April 27, 2019
By Walter Bianchi and Adam Jourdan
BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) – Argentina’s peso fell back on Friday afternoon to post a record low close, giving up earlier gains after a tumultuous week that saw the currency battered to its weakest ever level and local debt pummeled as anxious investors fled.
The peso closed at 45.95 to the dollar, traders told Reuters, down around 1.85 percent on the day though still up on Thursday’s intraday low of 46.5. Markets had been somewhat salved by official interventions in the market and higher interest rates on short-term “Leliq” notes, they said.
Argentine bonds and the peso have been hammered this week as uncertainty over a biting recession and high inflation frayed investor nerves about political upheaval in Latin America’s No. 3 economy ahead of elections in October.
“Investors will remain worried until you see the elections happen. Unfortunately that’s a recipe for further volatility,” said Ilya Gofshteyn, New York-based senior emerging markets strategist at Standard Chartered Bank.
He said President Mauricio Macri still had a decent chance of re-election, the country was in better shape than in the past to counter the crisis, and that inflation should gradually slow. However, investors would demand high returns to stay in the market given the risks, he added.
The yield of Argentine government bonds due in 2021 have shot up above 18 percent and credit default swaps (CDS) of Argentine five-year debt rose to 1,229.25 points, a reflection of a rising chance of default.
The turmoil has raised the heat on Macri after a week in which domestic media ran blanket coverage about a renewed crisis, threatening to derail his plans for re-election and bolstering his political rivals.
The recession-hit country spiraled into a currency crisis last year that forced Macri to take a $56 billion credit line from the International Monetary Fund. In 2018 the peso lost half its value against the dollar and inflation was close to 50 percent.
The peso fell 2.48 percent on Thursday after a 3.53 percent slide the day before. It was down 8.81 percent for the week.
Most economists said the market turmoil had been linked to a poll earlier in the week that suggested Macri’s arch rival, populist ex-President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, could beat the pro-market leader in an election run-off.
MACRI VS MARKET
Macri defended the government’s economic reforms on Thursday, saying they had established an independent central bank and a balanced budget. He added change took time and volatility was to be expected.
“The markets are different, they are types who are behind a computer in a faraway place, who buy, sell and have a short-term, opportunistic vision,” he said in comments made to local radio and circulated by his office.
“There is a huge majority of Argentines who do not want to go backwards and who want to go into the future.”
Macri’s fortunes are likely to rest on what happens in the economy in coming months, including whether he is successful in bringing down inflation that was 4.7 percent in March and is running at a 12-month rate of close to 55 percent – driving investors out of the peso.
Morgan Stanley said in a research note it thought the market price of the peso was “too pessimistic,” but it preferred to “wait on the sidelines” given the stubbornly high inflation and hard-to-call election race.
That may leave little upside for the peso.
“With inflation continuing to rise and the domestic economy still suffering it is hard to paint a picture where ARS (Argentine peso) rallies significantly,” Rabobank strategist Christian Lawrence said in written comments.
“The elections are of course key but there are concerns that Macri is essentially trying to fight ‘kirch with kirch’ by adopting populist policies in an attempt to woo voters tempted to return to the days of pre-Macri.”
(Reporting by Walter Bianchi, Adam Jourdan and Gabriel Burin; Editing by Chris Reese and Rosalba O’Brien)