Leroy N. Soetoro
2018-05-04 21:23:38 UTC
Argentinas central bank unexpectedly raised interest rates for the third
time in eight days Friday in an attempt to prop up its faltering currency,
as the country finds itself once again battling a financial crisis.
The central bank raised its main interest rate by 6.75 percentage points,
following increases of 3 percentage points on Thursday and last Friday.
The moves helped stabilize the peso Friday, but with a policy rate now at
40%, the prospects for economic growth are more uncertain.
In addition to using the interest rate, the [central bank] will continue
to use all of its intervention tools in the exchange market, the central
bank said. The monetary authority made these decisions with the objective
to prevent disruptive behaviors in the foreign-exchange market as well as
guarantee the process of disinflation, and it is ready to act again if
The unexpected total increase of 12.75 percentage points to the policy
rate since last Friday may be enough to stem the depreciation of the peso,
Capital Economics said.
Argentine bonds steadied, local equities rallied, and the dollar fell 1.7%
against the peso.
Finally these guys are acting in a way that is meaningful and impactful
and will stop the currency run, said Daniel Kerner, managing director for
Latin America at risk consultancy Eurasia Group.
Argentina, with a long history of lurching from one financial crisis to
another, is back in the spotlight 17 years after it defaulted on some $100
billion of debt, at the time the largest sovereign default in history.
After taking office in late 2015, President Mauricio Macri boosted Wall
Streets confidence in Argentina as he moved to undo 12 years of populist
rule that led to double-digit inflation, the biggest fiscal deficit in
three decades, a shortage of dollars and growing poverty.
From the beginning, unraveling the generous spending policies of Mr.
Macris predecessor, Cristina Kirchner, was a difficult balancing act in a
country where no democratically elected, non-Peronist president has
finished his term in decades.
Still, he lifted currency controls, eliminated some export taxes, secured
oil investments and reached a deal with creditors from the 2001 default
that allowed Argentina to return to international financial markets. In
October, Mr. Macris Lets Change Party won key midterm congressional
elections, paving the way for more pro-business policies as the economy
expanded 5% from a year ago in February.
But, Mr. Macri is facing growing pressures. Argentines are upset with
rising utility bills as he trims subsidies. Powerful unions oppose pension
and labor overhauls, which the government delayed earlier this year. In
April, support for the government fell to 46%, from 66% in October,
according to a University of San Andres poll.
Honestly, Macri has disappointed me, said Juan Lemes, a 48-year-old
nurse in Buenos Aires, pointing to higher water, electricity and gas
bills. If I knew this was going to happen, I wouldnt have voted for
Some investors also are losing patience with Mr. Macri, urging his
government to speed up reforms and further cut subsidies and other public
expenditures as inflation remains stubbornly high after finishing last
year at 25%. Some investors lost faith in the independence of the
countrys central bank when it cut its interest rate in January despite
inflation remaining well above its 15% target.
The immediate consequence was a raise in country risk for Argentina. That
was the starting point for a process of dollarization of portfolios, said
Guillermo Nielsen, a former Argentine finance minister.
Argentinas monetary authority now has little space to reduce its high
interest rate, according to economists. The central bank sold close to $5
billion in reserves last week in a failed attempt to support the peso, a
move that, if repeated, could have depleted the countrys reserves within
If the central bank loosens policy prematurely, it could risk triggering
a rerun of the current crisis, Capital Economics said.
The central banks rate rise came as the government pledged to reduce
public spending. On Friday, Finance Minister Nicolás Dujovne said in a
news conference that the government had cut its target for the fiscal
deficit this year to 2.7% of gross domestic product from 3.2%, a move that
would save the administration about $3.2 billion.
The downturn in Argentine markets over the past week serves as a reminder
that economies in the developing world with high current-account deficits,
a heavy dollar debt burden and runaway inflation remain vulnerable to
rising global interest rates.
Goldman Sachs said the moves from the central bank and Finance Ministry
were a step in the right direction, but more may need to be done. Goldman
said Argentina should de-emphasize its 15% inflation target for this
year, calling it even less credible now.
The central bank is still facing a very challenging picture, it said.
There is no guarantee that this will be enough to stabilize the drifting
[foreign-exchange] market dynamics.
Until 2016, Argentina had operated largely outside of capital markets for
15 years following a massive default and subsequent legal battle with
creditors. Its settlement with investors and re-emergence led some
investors to bet again on Argentina and its new business-friendly
policies. But Argentinas dollar debt issuance has yet to match its dollar
growth, a concern to impatient investors.
The good news for Argentina is that this weeks market gyrations shouldnt
weigh on its financing needs this year. Before the pesos slide, the
Finance Ministry had covered 80% of its financing requirements for the
year. Bulltick LLC said that Argentinas expected jump into the MSCI s
benchmark emerging-market index in June should be supportive for Argentine
markets and that if Fridays announced reforms continue, the country can
regain lost credibility and markets will move higher.
Alberto Messer in Buenos Aires contributed to this article.
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