By Rogerio Jelmayer and Jeffrey T. Lewis
SÃO PAULO -- Brazil is on track to post a record trade surplus this year, but this time it will be because the country's prolonged recession has slammed imports, instead of being based on burgeoning commodities exports as in the past, analysts say.
Brazil's trade ministry will report the full-year figure next Monday, and a weekly survey by the central bank estimates the surplus will reach $47.1 billion this year. That would surpass the previous record of $46.5 billion set in 2006, which was powered by strong demand for exports from Latin America's largest economy.
More than 10 years later, slumping demand at home is behind the record. Brazil's gross domestic product shrank 3.8% in 2015, and the central bank survey estimates the economy contracted another 3.5% this year. Unemployment has surged as a result, reaching 11.8% in the three months through October, the most recent figure available.
The expected record surplus figure masks the country's dire economic situation, which is better demonstrated by the decline in total trade, or exports plus imports, said Jose Augusto de Castro, president of Brazil's Exports Association. Total trade probably dropped to about $320 billion this year, which would be the lowest since 2009 and well below the $482 billion record set in 2011.
"Exports and imports are at very low levels," Mr. de Castro said. "What creates jobs is strong total trade, not just a high trade surplus."
The drop in imports, compared with exports, has been huge. In the year through the end of November, exports declined 2.9% from the same period a year earlier, while imports fell 21.7%, according to Brazil's trade ministry.
A big part of the problem this year is that "companies aren't investing in capital equipment," Mr. de Castro said.
"We have a lot of negative news" causing the "drastic" decline in imports, he said.
Capital investment has been the worst performing item in Brazil's GDP figures last year and so far this year. Investment declined in 10 consecutive quarters through Sept. 30, and plummeted more than 17% in the first quarter of 2016.
It is difficult to say what will happen next year, according to Newton Rosa, an economist at Sulamerica Investimento. Imports should remain weak, along with the economy, but exports could pick up if commodities prices continue to rise he said.
One risk to that scenario is U.S. President-Elect Donald Trump, according to Mr. Rosa.
"We could see an increase in protectionism" in the U.S. which would leave Brazil with a smaller surplus than expected, he explained.
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(END) Dow Jones Newswires
December 28, 2016 10:55 ET (15:55 GMT)
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