Argentina's US$15b burn stems peso rout ― for now

The peso lost a quarter of its value against the dollar in August. — Reuters pic
The peso lost a quarter of its value against the dollar in August. — Reuters pic

BUENOS AIRES, Sept 11 ― Argentina has burned through US$15 billion (RM62.6 billion) in foreign reserves over the last month to stabilise the peso, which crashed along with the country's bonds after a sharp electoral defeat for market-friendly president Mauricio Macri.

Central bank data showed reserves tumbled 22 per cent since Macri was trounced in an August 11 primary election by Peronist rival Alberto Fernandez.

The shock result spooked investors, who worry especially about Fernandez's running-mate, ex-President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, recalling the interventionist policies she imposed during her two terms between 2007 and 2015.

The peso lost a quarter of its value against the dollar in August and the central bank burned up reserves to stem the decline. Macri ultimately imposed currency controls, and the peso has steadied over the last week.

Last year, Argentina was already reeling with soaring inflation and a weak peso when it got a US$57 billion credit line from the International Monetary Fund to help avoid default on foreign debt. Now investors worry Latin America's No.3 economy could still run short of much-needed foreign reserves as it keeps defending the peso ahead of the October 27 general election.

“It's already at a dangerous level,” said Roger Horn, senior emerging market analyst at SMBC Nikko Securities America. “When they got the IMF facility the idea was that it would act partially as a buffer but they've been using it lately to defend the currency ... something which we all learned not do in the 1997-98 Asia Crisis.”

Central bank reserves stand at US$51.3 billion, central bank data show, down from US$66.3 billion before the August primary.

Private sector dollar deposits have fallen around a quarter to US$24.2 billion from US$32.5 billion before the primary.

“The outflow of deposits in dollars represents the main source of the fall in reserves in recent days,” said Matías Roig from Argentine brokerage Portfolio Personal Inversiones.

Argentines still remember a 2001-02 crisis, when the government froze deposits and imposed caps on cash withdrawals from banks. In another crisis in 1989, bank deposits were confiscated in exchange for bonds.

Some bankers said outflows appeared to slow over the last week under capital controls that restricted the purchase and transfer of currencies overseas.

“Last week the daily outflows of deposits in dollars were decreasing, registering on September 4 an output of US$774 million; almost 30 per cent less than the previous Friday,” investment bank Puente wrote in a note.

Private sector bank deposits in pesos also held stable at around 2.4 trillion pesos, central bank data showed.

The interbank peso, which was flat yesterday, has lost 19.11 per cent since the primary election and 32.73 per cent so far this year, making it one of the world's worst-performing currencies. ― Reuters

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