After solid EMBI and MSCI frontier index gains in 2016, Argentina securities paused on President Macri’s one-year anniversary, with a cabinet reshuffle sidelining Finance minister Prat-Gay and preparation for another heavy external bond issuance round estimated at an initial $10 billion. The fired minister’s portfolio was split in two with his deputy assuming fundraising responsibility and another appointment macroeconomic policy. He oversaw a successful tax amnesty which brought in $100 billion and $7 billion in penalty payments, but was unable to otherwise constrain the 6 percent of GDP fiscal deficit or restore GDP growth, as continuing recession dents the President’s popularity rating heading into local elections. Almost all the inflows, 85 percent from offshore, went to cover public pension increases, as the separate nominal revenue rise lagged 20 percent inflation keeping the budget hole. To trim it subsidy rollbacks were announced upon taking office but further pain has been spared by court decisions and political opposition. With the relatively loose fiscal stance monetary policy has remained tight with the central bank benchmark at 25 percent for 5 percent real rates. With these juicy yields foreign money has poured into local currency bonds and the country will soon be added to the GBI-EM gauge with a small weighting. According to new Finance Minister Caputo 2017 total official and private financing needs are in the $30-$40 billion range, and after over $20 billion in sovereign debt return last year, another big wave may not be as enthusiastically received despite the manageable 35 percent of GDP burden. In Q2 alone $10 billion must be repaid in dollar instrument amortization and to the Paris Club, and global interest rates are expected to rise with the new US administration’s spending plans, with a best case scenario for meager economic recovery at home. Minister Prat-Gay with his Wall Street background was said to lack the common touch and the elite perception played into the hands of the Peronists who still control Congress, as they also fight corruption charges against their former leader and President Christina Fernandez. She has been accused of money laundering through deals with a hotel magnate and of profiting from central bank speculation during her era of foreign exchange controls, and investigations into the regime’s role in the Iranian bombing of a Jewish center are ongoing which suggest a back channel payoff from Tehran.
Brazil after a banner 2016 remains stuck in its own scandal proliferation, as construction giant Odebrecht agreed to billions of dollars in criminal restitution to prosecutors and shareholders. Industrial output continued to drop at a double-digit monthly clip, as state debt problems lingered with a court ruling against federal help. Congress post-recess is to debate the proposed long-term discretionary spending cap tied to inflation and pension reform, as the central bank may relieve fiscal pressure with larger 50 basis point rate cuts. Infrastructure is in the spotlight as interim President Temer vows to introduce a new transport concession program after the bungled attempts surrounding the Rio Olympics. China may put $20 billion into a joint fund as the rules are rolled out, but previous road and railway schemes threw potholes into such ambitions and state development bank BNDES is no longer in financial position for repairs.