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Brazilian Officials to Meet With International Bankers to Calm Economic Fears - 2002-08-20

Top Brazilian economic officials will meet with bankers in New York Monday in an attempt to ease Wall Street's concerns over Brazil's economic future. Tuesday's announcement of the trip is part of the Brazilian government's strategy to calm financial markets nervous over the upcoming presidential election and the size of Brazil's debt.

Central Bank Chief Arminio Fraga and Finance Minister Pedro Malan will travel to New York to meet with the representatives of major U.S. banks and European banks, to seek support for Brazil.

Many foreign banks have restricted short-term credit lines to Brazilian exporters as part of a general wave of unease by financial markets over the future of the Brazilian economy. A $30 billion loan by the International Monetary Fund for Brazil that was unveiled earlier this month has so far failed to calm the jittery markets.

In announcing the trip Tuesday, Central Bank chief Fraga said the objective of the meetings is to deliver a positive message about Brazil.

"Our idea goes beyond the issue of credit lines, to a broader understanding of what is happening in Brazil, and that now is a good time to do business here.

But Wall Street remains skeptical. Investors are concerned over the possible victory by a leftwing candidate in October's presidential election and how a new president will deal with Brazil's huge debt and other issues.

Emerging Market analyst Daniel Tillotson of Prudential Securities says Mr. Fraga's trip may do some good. But he adds market confidence in Brazil can only be restored if the financial community likes what it hears from the presidential candidates on the economic issues.

"It is highly desirable to have all the possible communication that one can have and yet ultimately the only thing that can turn around the thought process of bankers and investors in all of the locations is a serious attitude being reflected by the candidates with the support of the people behind them," he said. "If that comes out of an increasingly serious discussion of the need for tax reform and a discussion that gets down even into details of what it should look's highly desirable that the political disussion in Brazil be as meaty (substantive) as it can possibly be."

Tuesday's announcement of the high-level trip to New York came one day after Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso met with the four main presidential candidates to discuss the IMF accord. The two leading candidates, Luiz Inacio "Lula" da Silva of the leftist Workers Party and Ciro Gomes of the Workers Front, stopped short of publicly endorsing the agreement. But Mr. da Silva and Mr. Gomes did express support for maintaining a budget surplus and fiscal stability - both of which are conditions for disbursing the IMF money.

Central Bank Chief Fraga, who was present at the meetings, says he will tell the New York bankers about the positive results of the talks. Mr. Fraga said he will relay to them that there is now a consensus among all the candidates over issues such as fiscal and monetary responsibility - and the need to honor Brazil's contracts.

But analyst Daniel Tillotson says he views the presidential meeting with the candidates as only a small step toward restoring confidence.

"We have to get not only a lot of reassuring commentary from the candidates, we have to get a supportive reaction from the markets and I'm still skeptical that we're capable of getting enough of both of those," he said. "When I say the markets I'm referring to the internal debt markets in Brazil, the trade finance facilities by corresponding banks abroad, and then the investors who participate in Brazil's external debt instruments, and all of them have been rather seriously spooked and that does not get undone in one day."

Meantime, the Brazilian government has taken a series of measures to provide credit lines for exporters in an attempt to ease the pressure on the nation's currency. Mr. Fraga Tuesday expressed confidence these measures will help contain the liquidity problem that arose when foreign banks reduced their credit lines to Brazil.