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Commentary: Truck Drivers’ Strike amid Brazil’s Recovery from Recession

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In May 2018, Brazil witnessed a nationwide strike conducted by 200,000 truck drivers, which managed to paralyze the entire country for over 10 days and caused major issues such as shortage of food, death of poultry, and unavailability of public transport, among others.

In 2017, Brazil’s Oil and Gas Company, Petrobras, tied its fuel prices to float with international prices. This was following years of being exposed to high prices paid by Petrobras for refined fuel in international markets and the company’s inability to pass on these higher costs onto the customers domestically, due to existing price controls. The decision to float the domestic prices was further sealed by Petrobras’ attempt to seek recovery of profits after the company’s share prices fall due to a corruption scandal.

The floating price mechanism brought an increase in domestic fuel prices, which greatly affected truck drivers whose earnings were gradually slashed, in a scenario where the Real, Brazil’s official currency, weakened by 17% against the US dollar between May 2017 and May 2018. As a result, truck drivers decided to take their demands for a fuel price control policy to the streets, paralyzing many activities and sectors of the Brazilian economy, and exposing some of Brazil’s main weaknesses.

Brazil greatly depends on the truck industry for distribution

The strike caused substantial fuel shortage as oil trucks were not delivering petrol to gas stations, which affected delivery of other goods across the country. Subsequently, disruption in the distribution of food and other products translated into a visible shortage of items on supermarket shelves and a general hysteria that made people over-purchase what was left. The strike also exposed Brazil’s over-dependency on road distribution system for various sectors to operate (instead of using a balanced mix that would include other means of transport, e.g. cargo trains). Most importantly, the strike, in which truck drivers blocked main road arteries within the country’s 19 states, caused great losses, including (but not limited to) US$826.8 million worth of poultry during those 10 days.

After several attempts by the Brazilian government to reach an agreement with truck drivers, both parties settled to pause the strike – initially for 15 days although now for unlimited time, despite truck drivers’ reservations about the government eventually meeting their demands. The potential of the strike being resumed is still looming on the horizon of the Brazilian economy. The persistence of this conflict and the threat of a longer strike could lead to longer interruption of businesses and industrial activities, which is detrimental for a country that is recovering from one of its deepest recessions of 2015-2016.

Consumers’ purchasing power and confidence may decline

Consumers’ purchasing power is expected to slightly decline due to price increase after the temporary food shortage. According to the price index released by the FIPE (Economic Research Institute Foundation) during the strike, general food prices rose by 1.82%, resulting in a 0.62% increase above what was expected when compared to the same period of 2017. Price of half-finished goods (e.g. poultry) rose by 8.43%, while dairy products prices increased by around 5.85%. In some cases, such as with potatoes, the price increase was of 50.3%. Further, a spread hysteria among consumers led to over-purchasing of products, even at a higher value, meaning Brazilians’ disposable income was reduced for the month of May.

Inflation in May reached an unexpected 3.22%, an atypical increment for a month with usually low inflation rate. In a country overcoming a two-year deep economic recession, uncertainty about food availability and low disposable income have affected consumers’ confidence, which has fallen 4 percentage points in June, potentially translating into reduction of expenditures and hindering Brazil’s economic growth.

Investors’ trust may also fall

The 2015-2016 recession weakened local demand, however, Brazil managed to register a trade surplus and a low account deficit due to positive exports volumes and foreign direct investments (FDI) entering the country. Since the government and the truck drivers are still in talks to reach an agreement, the threat of another strike of similar nature is real. Experts agree that investors may become wary and cease to invest further, if political unrest and economic instability were to continue in the country. As a result, Brazil may not be capable of improving, or even maintaining, its low deficit in the account balance. In 2017, investments reached US$70.3 billion and, before the strike happened, experts believed FDI would register US$80 billion in 2018.

Brazilian president, Michel Temer, offered Petrobras US$274 million as compensation for losses it would incur by cutting oil prices. Though this may offer a 60-day solution to the worried truck drivers, it is only a short-term compensation which Brazil does not plan on extending forever.

EOS Perspective

It should come as no surprise that the strike was conducted only a few months away from Brazil’s presidential elections. Analysts believe it to be a strategy to weaken the image of president Temer, and shed some positive light on the Worker’s Party, of which Lula Ignacio Da Silva, former Brazilian president, is a current member. Despite Lula’s conviction in January 2018 for corruption, its party requested Brazil’s Supreme Court to grant a “suspensive effect” to the conviction, which would eventually allow him to run in the next presidential elections.

Regardless of who will be elected president, the strike has certainly stirred the economic and political scene, and has uncovered several of Brazil’s vulnerabilities.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

GCC to Introduce VAT: What It Means for Businesses, Economy, and People

The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries are gearing towards rolling out a 5% Value Added Tax (VAT) starting January 1, 2018. Economies of GCC countries are highly dependent on the oil and gas sector revenues, which account for about 80% of the GCC governments’ budgets. The recent volatility in oil prices have battered GCC nations’ revenues, which motivated the governments to initiate a reform in the form of indirect taxation with a goal to diversify income sources. VAT is a measure that will impart more stability and robustness to the governments’ income considering the outlook for crude oil still remains volatile, while diversified revenue sources will cushion the GCC economies in times of financial crisis.

A standard rate of 5% will be applied on most products, except specified food items, domestic public transportation, and healthcare, education, and financial services. The proposed VAT rate is much lower in comparison with rates in most European countries, China, and Australia. Nonetheless, the GCC countries still stand to gain in income with the tax implementation – for instance, the UAE is forecast to generate US$3.27 billion revenue during the first year of VAT introduction.

Industries such as construction and automotive are likely to benefit from VAT implementation, while retailers might feel a pinch due to dwindling margins. The sentiment among the citizens is wary to say the least – for instance, according to a survey conducted by CFA Society Emirates, citizens of the UAE did not seem quite optimistic towards the economic impact of VAT across certain parameters such as price inflation, cost of doing business, and inflow of foreign direct investments (FDI).

GCC to Introduce VAT

EOS Perspective

Introduction of VAT could empower the GCC economies by bolstering revenue generation, aiding infrastructure development, and improving productivity levels. While some may believe that VAT implementation could tarnish GCC countries’, particularly the UAE’s, competitiveness and tax-free haven status, it is important to consider that GCC markets’ attractiveness goes way beyond only the tax benefits. GCC’s appeal also lies in developed infrastructure, competitive labor costs, lower trade barriers, and proximity to the developing Asian and African markets – implementation of a new tax reform will not change this favorable business environment.

There have been some discussions regarding the negative implications of VAT, considering residents and businesses have grown accustomed to high incomes and low deductibles for a long time. Post VAT implementation, businesses are expected to incur certain additional costs related to administrative expenses, upgrading IT systems, and training staff members, among others.

Also, highly competitive industry sectors, or those operating with thin margins are likely to witness cash flow burden, as they will be required to meet the VAT costs on purchases before they can be reclaimed from the government – in certain scenarios, when the businesses end up paying more as VAT to suppliers as compared to the VAT collected from customers, the difference can be reclaimed from public funds. The way businesses operate is likely to fundamentally transform once VAT is applied, however, with adequate preparation businesses should be able to introduce systems and processes to avoid unnecessary cost implications as well as smoothly align themselves with the new tax system.

The way businesses operate is likely to fundamentally transform once VAT is applied, however, with adequate preparation businesses should be able to introduce systems and processes to avoid unnecessary cost implications as well as smoothly align themselves with the new tax system.

VAT is not expected to have much impact on a common man, as vital household expenditure items will be exempted from it – this includes about 100 varieties of staple food items and essential services such as healthcare and education. However, for a section of the population with an appetite for luxury goods, services, and lifestyles, as well as for tourists (along with VAT, they will have to pay duty tax again on some goods in their country of origin) the brunt of new taxation is likely to be felt.

Nonetheless, a modest tax rate of 5% will ensure that certain social-economic distortions often associated with VAT are minimized. Also, the decision to exempt a few vital sectors (basic food items, and healthcare, financial, and education services) will ascertain that they are not affected by the tax reform.

VAT imposition is expected to become an essential part of GCC regions’ economic reforms and the taxation policy will immensely aid in diversification of revenue sources. Further, the pre-implementation period should be used by the GCC countries to develop a modern tax administration system that ensures compliance, so that once VAT is implemented, businesses and residents are able to smoothly adapt themselves to the new taxation policy.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

The Gloomy Post-Olympic Scenario for Brazil

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Now that the Rio Olympics have ended, Brazil will soon get to see whether the expected benefits of its enormous investment start materializing. The sports extravaganza was heavy on Brazil’s pocket, as the country spent massive amount of money on construction of sports venues, housing, transportation, and other infrastructure. Hosting Olympics has indisputably driven tourism, created job opportunities, and generated profit from industries such as transportation, hospitality, entertainment, food, retail, etc. However, this upsurge seems to have been momentary, and mostly limited till the time games lasted. The mid and long term benefits of Olympics are still questionable and raising doubts whether Brazil will pay a high price for the Olympic glory.

Hosting a massive event like Olympics is always exorbitant, requiring huge investments to spruce infrastructure, improve accommodation facilities, etc. Brazil invested heavily to host the games resulting in cost overrun of 51%. Some of the major cost heads included administration, technology, and infrastructure.

1-Cost

During the games, Brazil was flocked with visitors, restaurants and hotels were buzzing with people, who spent mammoth amount of money, adding on to Brazil’s revenue. Foreign visitors spent about US$ 617 million, while ticket sales alone generated US$ 323 million. Bars and restaurants witnessed upsurge in sales and hotels enjoyed much higher occupancy rates than any other time.


2-Impact

The post-Olympic scenario looks gloomy with minimal impact on economic growth of the country (meager addition of 0.05pp to GDP) while Brazil remains engulfed with rising inflation, public debt, and high insolvency rate. Further, results of a survey conducted by Fecomércio MG (Federation of Trade in Goods, Services, and Tourism) in 2016, suggests that only 4% people believe that Brazil will reap benefits post-games and 53.3% people consider that Olympics will have no impact on businesses.


3-Post Olympic Impact

EOS Perspective

In 2009, when Rio was chosen to host the 2016 Olympics, Brazil was at the crest of its economic boom. However, currently, Brazil is struggling to fight its third straight year of recession, growing unemployment, and double-digit inflation. The economy is expected to shrink by 3.5% in 2016 owing to weak commodity prices, political instability, and low import demand from China (one of Brazil’s key trade partners). Amidst all the economic mayhem, hosting Olympics further deepened the financial crack such that Rio had to declare a state of financial emergency, when the Brazilian government authorized a loan of US$ 850 million to pay for Olympic infrastructure and security.

Economic benefits of hosting extravagant events like Olympics are often quite exaggerated. For instance, London earned revenue of barely US$3.5 billion after its lavish spending of US$ 15 billion.

For Brazil, Olympics will definitely drive a modest short-term growth in terms of economy, tourism, and job creation, however, the net impact is likely to be negative. Investment in building massive infrastructure for Olympics and additional public spending are expected to escalate public debt. Organizing a mega sporting event like Olympics amidst rising public debt is likely to result in high inflation rate visible until 2020 and an increase in regional business bankruptcies. The benefits generated by hosting Olympics might be insufficient to compensate for the economic turmoil that had already plagued Brazil even before the games commenced. Unfortunately, the timing of hosting opulent events like World Cup and Olympics back to back might jeopardize the much needed positive impact expected from these sports events.

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