UPDATE 2-Brazil retail growth slows, reinforcing rates outlook
* Sales volumes rose 0.3 pct in Nov from Oct, 8.4 pct yr/yr
* Central bank expected to hold interest rate at record low
* Auto, appliance sales swing on tax break expectations
SAO PAULO, Jan 15 (Reuters) - Brazilian retail sales growth slowed in November from October as a heavier debt load weighed on consumer demand for big-ticket purchases, slowing a fragile economic recovery and reinforcing expectations that interest rates will remain at record lows. Retail sales volumes in Brazil rose 0.3 percent in November from October, government statistics agency IBGE said on Tuesday, slowing from 0.8 percent growth the month before in line with expectations. The data comes on the eve of a central bank decision, when officials are expected to hold their benchmark interest rate at an historic low, part of a raft of policies to shake off a slump in Latin America's biggest economy. Consumer demand has kept Brazil out of recession over the past year, thanks to record-low unemployment, rising wages and cheaper credit. But Brazilian families are spending more than ever to keep current on their debts, pinching demand for durable household goods. "The numbers confirm the slowdown, with a very modest fourth quarter and growth below 1 percent in 2012. It was an awful year," said Andre Perfeito, chief economist at Gradual Investimentos in Sao Paulo. "It should also reinforce the consensus that the central bank will hold rates down for an extended period."
In November, the central bank held its policy rate at a record-low 7.25 percent after 10 straight rate cuts since Brazil's economy slowed sharply in late 2011. Economists widely expect the bank to keep interest rates unchanged on Wednesday as well, according to a Reuters poll, with a median forecast of stable rates through the end of 2013. Yields on interest rate futures contracts were little changed on Tuesday, suggesting the central bank may not raise interest rates until the middle of 2014.
"A LOT OF NOISE" President Dilma Rousseff has accompanied Brazil's monetary stimulus with dozens of tax breaks and credit incentives in a piecemeal effort to encourage consumption and support local manufacturing. As a result, sales in the targeted sectors such as the auto and home appliance industries have often swung sharply from month to month based on expected policies, without expanding much faster over the course of the year, according to Perfeito. Purchases of vehicles and auto parts, for example, sank 23 percent in September, rebounded 18 percent in October then dropped 5 percent in November. "It would seem the government's actions haven't really generated faster growth of total sales as much as more volatility and a lot of noise," Perfeito said. November's retail sales rose 8.4 percent from the year-earlier period, the IBGE added, close to the 8.3 percent median estimate in the Reuters poll. Slowing retail sales growth probably dragged on economic activity in November, leading to a meager 0.1 percent expansion of the central bank's IBC-Br economic activity index after 0.4 percent growth in October, according to preliminary forecasts from 15 analysts. The government has repeatedly said that the last quarter of 2012 would mark the start of an economic rebound from the sharp slowdown in the first nine months of the year. Economists have slashed their forecasts for economic growth in 2012 and 2013 after a disappointing third quarter. Brazil, Latin American's biggest economy, is expected to grow 3.2 percent this year, up from a forecast of 1 percent last year.