Historic Brazil pension reform approval looms, lifting stocks to new highs

Historic Brazil pension reform approval looms, lifting stocks to new highs
General view of Brazil's Senate during a session to vote on the pension reform bill in Brasilia, Brazil October 22, 2019. REUTERS/Adriano Machado Copyright ADRIANO MACHADO(Reuters)
Copyright ADRIANO MACHADO(Reuters)
By Reuters
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By Jamie McGeever and Ricardo Brito

BRASILIA (Reuters) - Brazil's Senate Constitutional and Legal Affairs Committee on Tuesday approved the text of a pension reform bill, paving the way for a second and final plenary vote later in the day that will finally enact the landmark bill into law.

Brazilian markets rallied and stocks hit an all-time high as the government's key policy this year to revive flagging economic growth entered the home stretch.

Pension reform has dogged successive governments over the past 20-30 years, during which time the social security deficit has steadily risen. After months of often tortuous and acrimonious debate, the bill is now 99% certain to pass, Senator Tasso Jereissati said.

The bill aims to save the Treasury around 800 billion reais ($195 billion) over the next decade via a range of measures, including raising the minimum retirement age and increasing workers' pension contributions.

The government and economists say it is the single most crucial measure to put Brazil's public finances on a more stable footing, boost investor and business confidence, and inject life into the sluggish economy.

"The (stock) market rallied a lot today, in part because of this passage," said Tony Volpon, chief economist for Brazil at UBS. "It looks like local investors who have been buying the market in the face of foreign selling are beginning to win the argument."

Brazil's benchmark Bovespa stock index <.BVSP> rose 1.1% to close at 107,197 points, breaking above 107,000 points for the first ever. The real rose more than 1%, touching 4.06 per dollar <BRBY> for the first time in over two weeks.

Overhauling Brazil's costly social security system was President Jair Bolsonaro and Economy Minister Paulo Guedes's No. 1 economic reform push during their first year in office.

Its passage through the lower house of Congress in July, toward imminent Senate approval, helped give the central bank the cover it needed to cut interest rates. Failure to pass pension reform would lead to higher risk premia in local markets, the central bank repeatedly warned this year.

The country's public finances are extremely stretched partly because social security outlays are so high, but also because tax revenues have fallen far short of expectations due to weak growth.

The economy is on track to grow by less than 1.0% this year, lower than the previous two years and well below the 2% or more most economists, as well as the government, expected at the start of the year.

The government's original pension reform bill envisaged savings of 1.237 trillion reais over the next decade. That was diluted to just over 900 billion reais in the lower house, then down to around 800 billion reais in the Senate.

(Reporting by Ricardo Brito and Jamie McGeever; Editing by Steve Orlofsky and Tom Brown)

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