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Did the Argentine peso’s 10 per cent tumble on Thursday bring it closer to the country’s black market exchange rate? Surely a devaluation of that magnitude would help nudge the official peso rate closer to the black market reality?
Suddenly, it feels like 1997 all over again. The biggest one-day swoon of Argentina’s peso on Thursday was more than a little reminiscent of the day 16 years ago when the Thai baht was driven into free fall, triggering a wave of contagion through Asia, writes James Kynge.
However, economists said that such similarities only go so far. While there are clear vulnerabilities or evidence of economic mismanagement in several emerging markets, including Venezuela, Ukraine, Turkey and South Africa, the frailties that Argentina succumbed to are not broadly representative.
Answer – probably, Argentina’s “blue” peso – if you were to look at the widely-watched black-market dollar rate from the other way around. Argentina’s blue rate is the name for the illegal exchange rate that is widely-followed now that Argentina’s official peso has become a virtually unconvertible currency.
A day after President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner promised that there would be no devaluation of the peso under her administration, everything seemed to go sideways.
First, the black market dollar – known as the “blue” dollar – broke through the Messi barrier.
Watching Argentina’s unofficial exchange rate is suddenly like being at an auction: on Wednesday it has risen breathlessly, hitting 8.75 pesos per dollar. Yesterday it was 8.27 pesos, Monday it was 8.08. And breaching the 8-peso barrier was a milestone in itself. What’s going on?
Let’s face it, saving is hard with galloping inflation and an outright government ban on buying dollars specifically to save. Buying dollars for any other purpose is hardly much easier, and who would want to save in pesos when their value is on the skids?
It’s an impression reinforced by Rabobank’s latest Argentine agribusiness outlook. Argentina’s farming sector, which makes up nearly 60 per cent of total exports ($47bn in 2012, and that was a bad year because of drought), is a key economic breadwinner, bringing home the dollars that are essential to an economically choppy country still with debt in default and cut off from international capital markets.
Wiping 20 per cent off the value of the Argentine currency this year “isn’t off the wall”. So says Guillermo Moreno, the internal trade secretary and one of the tough guys in the government of Cristina Fernández.
Wednesday saw another day of intense trading in the unofficial dollar market as Argentines fled from the peso to the US dollar. The black market, or “blue” rate, hit a record high of 7.52 pesos per dollar. That is 52 per cent more than the government’s official rate of around 4.96 pesos per dollar.
Like a harried engineer using his fingers to patch a leaky dyke, on Thursday the Argentine government announced yet another currency restriction aimed at stopping the bleed of foreign currency from its central bank.