Maria Nazare de Souza beams as she shows off her newfound wealth: a two-chair beauty salon with a tiny two-room apartment above it.
After renting for years in the vast slum of Heliopolis, de Souza and her husband fulfilled an almost unthinkable dream, becoming homeowners with the help of their savings and a loan requiring monthly payments of just $59.
Souza hopes she can soon use credit to replace her second-hand stove, microwave oven and refrigerator with new appliances. All around her in this slum of 180,000 people, trucks delivering plasma TVs bought on payment plans rumble by new cars and the concrete homes that are rapidly replacing wooden shacks.
While the United States teeters on the edge of a recession, an economic boom and easier credit terms have sent Brazil hurtling into a consumption frenzy as millions of people qualify for loans for the first time. With a stable economy, falling unemployment, booming exports and low inflation, banks are seeking a much wider customer base.
Well-heeled Brazilians and international corporations are pouring billions of dollars into Latin America's largest country, which most experts think is prepared to weather any global slowdown.
Gross domestic product for Brazil - home to the region's biggest economy - rose an estimated 5 percent for 2007 and the nation's economy is expected to grow 4.5 percent this year.
Underlying the boom is the high global demand for Brazil's vast natural resources - the country is the planet's top exporter of beef, chicken, ethanol, iron ore, sugar, coffee and orange juice. Brazil comes in a close second to the United States for soy exports.
And two major offshore finds by state-run Petroleo Brasileiro SA in the past three months could turn Brazil into an oil and natural gas exporter and a prospective member of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries.
So many apartment buildings are going up that cement sales are expected to rise 11 percent over last year's record-setting total. Flights to Disney World are packed, as upper-middle-class Brazilians take advantage of their nation's strong currency to make trips abroad. The Brazilian real, one of the planet's fastest-rising currencies, last year gained 17 percent against the dollar and 7 percent against the euro.
President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva is trumpeting a trickle-down economic effect for the working class as evidence of vast social change. He also expanded a social safety net of food money for the poor, and is promising jobs through a big increase in government-sponsored infrastructure spending. Tax collections have risen markedly thanks to booming business and beefed up collection efforts in a country notorious for tax evasion.
Brazilians born poor have historically been destined to die poor. Changing that would mark a huge social shift for the country and a coup for Silva.