March 1, 2013 3:01 am

Brazil container traffic slows

Brazilian container traffic dipped unexpectedly in the final months of last year, raising concerns about the strength of an expected recovery in Latin America’s biggest economy in 2013.

The decline, which comes ahead of the government’s expected announcement on Friday of a disappointing number for gross domestic product last year, was driven by a 3.1 per cent fall in exports in the fourth quarter compared with a year earlier, according to Maersk Line, the private shipping company that accounts for 15 per cent of Latin America’s container volumes.

“We are fairly sceptical about the outlook for 2013,” said Peter Gyde, chief executive officer of Maersk Line Brazil. “The scary part is that there is weakness across the board.”

The softening trade flow for containerised goods comes as the government is expected to release a GDP growth figure for 2012 in the range of 1 per cent, down from 2.7 per cent in 2011 and 7.5 per cent in 2010.

President Dilma Rousseff has released a series of stimulus measures to encourage consumption while also trying to kick-start flagging investment through the privatisation of big infrastructure projects.

Returning the economy closer to its long-term growth pattern of around 4 per cent is seen as an urgent priority for a president who is expected to stand for a second term in elections next year.

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Brazilian bank Itaú said it expected GDP in 2012 to have grown 0.9 per compared with a year earlier but said early signs were for a recovery this year.

“In addition to agricultural and livestock activity, there are signs of strength in the industrial sector,” the bank said.

But Maersk Line said while some commodity and consumer-related imports to Brazil remained strong, trade related to domestic industry or global manufacturing was weak.

Brazilian export and import volumes by sea grew a total of 2 per cent last year against a year earlier but contracted 1.2 per cent in the fourth quarter versus a year earlier after growing only 0.2 per cent in the third.

In the fourth quarter, while exports fell 3.1 per cent, imports rose 0.6 per cent.

The group said global economic growth was seen continuing this year at the subdued pace of 2012 of 2.5 per cent.

Mr Gyde said he expected containerised imports of consumer goods to remain firm this year along with some commodities, such as coffee and soy.

Itaú said it expected household spending to have risen during the final quarter while investment declined.

The government has launched a programme to improve efficiency of its ports. Opposed by dockside workers unions, the plan is expected to pass Congress by the middle of this month.

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