In Argentina “All Bets Are Off” As Peso Disintegrates

“All bets are off” in Argentina” – as Bloomberg puts it – where the value of the local peso has plummeted, falling 20% this week alone. It is now 50$ weaker on the year versus the USD, making it the worst performing currency of 2018 and sending massive shockwaves through Argentina’s economy. The effect on business owners and anyone who transacts in local currency has been profound, according to Bloomberg.

“There’s no clear price reference after the peso plunge,” one business owner told Bloomberg. The price plunge has created havoc for him and his surgical equipment business, where he buys in foreign currencies and sells in pesos.

Unlike hyperinflating economic basket case Venezuela, Argentina is a sizable $640 billion economy that is now being put to the test to see how much strain it can truly endure.

The peso crippling could also be a precursor to political unrest, as President Mauricio Macri’s chances of being reelected are reportedly falling, despite being known as a leader who has been friendly to the markets over the course of his tenure. However, as a result of the recent turmoil, he’s “struggling” to restore investor confidence in the Argentinian peso. 

Argentina and its Central Bank have taken a number of decisive steps to try and halt the plunge, yesterday hiking interest rates to the world’s highest 60%. Previously, the country had requested quicker payouts from the International Monetary Fund, which promptly granted the collapsing country’s request.

And speaking of Argentina $50 billion loan agreement in place with the IMF – the largest ever in IMF history – this isn’t that too different from the country’s 2001 default, when it was on a similar IMF loan program. Since then, the country underwent a “decade of budget-busting left-populist government – and isolation from world financial markets”. 

The result appears to be the country coming full circle. 

Argentinian residents who voted for President Macri went on record telling Bloomberg they “wouldn’t do it again.”

“I see a country that’s lost its way. They need to find a way to stop this slide,” one 46-year-old bank worker told Bloomberg after buying some dollars she hoped to sell later. She concluded, “The problem is, they don’t know what to say.”

The government forecasts now that the economy is going to contract 1% this year despite predictions of 3% growth at the start of this year; the most likely outcome will be a severe recession if not depression. Inflation is at a stunning 30% and is accelerating.

This makes the issue of price discovery incredibly difficult for business owners, who are now purchasing physical supplies as currency hedges. At the same time, vendors are roping in their lines of credit with customers and demanding immediate payment due to the extreme volatility.

President Macri’s plan initially was to reduce the country’s deficit slowly. The goal was to move it from 6.5% of GDP last year to 3.8% of GDP in 2019. Now, it is likely that the government will release a plan for an even lower target for 2019, reportedly below 1.3% of GDP, Bloomberg noted. The problem is that as Greece has shown, such “austere” measures usually end up in a cycle of economic depressions.

Meanwhile, the economy is starting to grind to a halt: labor strikes are also expected, as negotiating with unions is going to be extremely difficult due to the uncertainty with what the value of the currency is.

“Our salaries are constantly eroding,” 62-year-old union leader Ruben Garrido told Bloomberg.

Even those at the upper end of the socioeconomic spectrum are feeling the brunt of the currency’s plunge, but at least  they seem to understand monetary policy better than the country’s central bankers. Alicia Quadri, a dance teacher and former star ballerina at the prestigious Teatro Colon.

“I was hoping to go to Europe with my daughter at the end of the year,’’ she said. “With this exchange rate, I won’t. I’ll wait for things to calm down.’’ When, and how, will that happen? Quadri wasn’t sure.

“They need to get all the major stakeholders, the best economists, to find a solution,’’ a former star ballerina at the prestigious Teatro Colon told Bloomberg. She continued, “But not the IMF, or outsiders. They’ll only make the country take on more debt. And they don’t live through the consequences.’’

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