To say that the last seven days have been tumultuous in Brazil would be a laughable understatement.
The country – which is on the fast track to “banana republic” status – plunged into chaos this week after a Sao Paulo state judge said a decision on the arrest of former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva should fall to federal judge Sergio Moro, the firebrand “rockstar” leading the prolonged car wash probe into corruption tied to Petrobras.
Sensing that Lula’s detention was imminent, embattled President Dilma Rousseff sought to save her mentor by offering him a ministerial position which would effectively make him immune from prosecution – at least in the near term. Lula still has legions of supporters in the country, but the millions upon millions who want to see the Rousseff government ousted saw through the President’s gambit immediately. And so did Moro, who tapped the President’s phone and subsequently released several dozen recordings, at least one of which appears to prove that she did indeed offer Lula the cabinet position to shield him from legal trouble. Cue the street protests.
Lula was sworn in during a farce of a ceremony which not even the PMDB bothered to attend and meanwhile, a committee was assembled to push forward with impeachment proceedings for Rousseff. A series of legal maneuvers from both sides set off a kind of “will he be minister or will he not” seesaw until finally, on Friday evening, Supreme Court judge Gilmar Mendes blocked Lula’s Lula’s appointment.
“Tensions also grew between the government and the federal police after Eugênio Aragão, justice minister, threatened to remove federal police teams from investigations, including the task force investigating corruption at Petrobras,” FT wrote on Sunday. “If there is even a hint that information has been leaked from one of our agents, the whole team will be changed and I don’t need proof — the federal police is under our supervision,” Mr Aragão told Folha over the weekend.
“Justice Gilmar Mendes’s ruling bars Mr. da Silva, who was sworn in Thursday as Ms. Rousseff’s chief of staff, from serving in the cabinet until a panel of Supreme Court justices makes a final ruling following an appeal by the government,” WSJ wrote, adding that “As a private citizen, Mr. da Silva, who is under investigation in the corruption case, can be tried in any court.”
In other words, Moro is now free to arrest him.
“Formally, Judge Moro could issue the arrest warrant,” Ivar Hartmann, a law professor at Getúlio Vargas Foundation in Rio de Janeiro told The Journal. “I don’t know if he will, but he could.”
Yes “he could” and if he does, you’ll likely see more BRL strength. As we’ve documented extensively this month, the BRL is now trading pretty much exclusively on Lula, as his fate is seen as a proxy for whether Rousseff will ultimately be forced from office. The market apparently believes that anything would be better than the current political arrangement when it comes to shoring up the country’s flagging economy which last year plunged into what might as well be a depression. Here’s a look at how the currency is trading Lula news flow:
Of course Brazil’s problems aren’t going to be fixed if Lula and Rousseff are kicked to the curb. On the political front, 26% of Congress faces active criminal investigations. On the economic front, we could rattle off any number of data points but really, this is all you need to know:
So while the market may be forward looking, the BRL rallies that invariably accompany any and all bad news for Lula are not just premature, they’re ludicrous. In fact, in order for the country’s structural problems to dissipate, the currency needs to shoulder some of the burden. Goldman has more on why “the last thing Brazil needs now is to go back to BRL over-valuation.”
* * *
Brazilian asset prices repriced significantly since late February on the back of a number of developments in the political and judicial spheres that were perceived as having significantly increased the probability of a near-term political transition.
Due to a combination of external factors and a number of domestic events the BRL was the best-performing currency across the EM universe in the year through March 17. In the process, the BRL moved back into over-valuation territory, something that in our assessment is at odds with the current extremely debilitated macroeconomic picture and highly uncertain political backdrop.
Part of the asset price rally observed during the first two weeks of March reversed on March 14-16, with Brazilian asset prices selling off with the appointment of former president Lula da Silva as Chief of Staff of the Rousseff administration (Exhibit 1). This was perceived by the market as having reduced the probability of a near-term political transition, and as having increased the probability of a shift back to heterodox policies. However, new “car-wash” investigation developments, spontaneous mid-week street protests, and a dovish FOMC surprise, were met by rallying markets towards the end of the week (March 17-18).
Due to a combination of external factors and a number of domestic events related to the car-wash judicial probe into corruption, sentiment towards the BRL improved significantly despite still-high implied and realized volatility.
We have long argued that given the very weak domestic macro fundamentals, namely, high domestic inflation, very deep and prolonged recession (Exhibits 7 and 8), and lingering political risk and uncertainty, the economy would benefit from a currency that is noticeably cheap to fair-value for a while.
Hence, we are of the view that the central bank could and should be more assertive in reducing the still very large US$108bn stock of Dollar-swaps, in order to prevent further currency appreciation. That is, leaning against the wind of currency appreciation would be fully justified by the current weak macro fundamentals (2-year-long, deep economic contraction).
In summary, to increase the efficiency of the macro adjustment and lessen the output/employment loss of the required rebalancing, the authorities should restrain BRL/USD appreciation below 3.70, in order not to short-circuit the ongoing expenditure switch, and to cement the current account adjustment.
By Tyler Durden