September 19, 2014
Santander irks Rousseff with client note
Bank’s subsidiary in Brazil says president’s re-election would push down asset prices
SAO PAULO — Spain’s Banco Santander found itself in an unwanted spotlight in Brazil after its local subsidiary irked the government by circulating a client note saying that the re-election of President Dilma Rousseff would likely push asset prices lower.
In a monthly column to wealthy clients entitled “You and Your Money,” Banco Santander Brasil said a drop in Rousseff’s popularity had helped spark a recent rally in the Brazilian stock market — a common view among economists and investors who believe the government’s heavy-handed policies have contributed to Brazil’s current economic slump.
The note then went on to say that the market rally could fizzle if the president’s popularity stabilizes or rebounds in opinion polls ahead of October’s election, an assertion that angered government officials and members of the ruling Workers’ Party.
“The real would weaken, long-term interest rate futures would rise again and the Bovespa index would fall, reversing some of the recent gains,” read the column, which was mailed with monthly statements to about 54,000 account holders.
Hours after the report was made public on a local website, the president of the leftist Workers’ Party accused Santander of “electoral terrorism,” sparking a media frenzy that dominated the political pages of Brazilian newspapers over the weekend.
Asked about the episode yesterday in an online interview with Brazilian media, Rousseff had harsh words for the bank. “It’s unfortunate and unacceptable what Santander did,” she said, adding that she plans to discuss the matter with the bank.
Santander Brasil is scrambling to contain the damage. On Friday, it issued a public apology for using language that it acknowledged could be construed as politically biased. On Sunday, the bank’s global chairman weighed in. Speaking to reporters in Rio de Janeiro, Emilio Botin said the report reflected the views of an individual analyst, not the institution. He also reiterated Santander’s commitment to Brazil, a key market that accounts for a fifth of the bank’s profits globally.
“We continue to invest and to encourage others to invest in Brazil,” Botin said, adding that the bank would take the “necessary measures” to ensure that a similar incident does not happen again. Santander Brasil declined to disclose whether it was conducting an internal investigation into the matter or if people were fired or could be fired over the incident.
The Santander incident prompted some analysts and economists to say they would be extra careful with their research notes to avoid controversy.
The episode highlights escalating tension around Brazil’s presidential race, which now looks too close to call after two recent opinion polls showed opposition challenger Aécio Neves neck-and-neck with Rousseff in a second-round vote.
Santander Brasil, which had 494.6 billion reais (US$222 billion) in assets at the end of March, is the third-largest private-sector bank and the largest foreign lender in Brazil.
Meanwhile, economists have reduced their 2014 growth forecast for Brazil for the ninth consecutive week, as policymakers seek to spur demand without further stoking above-target inflation.
Brazil’s gross domestic product will expand 0.90 percent this year, compared with the previous week’s forecast of 0.97 percent, according to the July 25 Central Bank survey of about 100 analysts published yesterday. The economists’ growth forecast has dropped by nearly half since their 1.63 percent estimate from May 23.
Rousseff is torn between the fastest annual inflation in 13 months and weakening growth as she campaigns for re-election. The Central Bank said on July 24 its strategy does not contemplate a lower key rate as above-target consumer prices will remain resistant. The next day, policy makers announced they would loosen deposit requirements to free up 45 billion reais (US$20.2 billion) in consumer credit.
Consumer prices in the year through mid-July reached 6.51 percent from 6.41 percent the month prior, the national statistics agency said on July 22. Brazil’s Central Bank targets annual inflation at 4.5 percent, plus or minus two percentage points.
The Central Bank said on June 26 that inflation will end this year at 6.4 percent considering a key rate of 11 percent. That would be the fastest year-end rate since 2011.
Adding to pressure on Rousseff, representatives of the industrial sector in Rousseff handed in a letter to the main presidential candidates in which they demand an “urgent” tax reform.
The document was crafted by the National Confederation of Industries, which yesterday met separately with the president and opposition candidates Neves and Eduardo Campos, from the Brazilian Socialist Party.
Herald with Reuters, Bloomberg, Télam