As Multinationals Plan for Growth in Brazil, Profitability is Key

FSG recently surveyed our clients and expert advisors regarding their expectations for their businesses in Brazil over the next 5-10 years, and the results reflect two important trends: cost-consciousness and path-dependency. For many years now, companies have invested in Brazil and been content with robust top-line growth. However, in the wake of the financial crisis, as the US and Eurozone markets have struggled and China is currently experiencing a slowdown, many multinationals are running out of patience. Increasingly, top-line growth in Brazil is not sufficient, and our clients are concerned with cutting costs and improving operational efficiency so as to improve their bottom-line performance.

As they do so, they remain cognizant of the potential for government action to address specific constraints—while many of our clients are skeptical about the true impact reforms will have, our view is that government actions will help mitigate the impact of some constraints, most notably infrastructure and access to financing, while failing to address others, due in large part to domestic politics. This variation is impacting our clients’ strategic plans in quite interesting ways.

For example, while companies continue to equate geographic expansion in the Northeast and Center-West with growth potential, they are primarily planning for product-led growth over the near term, due to the logistical costs associated with expanding to lesser-penetrated regions where infrastructure is poor or non-existent. It should be noted that a zero-sum approach is neither evident nor expected. FSG clients are not discounting geographic expansion, but many executives are being forced by cost concerns to make trade-offs, and this often results in short-term concerns dictating strategic priorities.

Over the medium-to-long term, we do expect that push and pull factors, including market saturation and the need to serve existing accounts will continue to drive expansion, and we also expect infrastructure reforms to decrease the marginal costs associated with geographic expansion, making this approach much more feasible from a cost-benefit perspective. Of critical importance are external urgency drivers, including the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympic Games, which help raise the stakes and motivate the government to engage the private sector in infrastructure projects.

As executives plan for growth in Brazil, their decisions are increasingly motivated by the need to ensure the growth they deliver is profitable. Trends worth tracking in light of this paradigm shift are those that promise to tilt the balance down the road in favor of outcomes that may not be feasible from a cost-benefit perspective at present.

Christine Herlihy

Latin America

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