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By Jamie McGeever
BRASILIA, Aug 30 (Reuters) - Brazil’s public finances improved in July as the primary deficit narrowed from a year earlier and came in around half that expected, central bank figures showed on Friday, although the country’s debt load rose back toward its highest-ever level.
The government’s primary fiscal deficit of 2.76 billion reais ($667.4 billion) was the best result for the month of July since 2013, and marked an improvement from the 3.4 billion-reais shortfall the previous month.
The median estimate in a Reuters poll of economists was for a primary deficit of 5.2 billion reais.
But the improvement failed to prevent Brazil’s overall debt load from rising. The country’s gross debt as a share of GDP rose to 79.0% while net public sector debt rose to 55.8% of GDP, the central bank said.
The gross debt level of 79.0% of GDP is within touching distance of April’s record high 79.1%, and the signs are it will soon exceed that, economists say.
“Overall, the fiscal picture remains very weak, despite the effort over the last 3 years to contain discretionary spending and the significant retrenchment of public investment,” Goldman Sachs’ Alberto Ramos wrote in a note to clients.
“Given the slow progress on fiscal consolidation, we expect the public debt picture to continue to deteriorate and for the gross level to exceed a disquieting 80% of GDP before stabilizing,” he wrote.
The accumulated primary deficit comprising the central government, regional governments and state-owned enterprises before interest payments factored in for the 12 months to July was 98.9 billion reais, or 1.41% of GDP, down from 1.42% in June, the central bank said.
That has been steadily coming down from 1.54% at the start of the year, and is on track to end the year comfortably within the government’s broad target of around 1.9% of GDP.
Figures on Thursday showed that the central government’s primary budget deficit narrowed to 6 billion reais ($1.45 billion), as revenue growth outstripped increases in spending. ($1 = 4.14 reais)
Reporting by Marcela Ayres and Jamie McGeever in Brasilia Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Matthew Lewis