Brazil Finance Minister Demands Lower Bank Interest Rates -Report
Monday, 28 May 2012 | 14:30
Brazilian banks must lower their lending rates by between 30% and 40%, and increase lending, without raising fees, to help spur economic growth, Finance Minister Guido Mantega said in an interview with the Folha de Sao Paulo newspaper and UOL website.
"In one more month, all of this has to be in due course," Mantega said in an interview with Folha. "Our intention is to monitor this on a weekly basis. I will demand," Mantega said.
Brazil's government and banks have been involved in a tug-of-war for several months over the reasons behind sky-high bank lending rates in Brazil. While the government argues that banks inflate their costs, as measured by the spread between their borrowing and lending rates, banks argue that high non-payment levels, labor costs and taxes all drive up interest rates.
"If private-sector banks reduce [rates] 30%, 40% and increase the volume [of lending] 30%, 40%, they will be providing a service to the economy," Mantega said. The Folha report cited central bank data which shows that Brazil's five largest banks on average charge 54.11% per year for personal and corporate loans. A 40% reduction would see that fall to 32.46%, according to the report.
Brazil's central bank has slashed rates by three-and-a-half percentage points since late August 2011, to 9%, and is expected to lower rates again after its next monetary policy meeting on May 29-30. But the government has become increasingly concerned that the Brazilian economy isn't picking up as fast as it would like, following a meager 2.7% rise in gross domestic product in 2011, and has taken a series of other measures to try to promote growth, most recently unveiling tax breaks and other incentives for car makers.
The minister said he no longer expects the economy to grow 4.5% this year, and that somewhere between 3.5% and 4% growth is more feasible. Inflation in 2012 will be lower than last year's 6.5%, the minister said. Consumer price inflation is currently running at around 5.1%; "If it stays were it is, that's good for us," the minister said.
Mantega said he doesn't see any need for the government to reduce its savings target, although he acknowledged that if there were to be a global catastrophe--such as a chaotic Greek exit from the euro zone--"then clearly we would use all the instruments to prevent the economy from skidding."
With regards to bad loans, the government is preparing measures to encourage customers that are late on their payments to catch up, the minister said. Rules currently don't favor repayment of overdue loans, he acknowledged. Current rules are more flexible for loans of up to 30,000 Brazilian reais and the government plans to extend this to BRL80,000 or BRL100,000, the minister said.
Mantega rejected worries that Brazilian families are increasingly indebted, and cannot thus consume as much as they have done in recent years, contributing to the economic woes. He said overall debt levels are among the lowest in the world, with families setting aside around 20% to 22% of monthly income to pay debts, compared to around 80% in the U.S. Moreover, credit will continue to grow as Brazil continues to generate more jobs, Mantega said.
Source: Dow Jones