Brazil in recession as drought, inflation and interest rates bite

By Marcela Ayres and Camila Moreira

BRASILIA (Reuters) -Brazil’s economy contracted slightly in the three months to September, government data showed on Thursday, as surging inflation, steep interest rate hikes and a severe drought triggered a recession in Latin America’s largest economy.

The 0.1% decline in Brazil’s gross domestic product (GDP) in the third quarter, reported by official statistics agency IBGE, was below a median forecast for zero growth in a Reuters poll.

Brazil’s economic rebound from the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic has sputtered as inflation surged into double digits, forcing the central bank to raise borrowing costs aggressively despite the downturn.

Economists have said that the stubbornly high levels of inflation in Brazil have steadily eroded consumers’ purchasing power, proving a drag on the economy.

Some analysts said Thursday’s weak data may discourage the bank’s monetary policy committee, called Copom, from an even larger interest rate increase at its December meeting.

“Against this backdrop, we no longer see Copom upping the pace of monetary tightening next week,” William Jackson, chief emerging markets economist at Capital Economics, told clients in a note, forecasting another rate increase of 150 basis points.

Big rate hikes from the central bank, whose autonomy was written into Brazil’s constitution this year, are one more headwind for a weak economy, which is weighing on President Jair Bolsonaro’s popularity as he prepares to seek reelection in 2022.

Revised data showed a 0.4% drop in the second quarter, worse than the 0.1% decline reported previously. Two straight quarters of contraction meet the definition of a recession.

Unusually dry weather this year has also hurt key Brazilian crops such as corn and coffee. Vanishing reserves at hydropower dams drove up electricity costs, adding to price shocks.

Agricultural production fell 8.0% in the third quarter, while industrial output was flat and services advanced 1.1%.

Brazil’s auto industry has struggled to ramp up production amid a shortage of components such as microchips in global supply chains. Shortages have also hurt manufacturing in Mexico, whose economy contracted more than expected in the quarter.

WORSE TO COME

Some economists are warning of a deeper downturn next year.

The market outlook for 2022 economic growth has fallen from 2.3% in June to less than 0.6% in the latest central bank poll of economists, released on Monday.

Brazil’s Economy Ministry dismissed that consensus in a statement on Thursday, reaffirming its forecast of economic growth above 2% next year and pointing to recent job creation data as evidence of a resilient recovery.

Brazil’s unemployment rate fell to 12.6% in the third quarter from 14.2% in the prior quarter, data showed this week, hitting the lowest point since the beginning of the pandemic.

“The government has an obvious bias to overestimate (growth) as long as possible. But there comes a point when you can’t,” said José Francisco Gonçalves, chief economist at Banco Fator.

Compared to the third quarter of 2020, Brazil’s economy grew 4.0%, IBGE data showed, below a median forecast of 4.2% growth.

(Reporting by Marcela Ayres in Brasilia and Camila Moreira in Sao Paulo; Writing by Brad Haynes; Editing by Bernadette Baum, Daniel Flynn and Richard Chang)

 

Exclusive: Major coffee buyers face losses as Colombia farmers fail to deliver

By Maytaal Angel

LONDON (Reuters) – Coffee farmers in Colombia, the world’s No. 2 arabica producer, have failed to deliver up to 1 million bags of beans this year or nearly 10% of the country’s crop, leaving exporters, traders and roasters facing steep losses, industry sources told Reuters.

World coffee prices have soared 55% this year, mainly due to adverse weather in top producer Brazil, prompting Colombian farmers to default on sales clinched when prices were much lower in order to re-sell the coffee at higher rates.

“Traders are getting defaulted on, it’s a mess. If drought continues (in Brazil), 300 cents (per lb. of coffee) is possible. It’s going to be mayhem,” said a dealer at a global agricultural commodities trade house.

He said leading global roasters are planning to change the branding on their ‘single origin Colombia’ coffees due to sourcing problems.

Delivery defaults in a major producer like Colombia can exacerbate price spikes on world markets, although these would be temporary because the coffee ultimately exists and will weigh on markets once it is re-sold.

Colombian farmers say they will deliver the coffee later this year or next but buyers are unconvinced.

Many are opting to see losses now and write the purchases off as defaults rather than wait and risk even bigger losses if farmers still don’t deliver next year and prices rise further, according to a senior trader at another global trade house.

He said several global trade houses are looking at losses of $8-10 million each on undelivered coffee, while Colombia’s coffee growers federation FNC, which represents farmers but also accounts for 20% of the country’s 12.5 million bags of annual coffee exports, faces higher losses.

TAKING THE HIT

“There was easily 1 million bags of forward (Colombian coffee sales) done before the market started rallying mid-May,” said the senior trader. “If you work for a multinational (trade house) your boss will say come on, we have to take the hit.”

Delivery defaults in a rallying coffee market are a huge issue for commodity exporters and traders who often hedge physical purchases by taking short positions in the futures market, causing them to sustain steep losses as prices rise.

Usually, traders would be able to sell the physical coffee they are owed at current lofty rates in order to offset their futures market loss, but in the case of a default, they can’t.

Defaults can also force traders to purchase supplies pre-sold to roasters at a loss in the pricey spot market.

FNC head Roberto Velez confirmed to Reuters that Colombia is facing widespread defaults.

“I can tell you there are few Colombian exporters not suffering (from defaults). All the major trade houses and also the federation as a major exporter, we’re all suffering (losses),” he said.

“When a grower doesn’t deliver, the whole chain gets stuck losing money,” he added.

Traders told Reuters the federation has given Colombian farmers at least another year to deliver the coffee – a move that could force the industry body to approach the government for bail-out funds if the farmers still don’t deliver in time.

MOUNTING LOSSES

A senior Columbia-based coffee trader with Louis Dreyfus Company (LDC) left the company in the wake of losses, two sources with knowledge of the matter said.

LDC said it does not comment on organizational changes except in relation to executives.

“Companies will be in trouble with (the scale of the losses), big guys will change their team, but smaller guys will go bankrupt,” said a senior trader.

He added major local Colombian exporter La Meseta has been hard hit by farmer defaults and is struggling to make good on its supply deals with international roasters, leaving them exposed to losses.

La Meseta did not respond to Reuters requests for comment.

Selling coffee forward in Colombia has become popular in the last few years, but up until this year, the move had mostly worked out in favor of farmers as world prices drifted lower so farmers received better prices for their coffee on delivery, not worse.

About 550,000 Colombian families make their living growing coffee and the Andean country is the largest producer of the washed arabica grade on which benchmark futures contracts on the ICE exchange are based.

(Reporting by Maytaal Angel in London; Additional reporting by Oliver Griffin and Julia Symmes Cobb; in Bogota; Editing by David Gaffen, Veronica Brown and Susan Fenton)

Pfizer study to vaccinate whole Brazilian town against COVID-19

BRASILIA (Reuters) -Pfizer Inc will study the effectiveness of its vaccine against COVID-19 by inoculating the whole population over the age of 12 in a town in southern Brazil, the company said on Wednesday.

The study will be conducted in Toledo, population 143,000, in the west of Parana state, together with Brazil’s National Vaccination Program, local health authorities, a hospital and a federal university.

Pfizer said the purpose was to study transmission of the coronavirus in a “real-life scenario” after the population has been vaccinated.

“The initiative is the first and only of its kind to be undertaken in collaboration with the pharmaceutical company in a developing country,” Pfizer said.

A similar study was conducted by the Butantan Institute, one of Brazil’s leading biomedical research centers, in the smaller town of Serrana, in Sao Paulo state, to test the CoronaVac shot developed by China’s Sinovac Biotech Ltd.

In May, Butantan said mass vaccination had reduced COVID-19 death by 95% in the town with a population of 45,644 people. The institute is considering extending the study for a third dose.

“Here we believe in science and we lament the almost 600,000 deaths from COVID-19 in Brazil,” Toledo Mayor Beto Lunitti said at a news conference announcing the Pfizer study.

Regis Goulart, a researcher at Toledo’s Moinhos de Vento Hospital, said its aim was to validate the real-world efficacy and safety of the vaccine seen in clinical trials.

The observational study will also be an opportunity to do long-term monitoring for up to one year of participants and to answer lingering questions such as the duration of vaccine protection against COVID-19 and new variants, Goulart said.

(Reporting by Anthony Boadle; Editing by Jason Neely and Mark Porter)

Their prospects dim, Haitian migrants strain Mexico’s asylum system

By Daina Beth Solomon

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Mexico could see asylum applications jump 70% this year compared with 2019 as requests from Haitians soar, though most of those Caribbean migrants do not meet the criteria under current rules, according to Mexico’s top asylum official.

Haiti is currently the second-most common country of origin for asylum requests in Mexico, and is on track to overtake Honduras to claim the top spot for the first time in nearly a decade.

The surge has been fed by political and economic malaise in Haiti and South America, and last month thousands of mostly Haitian migrants crossed into Del Rio, Texas.

Thousands then retreated back to Mexico to avoid being deported from the United States to Haiti.

Most Haitians do not qualify for asylum in Mexico because they left home years ago for economic reasons, said Andres Ramirez, head of the Mexican Commission for Refugee Assistance (COMAR).

Most resettled in Brazil and Chile after Haiti’s devastating 2010 earthquake and are heading north due to poor economic prospects in their adopted countries, Ramirez told Reuters.

“They’re not really refugees, they don’t even want to be refugees,” Ramirez said in an interview on Monday. “The majority want to get to the United States.”

Haitians were seeking asylum because they had no alternative, but the demand had brought COMAR to a standstill, which was “detrimental to genuine refugees, who we can’t serve because there are too many Haitians,” he added.

Asylum applications are now taking six to seven months, at least twice the time they should take, he said.

In the southern border city of Tapachula, where most migrants request asylum, COMAR is scrambling to lighten the load by canceling appointments of applicants no longer there.

COMAR is in talks with Mexico’s migration authorities and international aid organizations to see if Haitians have options for staying in Mexico aside from asylum, Ramirez said, such as humanitarian visas that let migrants work and travel freely.

Lasting one year and renewable, that visa is currently only available to migrants after they apply for asylum with COMAR.

“What concerns me is when I know someone isn’t a refugee, and they come to us because they have no other option,” Ramirez said. “But there could be another way… there is a precedent.”

Mexico distributed humanitarian visas in early 2019 when thousands of Central Americans arrived in migrant caravans, but stopped after U.S. President Donald Trump threatened to impose trade tariffs if Mexico did not curb the flow of people.

The Biden administration is also putting pressure on Mexico to stem migrant traffic, even as it gradually rolls back Trump-era measures and promises more humane migration policies.

Mexico’s National Migration Institute did not immediately respond when asked if it was considering issuing humanitarian visas to Haitian migrants.

Asylum applications in Mexico from all nationalities reached 90,300 by September. Ramirez estimated the number could surpass 120,000 by year’s end.

Suppressed by the coronavirus pandemic, applications tumbled to just over 41,000 last year, but rose for Haitians, who filed 5,957 requests. From January to September 2021, the number of Haitian applications leapt to 26,007.

An increase in requests from Brazilians and Chileans has been fueled by children born to Haitians in those countries, Ramirez said.

(Reporting by Daina Beth Solomon; Editing by Dave Graham and Alistair Bell)

Brazil hospital chain hid COVID-19 deaths, whistleblowers’ lawyer tells Senate

By Anthony Boadle

BRASILIA (Reuters) – A Brazilian hospital chain tested unproven drugs on elderly COVID-19 patients without their knowledge as part of an effort to validate President Jair Bolsonaro’s preferred ‘miracle cure,’ a lawyer for whistleblowing doctors told senators on Tuesday.

At least nine people died of COVID-19 during the trials at the Prevent Senior hospital chain from March to April 2020, but their charts were altered to hide the cause of death, lawyer Bruna Morato told a Senate inquiry.

Prevent Senior did not reply to a request for comment.

Pedro Batista, owner and executive director of the hospital chain, acknowledged in testimony to the Senate inquiry last week that patients’ charts where altered to remove any reference to COVID-19 after they had been hospitalized for two weeks, saying they were no longer a risk of contagion.

He denied testing unproven drugs on patients without their knowledge, saying patients were asking for treatments in clinical trials and doctors made the prescriptions they saw fit.

“It’s the doctor who prescribes any medicine and, at the time, everyone recalls comments from (President Bolsonaro) and other influential people, so there were a lot of patients demanding prescriptions,” Batista told the senators.

On Tuesday, Morato, representing 12 doctors employed at Prevent Senior, said the company threatened and fired doctors who disagreed with a predetermined “COVID kit” that included hydroxychloroquine, erythromycin and ivermectin. There is no scientific evidence that those drugs are beneficial in the treatment of COVID-19.

“Very vulnerable elderly patients were told there was a good treatment, but they did not know they were being used as guinea pigs,” Morato, the whistleblowers’ attorney, told senators investigating Brazil’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

She said doctors were told not to explain the treatment to the patients or their relatives.

“The purpose was to show that there was an effective treatment against COVID-19,” Morato said.

She said the hospital wanted to help the Bolsonaro government, which was touting the unproven drugs as an effective treatment against the virus that would protect Brazilians from contagion if they went back to work.

“It was like an exchange, I was told. Some doctors called it a pact, others described it as an alliance,” she said.

The Health Ministry did not reply to a request for comment. It is unclear how much the government knew about the alleged trials.

In a speech last week at the United Nations, Bolsonaro again praised “early treatment” of COVID-19 via off-label use of unspecified drugs, claiming that science would some day vindicate their use against the coronavirus.

The pandemic has killed nearly 600,000 Brazilians in the world’s second-deadliest outbreak outside the United States.

(Reporting by Anthony Boadle, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)

UN migration body asks Brazil to receive Haitians on US-Mexico border

By Gabriel Stargardter and Lisandra Paraguassu

RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) -The International Organization for Migration (IOM) has formally asked Brazil whether it would receive some Haitians camped along the U.S.-Mexico border hoping to enter the United States, according to two sources with knowledge of the request.

The petition from the IOM, a United Nations agency, comes as U.S. President Joe Biden faces mounting pressure to resolve yet another migration crisis. A massive flow of migrants has arrived at the U.S. southern border, sparking political headaches and logistical obstacles for the United States and Mexico.

Up to 14,000 mostly Haitians were camped just north of the Rio Grande river this month as they attempted to enter the United States. Washington has begun flying some back to Haiti, while Mexico has urged others to give up their U.S. dreams and seek asylum in the south of the country.

The IOM asked that Brazil receive Haitians who have a Brazilian child, or who have passed through Brazil before entering Mexico on their journey north, the two sources said. They said the first request was more likely to be approved. One of the sources said the second one would require more analysis.

Without mentioning the IOM request, Brazil’s foreign ministry said in a statement that “the topic was discussed in conversations between authorities from different countries and is being analyzed in light of current legislation.”

The IOM, via its Mexico office, said it has “a voluntary return program, assisting migrants of various nationalities, and the implementation of this program requires an agreement among the countries involved.” It gave no further details.

(Writing by Gabriel Stargardter; editing by Diane Craft)

Drought may force Brazil to ration power, says Vice President Mourao

BRASILIA (Reuters) – Brazilian Vice President Hamilton Mourao said on Wednesday a severe drought could lead to energy rationing in Brazil, contradicting other officials who have said that such a step would not be necessary.

Brazil, one of the world’s agricultural superpowers, is suffering from one of its worst droughts in a century. The lack of rainfall has emptied hydroelectric reservoirs, fanned inflation and hurt farmers. The government has given incentives to use less energy but says rationing is not expected.

“There may have to be some rationing,” Mourao told reporters in Brasilia, although he said the government had taken necessary measures to prevent blackouts.

Brazil’s Mines and Energy Minister Bento Albuquerque on Tuesday said the country’s energy crisis was worse than previously thought. In a televised national address, Albuquerque said Brazil had lost hydropower output equal to the energy consumed by the city of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil’s second largest, in five months.

Separately on Tuesday, the ministry announced it would once again raise energy prices, with affected consumers paying on average 6.78% more for electricity starting on Sept. 1.

The meteorological outlook remains grim for Brazil. Rainfall in energy-producing regions is likely to remain well below average in September, the national grid operator ONS said last week.

(Reporting by Gabriel Stargardter in Rio de Janeiro and Lisandra Paraguassu in Brasilia; editing by Barbara Lewis)

Rio’s homeless brave unprecedented cold

RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) -As an unusual cold snap stuns residents of Rio de Janeiro, a Brazilian city famous for its sun, sand and sea, the city’s homeless have been struggling to sleep through the chill.

“It’s very cold. Even with two blankets and a quilt, I still felt horrible last night,” Flávio, who is homeless, said.

A polar air mass has been traveling toward the country’s center-south regions this week, bringing fast winds and rare snowfall to communities unfamiliar with low temperatures — and to street residents ill-equipped to handle them.

In Rio, Jeniffer Faria da Silva and Marlon Lemos Mollulo have been distributing warm food, blankets, clothes, shoes and bread to the city’s street residents as part of a project they began a year and a half ago. Traveling through the city at night, they’ve been placing thermal liners on concrete, where dozens of the city’s homeless sleep side by side to stay warm.

“There’s a lot of suffering, especially in Rio where we aren’t used to having these kinds of temperatures. We don’t have the right infrastructure to cope with the cold, and some of these people also have pets,” Silva said.

The polar air mass is slated to bring freezing temperatures to São Paulo and Minas Gerais, major producers of key commodities like sugar, citrus and coffee.

Temperatures in Rio are expected to drop to an unusual low of 9°C on Friday before gradually starting to warm up in August.

(Reporting by Sergio Queiroz, writing by Jimin Kang, Editing by Nick Zieminski)

Coffee, cane and orange crops at risk as temperatures plunge in Brazil

By Ana Mano

SAO PAULO (Reuters) -Temperatures fell in swathes of Brazil on Thursday – with rare snowfall overnight in some places – as a polar air mass advanced toward the center-south of the global agricultural powerhouse, threatening coffee, sugarcane and orange crops with frosts.

Unusually cold weather in Brazil has already sent international prices for coffee and sugar higher and Friday was forecast to be the coldest day of the year, according to Marco Antonio dos Santos, a partner at weather consultancy firm Rural Clima.

In a report on Thursday, dos Santos said the south of Goiás and the south of Mato Grosso do Sul, states where farmers grow crops like corn, would face cold temperatures on Friday as the wave of cold air marched northwards.

“With the polar air mass strengthening, it is getting even colder in most of the agricultural producing regions of center-south Brazil,” Santos said. “As such, the chances of frosts in coffee, sugarcane and orange areas increased dramatically.”

In Brazil’s southernmost state of Rio Grande do Sul, the cold wave has brought snow and cold rains to at least 13 cities on Wednesday.

Local television images showed tourists and locals taking photos and playing in the snow in the town of Sao Francisco de Paula as temperatures fell below zero.

The polar air mass should move over Sao Paulo and Minas Gerais, major producers of sugar, citrus and coffee, on Friday, bringing freezing temperatures.

The extreme weather sparked concerns in global markets of a weak harvest in Brazil, which is a major exporter of agricultural commodities.

Raw sugar futures on ICE hit a five month high on Thursday as investors continued pricing in the effects of the cold front in the world’s largest producer.

Agriculture federation FAESP in the main sugar belt Sao Paulo state said last week frosts had already hit 15% to 30% of the cane crop, which will probably lead to lower production.

Indian traders for the first time have signed sugar export contracts five months ahead of shipments as a likely drop in Brazil’s production prompted buyers to secure supplies in advance.

Arabica coffee prices touched a nearly seven-year high earlier this week as the unusual cold weather affected the crop in Brazil, the world’s top producer, with companies poised to pass on higher costs to consumers.

Preliminary estimates from the Brazilian government indicated last week’s frosts alone had affected 150,000 to 200,000 hectares (370,000-490,000 acres), about 11% of the country’s total arabica crop area.

“No one really knows the depth of damage undertaken,” said coffee exporter Comexim, which estimated a 13% loss on next year’s production at the Cerrado region in top coffee growing state Minas Gerais.

Brazil’s second corn crop, which represents 70% to 75% of production in a given year, has suffered from drought and the ill-timed frost as farmers began to harvest it. Corn is a key ingredient for livestock feed.

The state of Parana, Brazil’s number 2 grains producer, cut its projection for the second corn crop by nearly 40% on Thursday to 6.1 million tonnes.

The situation led global grain traders to exit their export contracts using washout clauses, sharply reducing Brazil’s export prospects this year and increasing the need to raise corn imports.

Wheat is also at risk from frosts as around a third of crops in Parana, the largest Brazilian producer, is at a development stage prone to damage from cold.

(Reporting by Ana Mano; additional reporting by Marcelo Teixeira in New York;Editing by Daniel Flynn and Marguerita Choy)

Freak Brazil frost hits heart of coffee belt, damaging crops

By Nayara Figueiredo and Marcelo Teixeira

SAO PAULO/NEW YORK (Reuters) – An unusual cold snap, with temperatures dropping to freezing levels in a matter of minutes, delivered a blow to the heart of Brazil’s coffee belt, damaging trees and harming prospects for next year’s crop, farmers said on Wednesday.

Agricultural products across the western hemisphere have been beset by unusually bad weather – be it floods or extreme drought – all season. Brazil is the world’s largest coffee producer, as its climate is most conducive for production of the beans. Coffee prices surged nearly 14% in response to the frosts, nearing four-and-a-half year highs.

The sudden frost happened in the morning of July 20. Farmers, brokers and analysts were assessing their crops on Wednesday after reports that the cold snap was much stronger than expected.

“I’ve never seen something like that. We knew it would be cold, we were monitoring, but temperatures suddenly went several degrees down when it was already early morning,” said Mario Alvarenga, a coffee producer with two farms in the southern part of Minas Gerais, Brazil’s largest producing state.

Farmers shared pictures of their crops, where large black areas were visible in places where they should see dark green spots marking coffee trees.

“I will probably have to take out some 80,000 trees, they are burned all the way to the bottom,” said Airton Gonçalves, who farms 100 hectares of coffee in Patrocinio, in the Cerrado region of Minas Gerais.

“I was going to the farm yesterday and a sensor in the truck started to alert me about ice in the road. I thought the system had gone crazy. But when I got to the farm, it was covered in ice, the roofs, the crops.”

According to reports, the frost hit areas all the way from the south to the central parts of Minas Gerais.

Joel de Souza Borges, a coffee broker in Patrocinio, believes that around 50% of farms in the Cerrado region were hit. He said this year’s production will not be harmed, since most areas were already harvested, but production in 2022 is a question mark.

“In some cases the trees recover, you need to cut down some of the branches. In other cases, you have to take the tree out and replant,” he said.

Farmer Gonçalves estimates his production in 2022 will fall from 5,500 bags to around 1,500 bags.

(Reporting by Marcelo Teixeira; editing by David Evans)