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Economist: Reaping the Rewards of Indolence

March 5, 2009

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Any list of the things that hold back Brazil's economy would until recently have included overbearing state influence in the financial sector. The government controls Banco do Brasil, a huge retail bank, and Caixa Econômica, the largest mortgage lender, plus the BNDES, a big development bank that feeds cheap credit to favoured companies. Hugely expensive bank loans are a handicap, too. And yet under changed circumstances such lamentable policies suddenly look far-sighted, and have given the global downturn an unusual tinge in Brazil.

Other countries are trying to work out how to run banks and direct credit to where politicians think it is needed. This is something Brazil did even when it was unfashionable. It is a sign of the times that a recent research note on Brazil from Goldman Sachs listed state involvement in banking as a plus. As for the private banks, the huge reserve requirements and taxes on funding that push up the price of their loans discouraged them from the wild risks that have brought down some peers in Europe and America. So far, credit in Brazil has been lightly chewed, not crunched.

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