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Brazilian presidential results seen as positive for infrastructure, steel demand

Sao Paulo — Jair Bolsonaro, the far-right candidate who resoundingly won the Brazilian presidential election Sunday, has brought optimism amid steel executives, who see a likely infrastructure infusion as a boost for steel, analysts said Monday.

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Marcos Casarin, chief economist for Latin America at Oxford Economics, said that market optimism with Bolsonaro is grounded.

"For the first time in 12 years we have the chance to take a turn in economic policy with some assurance of little state interference," he said in a report.

Moreover, expanding Brazil's infrastructure is seen as one of the top priorities for the new administration, which is likely to directly boost steel demand. Private investments are also expected to resume, sources said, as banks would likely boost lending after years of subdued growth.

According to S&P Global Market Intelligence analysts, the government will lean on national development bank BNDES to leverage on its expertise to act as a financial advisor for the privatization of assets and for structuring financing for new projects.

"Such projects include small hydro power plants, wind and solar facilities in the country's northeast, and transportation infrastructure projects," said S&P Global's Diogo Ocampo in a report. "The latter consist of roads, ports, waterways, railroads, and airports to improve the country's economic competitiveness."

This is because roads account for 60% of transported cargo in Brazil, while railways represent only 20% and waterways account for less than 10%.

Steel executives have said that investments in steel-intensive infrastructure projects would increase capacity utilization at mills to 70%-75% from 50%-60% currently.

Privately owned Brazilian companies have refrained from investing beyond maintenance levels during the past three years, which spanned the country's deepest recession and fragile economic recovery. Idle capacity due to low demand and over-investment led to weak leverage profiles and assets underperformance in 2015 and 2016.

"Bolsonaro's plan to tax dividends and reduce taxes could motivate a rise in investments although a radical reduction may encounter political resistance as it could collide with fiscal objectives," Ocampo added in the report.

Ocampo also pointed out that while the new administration intends to further strengthen the country's energy matrix and overhaul the existing transportation infrastructure assets to reduce dependence on roadways, the question remains how to attract private investors to develop such large-scale plans.

XP Investimentos said in a report that Bolsonaro government plan also addresses the "reduction of many import tariffs and non-tariff barriers, in parallel with the constitution of new international bilateral agreements."

According to the broker, companies from sectors such as steel and others industries could be negatively impacted.

Several sources have been against the unilateral opening of the economy that has been aired by some of Bolsonaro's aides.

"We have an economy that cannot be opened immediately," one said. "We need first to recover our industry."

Steel imports into Brazil are subject to a 12% tariff.

"If local steelmakers lose this protection, for instance, it can be deeply harmful for this industry," another source said.

--Adriana Carvalho, adriana.carvalho@spglobal.com

--Edited by Richard Rubin, richard.rubin@spglobal.com