Argentina’s Crisis Gets Kicked Down the Road, but at What Cost?

The peso drops again, inflation surges, nothing is fixed.

Argentina was able to refinance about $26 billion in maturing peso-denominated short-term debt, called Lebacs, but at a huge cost, after asking the IMF for a bailout loan – a “high access stand-by arrangement” that will come with creditor-imposed conditions – and after wild gyrations by the central bank that included blowing billions of scarce dollars to prop up the peso at dismally low levels, and jacking up interest rates three times to 40%.

The peso, which had been plunging for days despite these gyrations, plunged another 8% on Monday to ARS 25.30 to the USD, on doubts that the central bank (BCRA) would be able to refinance the Lebacs on Tuesday. On Tuesday, as the BCRA was able to “roll over” the debt, the peso bounced, but regaining only half of what it had lost during Monday’s plunge. But on Wednesday, it lost ground again, dropping nearly 1% (this chart shows the value of 1 peso in USD):

On Tuesday, BCRA announced that it was able to sell enough peso-denominated Lebacs to pay off all the maturing Lebacs ($25.6 billion at the current exchange rate) plus sell additional Lebacs worth $200 million. Instant disaster has been kicked down the road.

But at what cost? To find buyers for the Lebacs at the auction, BCRA offered interest rates ranging from 38% for the 154-day Lebac to 40% for the 36-day Lebac.

In addition, also on Tuesday, BCRA said that it sold $791 million in dollars – scare foreign exchange reserves – to buy pesos in the spot market to prop up the peso, after having already sold billions of dollars in the prior days.

“It was a successful auction,” Goldman Sachs economist Alberto Ramos told the Wall Street Journal. “But of course they had to commit to pay a very high distressed level of interest rates…this is not a sustainable path.”

Tuesday, as the dust from the Lebacs roll-over was still trying to settle, the statistics agency released the latest batch of dismal inflation figures: The consumer price index had jumped 2.7% from March to April, pushing the 12-month inflation rate to 25.5%.

Goods prices jumped 20.7% compared to a year ago, and prices of services skyrocketed 34.8%, not precisely helped by massive increases in utilities (water, electricity, gas, etc.).

After promising for months that inflation would settle down, the government revisited that promise when Treasury Minister Nicolas Dujovne, told foreign media that, due to the falling peso, he expected “somewhat less growth and more inflation.”

Even more inflation?

A further deepening of the crisis has thus been successfully kicked down the road, but a huge cost. This is the result when investors that are supposed to fund the governments’ promises keep getting burned by years of currency devaluation, run-away inflation, serial defaults, widening deficits, and large amounts of foreign-currency denominated debts. But for speculators trying to make a buck in this punitive environment on short-term securities offering 40% annual yield. denominated in a currency that plunges in value, it may be worth the risk.

When the “hot money” gets antsy, a currency crisis morphs into a debt crisis. Read…  As US Dollar & Interest Rates Rise, All Heck Breaks Loose in Emerging Market Currencies

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  22 comments for “Argentina’s Crisis Gets Kicked Down the Road, but at What Cost?

  1. andy says:

    The more you read finance the more you realize nobody knows nothing. The only option is not to spend. Or, spend before it’s wothless.

    • Fernando says:

      I know, they are making it as they go. Is a complete fraud too, made to deceive and steal from those who actually work. We can thank Wolf exposing it…

  2. Kiers says:

    Nothing predicted this. Except that it’s “Argentina” (eye-roll). Peso Debt (guess they call it Lebacs) to GDP is ~60%. External Short term Debt to GDP is 100+% (even more for 2015-16). That’s bad. But so is Jordan, Ukraine, Tunisia, Belarus etc. No crisis there. Turkey’s is ~90%. No problem there.

  3. John Smith says:

    I bet everyone in Argentina who had their wealth in gold and silver must be feeling pretty good. Eventually we will see this story in the US – it may take a decade or two but we are on the same bus.

    • raxadian says:

      The current TBD “Time before death” of the US Dollar is at least two decades. The strongest candidate to replace it it’s the Euro but the Euro zone crisis abd banking problems scare people away from it. That’s funny because since the US dollar because the World currency the US had several economical and political crisis.

      The thing is, since so many governments and rich people have so many dollars, they do not want the dollar to die.

    • Gershon says:

      Read “When Money Dies” by Adam Fergusson to see what Argentina, and America, have in store for them once the central bankers debase our currency into worthlessness.

      • Guy Daley says:

        Why do we need to read “when money dies” when we’ve been watching it in real time in Venezuela? We’re going to be like Puerto Rico in 10 years and Venezuela in 20. What’s funny is that 98% of Americans don’t know what it means to be “like Puerto Rico”. I’m referring primarily to the amount of looting by their government and secondly how their pensions have fallen flat as well, also looted. Then there are tertiary issues, also devastating.

        Commonality between Venezuela and PR is the amount of fleeing. PR, they’ve all gone to mainland US as they are considered citizens. Columbia has received the brunt of the economic refugees, but they’ve scattered all over South America and of course the US somehow gets it share as always.

        Where are we going to flee? Canada? I don’t think so.

  4. roger lagerfeldt says:

    well USD has lost 96% of its value last 30 years. Only last 10 years USD has no inflation….but it is just before the storm,,,,US cannot print USD for ever

    • robt says:

      Last 10 years if compounded at official 2% pa CPI is still 22% increase in prices, or an 18% debasement of dollar. But considering asset inflation, not considered directly in CPI, debasement could well be 50% or more, if you’re buying assets anyway. CPI is an almost meaningless measure of ‘inflation’.
      Since 1980s, dollar has lost maybe 67% of its value.

      • raxadian says:

        As long as most of the other countries currencies keep losing more value than the dollar, the dollar will keep being the “World currency”.

  5. Peter Mott says:

    Argentina borrows for 36 days at 40% – so at 4% for the 36 day period. Meanwhile, back at the ranch, inflation rises 3%. This means that they will pay 7% for their 36 day loan. They rolled over $25 billion USD at these payday loan rates. That means an actual cost of 25 x 0.07 = $1.7 billion dollars. Have I got this right … is there some error somewhere …. it just seems quite crazy.

    • Wolf Richter says:

      On this particular deal, inflation is not relevant. You need to figure in the risk of the peso losing 20% of its value in 36 days, which it did over the past 36 days since you’ll get paid in pesos when these instruments mature.

      In other words, you might make 4% in interest and lose 20% in the currency (against the dollar). That’s the risk.

      The buyers were betting that this won’t happen, that the peso, after the recent plunge, will stay flat or rise. That’s the bet here. If the peso rises 5% and they get 4% in interest over 36 days, they made a nice chunk of money. If the peso falls 4%, they break even. If the peso falls more than 4%, they lose.

      • Peter Mott says:

        Thanks, Wolf my mistake. It’s exchange rate not inflation that matters. The peso has lost 29% against the USD since the start of the year.

        • OutLookingIn says:

          Peter –

          Try 34.8% year-to-date.
          Just like clockwork, every ten years Argentina gets “new” cash!

  6. nick kelly says:

    Just talked to friends in Uruguay, a tiny country with two BIG troubled
    neighbors, Argentina and Brazil.

    Uruguay has had a good run of growth, over ten years, but if Argentina turns into another Venezuela, Uruguay will feel it.

    When I was there I was surprised to see the Forex shops demanding more than a 20 % percent spread on the buy/sell on which of the two big guys was in trouble at the time.

    God only knows what it is now on the A peso. Got a feeling some of them got burned.

    • raxadian says:

      To start with:

      Argentina doesn’t have that much oil.

      In Argentina, most food is produced locally, Venezuela has to import most of it’s food.

      Argentina has a democratic government since 1983 and while yes, President Menen stayed for a decade, that was it.

      Argentina is currently making a deal with the IMF to get more dollars.

      So is way more likely for Argentina to enter a time of great inflation and economic depression that to become Venezuela that despite everything still has oil money in a market with rising oil prizes.

      What Argentina has is food production and debt mostly.

  7. jon says:

    does it mean that if I buy propertry in bueno aires in USD, I’d get a deal ?

    • Peter Mott says:

      How secure are property rights in Argentina?

    • raxadian says:

      Not really, properties are sold in dollars in Argentina, not in Argentine pesos. And
      properties prices have yet to go down in the big cities.

      • Matt P says:

        Too much money laundering in Latin America for prices to go down. Real estate is overinflated in every city, even more so than the US when you consider how much workers make. Great deals in smaller cities though.

  8. chris Hauser says:

    send carnahan and dravot to sort it out.

Comments are closed.