The sale of state-owned Vale do Rio Doce to the private
sector was celebrated with French champagne by the victorious bidders,
but vehemently condemned in the streets by some sectors of the population.
Opposition to privatization is nothing new. The novelty was the scope of
those protesting this time: among others, the church, leaders from the
right and the left, the Brazilian Press Association and two former presidents.
By Marta Alvim
Amid loud protests, a flood of lawsuits and court injunctions, the saga
of state-owned Companhia Vale do Rio Doce (CVRD) finally came to an end
on May 6, as the hammer went down on Latin America’s largest privatization
deal. The bid winner, Valepar, an international consortium led by Brazilian
steel maker Companhia Siderúrgica Nacional (CSN), paid $3.3 billion
for 43.73% of the mining giant’s voting stock—a 19.99% agio over the minimum
As the winning group celebrated the victory with liberal quantities
of Moet & Chandon at a private office in São Paulo, the scene
outside Rio de Janeiro’s stock exchange, where the auction took place,
resembled a battle field. In the confrontation that followed between some
5,000 protesters and a force of 600 men from the military police, 33 people
were wounded by the exchange of blows, stone throwing, and tear gas. Similar
manifestations had been occurring in several Brazilian cities weeks before
the auction took place.
In the meantime, another injunction, this time seeking to annul the
auction’s outcome and to block payment and share transfer to the consortium,
was being filed.
Demonstrations of nationalistic and ideological natures are not unusual
in the history of Brazil’s privatization process. In 1991 and 1992, when
steel makers Usiminas and Companhia Siderúrgica Nacional were privatized,
the government decision was met with strikes, protests and even a bomb
explosion during the sell-off of the latter. What makes the public outcry
against Vale’s deal distinct from other anti-privatization efforts is the
scope of the sectors involved. The church. The Brazilian Lawyers Association.
Former presidents José Sarney and Itamar Franco. The Brazilian Press
Association. Right and left-wing politicians. Labor Unions. The scientific
and academic communities. Civilians from all walks of life.
In anticipation of the strong reaction, the government spent $4.8 million
in a massive institutional campaign that included radio and TV ads—the
latter starring popular actor Raul Cortez; paid newspapers’ articles, plus
the public relations effort of Minister of Planning Antônio Kandir.
In the government sponsored radio program, Voz do Brasil, Kandir
regularly addressed the public’s concerns about CVRD’s deal by answering
thousands of letters that poured in from all over the country.
While most Brazilians approve of less government influence over the
economy, Vale’s privatization has been questioned based on the company’s
lucrative performance over the years and the strategic importance of its
mineral reserves for the country.
THE CROWN JEWEL
As a result of nationalistic pressures on President Getúlio Vargas,
CVRD was founded in 1942 when the control of the Itabira Iron Company,
together with the Vitória-Minas Railroad, was transferred from American
and English ownership to the Brazilian government.
Fifty-five years later CVRD—the "crown jewel," as it is affectionately
called by Brazilians—has become the world’s largest producer of iron ore
and Latin America’s largest producer of gold. Its mineral reserves include
bauxite, manganese, copper, kaolin, potassium, nickel and zinc, with mining
production guaranteed for the next 400 years. The company operates 1800
km of modern railroads, its own marine terminals, and the world’s largest
bulk-carrier fleet. CVRD is also in the pulp and paper fields, and it extracts
400 thousand tons/year of raw material from 580 thousand hectares of replanted
The magnitude of Vale’s operations is impressive. The company employs
approximately 15.5 thousand people, and is present in over 200 cities all
over Brazil. The cities in turn receive 8% of Vale’s net profit in the
form of social and economic improvements in areas such as public health,
sanitation, education, vocational programs for young adults and preservation
of the historical patrimony. Translated into numbers, the company has invested
$169 million in 237 Brazilian cities in the last 16 years, $26 million
last year alone. Furthermore, CVRD regularly invests relevant resources
in the scientific and technological fields. According to the National Bank
of Economic and Social Development (BNDES), which coordinated Vale’s auction,
the new owners will have to honor any social projects approved prior to
Yet, BNDES’s assurance was not enough to appease the opponents of Vale’s
privatization. Apart from the usual nationalistic claims that the government
is surrendering the country’s sovereignty to foreign interests, the whole
deal has been under suspicion from the very start. A research commissioned
to scientists from Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ) by Câmara
dos Deputados (Brazilian Lower House) revealed that CVRD’s patrimony was
significantly undervalued to begin with. After meticulous analysis of Vale’s
documentation and on-site inspections of its mineral reserves, the group
of 22 specialists detected major discrepancies in the numbers presented
by the consortium of financial consultants hired by the government and
led by US investment bank Merryl Lynch. The difference in price between
the two evaluations reached $2.05 billion, which was not included in the
minimum bidding price.
To make matters worse, lawmakers claimed there was a conflict of interest
in Merryl Lynch’s appointment as an official consultant to Vale’s privatization.
In November 1995, the American company bought South African brokerage Smith
Borkham Hare, which in turn acts as sponsoring broker in Johannesburg to
Anglo American Corp., one of the prospective bidders in CVRD’s auction.
Merryl Lynch denied the allegations that it would have passed privileged
information to Anglo American.
Another point of contention is how the government intends to spend the
receipts brought in from the auction. Half of the $3.3 billion will be
used to help reduce the federal debt, which is around $132.1 billion. The
other half will be used by BNDES to subsidize loans to private businesses
at lower interest rates than those offered by the National Treasury—a debatable
decision and a waste of money in the eyes of the anti-privatization faction.
For one, the debt is so huge that $1.6 billion is negligible in the big
scheme of things. Secondly, the government’s paternalistic role towards
the private enterprise is contradictory and inconsistent with its own privatization
Last but not least, why sell a company that has few debts and hasn’t
received any money from the government since 1991? CVRD doesn’t contribute
to the increase of the public deficit. Its annual revenue is around $5.5
billion, and last year Vale made profits of $596 million, nearly 76% higher
than in 1995.
The Union’s lack of financial resources to invest in the company. Need
of more entrepreneurial freedom for Vale, which by being stated-owned,
is restricted to reinvesting only 40% of its net profit in the expansion
of its activities. Low financial return for the State. Those were the three
major arguments given by Minister of Planning, Antônio Kandir, in
favor of CVRD’s privatization.
President Fernando Henrique Cardoso (FHC), at first opposed to Vale’s
sell-off, goes even further and questions the alleged strategic importance
of CVRD. The newspaper Folha de São Paulo quotes the president
as saying: "Strategically, what does Vale do? It gets rocks from,
let’s say, Carajás, puts them in the train, takes them to the port,
and sends them abroad. That’s what the exploration of iron ore is all about.
There’s no important technology involved."
Others add that, once rid of the government bureaucratic structures,
Vale can be even more profitable and competitive, and can generate more
jobs. Besides, it would be better if CVRD paid more taxes, like any other
private company, instead of investing 8% of its net profit in social projects.
In 1995, for instance, Vale spent $8 million on such projects in the state
of Minas Gerais, but some private companies pay up to $400 million in taxes
As for CVRD’s strategic potential to Brazil’s development and sovereignty,
the supporters of Vale’s privatization believe that what’s really important
for the country in today’s reality is education, public health, justice
and safety. Those should be the government’s main concerns, while the management
of mammoths like Vale and other state-owned companies should be left to
As the controlling stake in CVRD changed hands, no immediate major changes
had been planned by the new owners. Of all things, there is only one certainty,
that it may take a number of years to clear up all the legal challenges
to Vale’s sale, although the outcome of the auction is very unlikely to
Besides CSN, the winning consortium also includes four local pension
funds, Banco Bradesco, US NationsBank and Opportunity Asset Management’s
offshore investment fund, which has Citicorp and megabusinessman George
Soros as investors. Directly or indirectly Valepar will control around
80% of Brazil’s steel production.
Meanwhile FHC celebrated victory while boosting his credibility among
the international community. During a visit to the United States last year,
President Clinton urged FHC to speed up the slow-paced privatization process.
Vale’s sell-off showed the world the Brazilian president’s commitment to
a new era of economic liberalization. Next in line are two power generation
plants-Furnas and Electrosul-which are expected to be privatized later
this year. Already in full motion is the privatization of the telecommunications
industry and its cellular-phone markets. Eventually the government will
also sell telephone holding company Telebrás and the nation’s long-distance
……………………..Minerals Reserves (estimated tons)
Iron Ore ………….41.5 billion
Bauxite ……………678.0 million
Manganese ………72.0 million
Copper ……………994.0 million
Kaolin ……………..67.0 million
Potash …………….122.0 million
Nickel ……………..70.0 million
Zinc …………………9.0 million
Uranium …………..1.8 million
Titanium …………..1.0 million
Tungsten …………..510.0 thousand
Niobium …………….60.0 thousand