With the arrival of the Covid-19 pandemic in the region, economic climate deteriorates quickly in Latin America

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With the arrival of the Covid-19 pandemic in the region, economic climate deteriorates quickly in Latin America
The Economic Climate Index (ECI) in Latin America by the Getulio Vargas Foundation (FGV) — went to 60.4 negative points from 14.1 negative points between January and April 2020, the worst result in the historical series since January 1989. The lowest previous level had occurred in January 2009, shortly after the 2008 financial crisis, when the ECI had reached 48.7 negative points. The indicator, which had remained on negative ground and declining since April 2018, had recovered somewhat from the losses in the January 2020 survey, compared to October 2019, but has now been brought down by the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic. The COVID-19 pandemic reversed the improvement trend that was outlined at the beginning of the year as economic climate indicators in Latin America suggest the region's entry into a recessionary phase. Although the worsening is widespread, the wide dispersion of expectations indicators may reflect different perceptions of how the pandemic is being tackled in each country. The Current Situation Index (ISA), which had remained at an unfavorable level since July 2012, had reported a slight improvement in January 2020, compared to October 2019, to 53,8 negative points from 63.0 negative points. The pandemic interrupted the indicator improvement trend, reaching 89.9 negative points in April, the worst result in the historical series started in January 1989. The Expectations Indicator (IE), which had been showing positive results since July 2016, also reported a sharp drop to 23.1 negative points, affected by the deteriorated expectations in Latin America. The results show that Latin America was in a recovery phase of the business cycle in early 2020, with the expectation indicator improving and positive, and the current situation negative but improving. The April results show that the pandemic took the region directly into a recession, with expectations reversed and a very significant worsening in assessments of the current situation. Results from countries With the exception of Chile and Ecuador, all other countries selected for the Latin America Survey had improved the economic climate between October 2019 and January 2020. However, only Paraguay and Colombia had positive ECI. In the same period, ECI of Brazil went to 2.0 negative points from 25.0 negative points. Peru and Uruguay remained at levels close to those of Brazil, with ICEs of -1.8 and -2.8 points respectively. The April 2020 result shows ECI deterioration in all countries. The greatest decreases occurred in Paraguay, to 70.4 negative points from 28.0 positive points, and in Brazil to 60.9 negative points from 2.0 negative points in the same period. Negative indicators, but below 50 points, were recorded in Chile and Colombia. Between October 2019 and January 2020, all countries had registered improvements in their current situation indicators, except Bolivia, Chile, Mexico and Peru. Despite this, only Colombia already had a positive balance. In April, all indicators are negative. The PSI of Brazil, which had gone to 52.2 negative points from 75.0 negative points between October 2019 and January 2020, fell to 90.9 negative points in April 2020. It is not the worst result in the historical series. PSI was 100 negative points (no positive response) between January and April 1991 and in the period from July 2015 to October 2016. With present situation indicators worse than that of Brazil, in April we have Chile, Ecuador, Peru, Uruguay and Venezuela. It draws attention to the reduction of the current dissatisfaction implicit in the recent evolution of the Argentine PSI, which went to 88.9 negative points in January 2020 and 77.8 negative points in April from 100 negative points in October 2019. Between October 2019 and January 2020, the Expectation Indicator had recovered in all countries, except in Colombia, Ecuador and Uruguay. In addition, EI was positive for everyone except Bolivia and Colombia. COVID-19 has led to worsening expectations in all countries except Colombia and Chile. In the first, the indicator went from negative to null and in Chile it remained with a positive balance of 30 points. Apart from Chile, only Uruguay presented a positive EI. In Brazil, EI rose to 65.2 positive points from 45.0 points between October 2019 and January 2020 and fell to 22.7 negative points in April 2020. The year 2020 started with better indicators than those of the October 2019 Survey, but all countries had an unfavorable economic climate (negative balances), except for Colombia and Paraguay. The favorable expectations for January pointed to a possible continuation of the improvement trend in the economic climate. COVID-19 interrupted this possible recovery. Present situation indicators indicate a relatively small degree of variation - ranging to 100 negative points from 75.0 negative points. On the other hand, expectations indicators range to 100 negative points from 30 positive points. Policies to combat the epidemic in each country may be one of the factors that explain this difference. ECI ranking based on the average of the last four quarters shows Paraguay and Colombia in first and second places in January and April 2020. Brazil moved to sixth from fifth position between the two surveys. Main problems faced by countries The April Survey brings supplementary questions about the main problems faced by Latin American countries, according to the experts consulted. Scores above 50 points indicate that the item is considered a restriction on economic growth and the higher the score, the greater importance is attributed to the problem analyzed. For scores below 50 points, the question is considered of little relevance. In all 11 countries analyzed, lack of innovation and insufficient demand are considered relevant issues. The first tends to be a common problem in all semi-annual surveys and can be identified as a structural problem in the region. The second portrays the current situation associated with the effects of the pandemic, since in October 2019, this problem had been identified as relevant by only four countries. Another problem in the region is corruption, assessed as a relevant problem in nine countries, not being relevant in Chile and Uruguay. Nine countries also pointed to an increase in income inequality as an important factor. Only in Bolivia and Paraguay this factor has not been assessed as relevant. An equal number of countries considered the lack of qualified labor as a restriction on growth, except Argentina and Uruguay. Eight countries highlighted inadequate infrastructure as a restriction to growth and three countries did not (Chile, Ecuador and Uruguay). Lack of international competitiveness is present as a major problem in eight countries and is absent as a relevant issue for Chile and Mexico. In the eleven countries together, seven highlighted a lack of confidence in economic policy, an unfavorable climate for foreign investors, lack of capital and legal and administrative barriers to investment (domestic and foreign), as a relevant issue. Peru and Uruguay do not consider these issues important. In the case of confidence in policies, Chile and Colombia are also part of the group that does not assign relevant weight to this issue, in the case of the unfavorable climate, Colombia and Paraguay, and in the barriers, Chile and Ecuador. Political instability and lack of capital are part of the set of relevant restrictions for six countries. Argentina, Colombia, Mexico, Paraguay and Uruguay do not consider political instability as a relevant issue. Lack of capital is not on the list of important issues for Chile, Colombia, Mexico and Peru. Export barriers are not a relevant issue for the 11 countries. Central bank debt management and credibility are relevant issues for only three countries: Argentina, Ecuador and Venezuela. When comparing the average score by countries, Uruguay, Chile and Paraguay have averages below 50 points. Brazil is in seventh place with an average of 68.3. In Brazil, the main problems in descending order are: inadequate infrastructure; increased income inequalities; lack of international competitiveness; insufficient demand; political instability; lack of confidence in economic policy; legal and administrative barriers for investors; lack of qualified labor; corruption; lack of innovation; unfavorable climate for foreign investors and lack of capital. Not relevant are the barriers to exports, debt management and Bacen's credibility. The last time these questions were applied in the survey, in October 2019, political instability, insufficient demand, corruption, an unfavorable climate for foreign investments and a lack of capital were not on the list of relevant issues such as restrictions on Brazilian economic growth. There was, therefore, a worsening in the economic scenario and, except for insufficient demand and lack of capital, the other items have little relation to the effect of COVID-19.