Brazil experienced hyperinflation in the late 1980s and early 1990s, with inflation rates surpassing 80% per month at its peak. This led to economic instability and hardship for many Brazilians. In 1994, the government introduced the Plano Real to stabilize prices and curb hyperinflation. The plan involved pegging the real to the US dollar, implementing fiscal reforms, and introducing a new currency – the real.

Introduction to the Plano Real

The Plano Real was launched on July 1, 1994 by then Finance Minister Fernando Henrique Cardoso under President Itamar Franco. Its key goals were to:

  • Stop the rampant hyperinflation
  • Stabilize prices
  • Restore economic growth
  • Reduce inequality

To accomplish this, the plan had several components:

The URV Unit of Real Value

As a transitional unit of account, the government introduced the Unit of Real Value (URV). It was pegged to the US dollar to serve as a more stable reference point for prices and contracts as the old cruzeiro currency was phased out.

Fiscal Reforms

The government aimed to reduce the budget deficit, which was one driver of inflation. Reforms included spending cuts, tax increases, and changes to retirement pensions.

Introduction of the Real

On July 1, 1994, the new brazilian real currency was introduced at a rate of 1 real to 1 URV. Large currency conversions took place to phase out the cruzeiro.

Monetary Policy

The Central Bank used tight monetary policy to manage inflation and stabilize the real, including high interest rates.

Impact on Hyperinflation

The most immediate success of the Plano Real was the drastic reduction in hyperinflation. In June 1994, inflation was at 50% for the month – by August 1994, it dropped to just 1.5%.

This stabilization continued – inflation fell to 33% in 1995, and to 12% by 1997. The plan managed to reduce inflation to single digit levels for the first time in over two decades.

The fixed exchange rate also provided confidence and stability for pricing and contracts. It made imports cheaper and helped control prices.

Economic Growth After the Plano Real

The Plano Real ushered in a new period of economic stability and growth for Brazil. With inflation under control, the economy started a recovery.

Strong GDP Growth

Brazil’s GDP grew by over 5% in 1994 after the launch of the plan. Growth continued at over 4% annually from 1994 to 1997.

Investment and Spending Boom

With lower inflation and economic stability, investor and consumer confidence grew. Investment as a share of GDP increased from 15% in 1993 to 19% by 1997. Consumer spending also rose robustly.

Trade Balance Improvements

The overvalued fixed exchange rate made imports cheaper – this helped reduce inflation. But it also led to a flood of imports and worsening of Brazil’s trade balance. Still exports grew strongly too in the 1994-97 period.

Declining Interest Rates

As inflation plummeted, interest rates fell from very high levels pre-Real to more normal single digit levels by 1997 – though still high by global standards.

Social Impacts

The stabilization also brought some important social benefits and reduced inequality.

Poverty Reduction

The rate of extreme poverty fell from 25% in 1993 to 14% by 1997. With lower inflation, the poor suffered less compared to those able to hedge against rising prices.

Boost in Real Wages

Average real wages increased by over 5% annually from 1994 to 1998. This was after years of declining real wages during the high inflation period.

Lower Inequality

The income GINI coefficient fell from 0.60 in 1993 to 0.57 by 1998, thanks to real wage growth and poverty reduction.

Challenges and Weaknesses

Despite the initial successes, the Plano Real exhibited some structural weaknesses and faced growing challenges.

Current Account Deficits

The overvalued exchange rate led to growing current account deficits, reaching over 4% by 1998. Brazil became dependent on foreign capital inflows.

Public Debt Rise

Large fiscal deficits led to a steady rise in public debt to GDP from 30% in 1994 to 43% by 1998.

External Shocks

Brazil was impacted by external crises like the Mexican peso crisis (1995), Asian financial crisis (1997) and Russian debt crisis (1998) – leading to capital outflows.

Loss of Industrial Competitiveness

The overvalued currency hurt the competitiveness of Brazil’s exports. Manufacturing and industrial output stagnated through the 1990s.

The 1998-1999 Currency Crisis

By 1998, it was clear the fixed exchange rate regime was unsustainable. A balance of payments crisis forced Brazil to devalue its currency in January 1999.

Currency Devaluation

After years of defending the peg, Brazil devalued the real by 8% against the dollar in January 1999. A free-floating exchange rate was adopted.

Sharp Depreciation

Through 1999, the real depreciated significantly, losing 35% of its value against the dollar.

Interest Rate Spike

To manage the currency crisis, interest rates spiked above 40%. Credit became scarce.

Reserves Dip

Brazil’s foreign reserves fell over $30 billion in 1999 as the Central Bank defended the currency.

Return of Inflation

Inflation began rising again, reaching 9% in 1999. But it was far below the hyperinflation of the 1980s.


The economy contracted by 0.5% in 1999 as investment and consumption collapsed.

Aftermath and Lessons

While the Plano Real had its challenges, it was seen as an overall success. Some key lessons:

  • Fixed exchange rates require strong fundamentals – otherwise unsustainable imbalances build up.
  • Reducing fiscal deficits is critical for stabilization plans to work.
  • Stabilization enables strong confidence effects and growth – but may encourage excessive consumption and borrowing.
  • Without ongoing reforms, stabilizations can falter – but Real showed the benefits of price stability.

Brazil’s economy recovered after 1999, and managed to maintain lower inflation in the 2000s. But macroeconomic stability remains elusive even today.


The Plano Real marked a turning point – taming hyperinflation and bringing temporary stability in the 1990s. Challenges remained with fiscal deficits and current account gaps. But it enabled a few years of robust growth and social progress. Though the currency crisis of 1999 showed more reforms were needed, the Real will be remembered as a pivotal moment in Brazil’s economic history.