CHANGE OF PLAN. Brazil's proposed economic plan may be music to bankers' ears
New York — American bankers are not ready to do the bossa nova with Brazil yet, but they like the sound of the big debtor's new austere economic plan. Last week, Brazil's new finance minister, Luiz Carlos Bresser Pereira, introduced an economic program designed to halt the 1,000 percent a year inflation rate and win back bankers' confidence. The ``Bresser Plan,'' as some call it, includes a wage and price freeze, currency devaluation, and cuts in government spending. It will replace the ``Cruzado Plan,'' put forward by the previous finance minister, Dilson Funaro, and considered a failure.
Bankers say they are cautiously optimistic that a new economic team in Brazil will present a ``practical and realistic'' approach to the country's economic problems. They are cheered that Brazil is tackling its problems.
But they are less sanguine about the prospects of lining up loans. As one New York banker put it, ``The government of President Jos'e Sarney has lost a lot of credibility.''
Still, there are signs of improvement that have bankers listening to the Brazilian beat:
A World Bank team arrived in Brazil on Tuesday and an International Monetary Fund group is expected to arrive next week. They are expected to endorse the new plan.
There are signs Brazil's trade surplus is expanding. One banker projects the May surplus will between $800 million and $1 billion, up from January's surplus of $129 million. The trade surplus is critical because Brazil needs between $7 billion and $8 billion to pay the interest on its $108 billion foreign debt. William Rhodes, Citibank's chief debt negotiator, recently said Brazil has shown an ability to turn its economy around quickly and praised the new ``realistic exchange policy'' of steeper devaluations.
Brazil's ambassador to the United States says a team of Brazilian negotiators will be in the US the second week of July to talk to bankers. He recently hinted Brazil might consider resuming interest payments to the banks, which were suspended Feb. 21 when declining reserves forced Brazil to suspend the payments on $69 billion in foreign commercial debt. This action triggered huge write-offs by the banks over the past month. (See Page 21 on swapping debt for equity).
Even with these developments, there are uncertainties. Ray Kennedy, program coordinator for the Center for Brazilian studies at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), says the country may face presidential elections in 1988. Bankers view President Sarney as weak. Typical is one New York banker, who did not want to be quoted, who says, ``We are still dealing with a president who lacks legislative dominance and a political party split along various lines. The Brazilians are so preoccupied with the present, they are unable to look to the future.''
With political uncertainties, it will be difficult to get the bankers to deliver another $7 billion to $8 billion this year to Brazil. ``The question,'' says one banker, ``is how do you pass the hat again?''
Brazil is under additional pressure as well to end its trade restrictions. US Trade Representative Clayton Yeutter flew to Mexico City Wednesday for talks on the ``informatics case,'' which has a June 30 deadline.
In September 1985, the US charged Brazil with restricting US imports, not protecting US intellectual property rights, and not allowing US investments in the country. Many of these charges have been resolved. But Brazil still protects its computer industry, and the US is concerned pending Brazilian legislation will permit it to copy US computer software.
Twice the US has postponed taking action against the Brazilians. Ambassador Yeutter has indicated there would be no more delays in the case.
However, Mr. Kennedy of SAIS says it would be in the US interest to postpone the decision for another six months. Brazil is considering a new constitution, he points out, and there are numerous provisions that are counter to US interests. To retaliate against the Brazilians, he says, might prompt the nationalistic enactment of such provisions.