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"After several dynamic years that saw it earn a reputation among some Western investors as "the near China," Brazil now looks to be downshifting into a pattern of economic growth of around 3 percent to 4 percent for the foreseeable future.

While that is still good by the depressed standards of Europe and the United States, it puts Brazil behind most of its true peers -- fellow members in the BRICS group of large emerging markets and most major economies in Latin America.

The cooler outlook is reflected in Brazil's stock market, one of the world's worst-performing indexes this year. Several companies are scaling back investment plans in the face of disappointing profits. Wall Street economists have been slashing forecasts for 2011 and years to come.

The main culprit is Brazil's middle-class consumer who powered the expansion of recent years by snapping up cars and TVs at a record pace but now looks to be nearly tapped out. The evidence ranges from the empirical, such as rising default rates, to the anecdotal -- it is astonishing how easy it is to find Brazilians who are in over their heads on debt."

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