help to fund its seaports, railroads, highways and airports.

In the end, though, the effort to lure 210 billion reais in private investment managed to attract just 20 percent of the targeted funds.

Now, doing her best to absorb the lessons of the earlier failed infrastructure plan, President Dilma Rousseff is making a new push to lure 198.4 billion reais ($64 billion) in infrastructure funds.

She and other Brazilian officials visited New York on Monday, touting an open and transparent bidding process for contracts to operate roads, railways, airports and harbor terminals.

She closed out an infrastructure-themed conference with a speech emphasizing the strong ties between her nation and the United States and how better investment and trade can benefit both countries.

“There is a clear and strong demand for infrastructure development projects in Brazil. All of these figures I have just referred to convey a loud and clear message for those of us in government circles,” Rousseff said, speaking in Portuguese to a standing room only crowd of international investors at the New York Palace Hotel.

“The message is clear: we must change the potential demand out there into better tangible infrastructure and viable investment projects to be undertaken by private sector capital.”

Rousseff later in the day took her economic charm offensive to Washington, where she began two days of meetings with President Barack Obama.

In September of 2013 when she led her government to New York seeking infrastructure investment, she faced investor concerns about excessive government intervention.

Her current visit comes at a time when her popularity has been hammered by a bribery scandal engulfing state-run oil company Petrobras. She addressed the topic in part by forcefully denying her campaign had received illegal donations originating from the scandal.

Earlier, Brazilian Minister for Planning, Budget and Management Nelson Barbosa said the country’s economy “is moving in the right direction” even though economists expect the economy to shrink about 1.5 percent this year.

He emphasized the government’s push to raise competitiveness, boost the transportation of agricultural products to market, reduce logistical costs and meet growing demand for national and international travel.

Investors were keen to hear the plans, but at least one portfolio investor with a specialty in infrastructure investments is reserving judgment.

“The day was a good commercial or infomercial for Brazil. Rousseff was saying the right things. However, the next step is to see what they implement... I’m mildly optimistic on Brazil after listening today, but I’ll hold off on my final judgment for now,” said Joshua Duitz, portfolio manager at Alpine Woods Capital Investors in Purchase, New York.

“As an investor, if the new infrastructure projects actual rate of returns match up with investors’ expectations that will tell me they are serious about utilizing the private sector to invest in infrastructure projects,” he said after listening to the presentations. (Reporting By Daniel Bases; Editing by Christian Plumb)

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