Argentina’s Rough Repeat Reentry Paths
Argentine stocks and bonds tried to recoup big losses at mid-year after turning again to the IMF for a 3-year $50 billion standby program, and gaining readmission to the MSCI core index starting next May following capital market modernization steps. Massive portfolio outflows began in April to shake the peso, and the central bank proved unable through intervention and interest rate hikes to halt double-digit decline against the dollar and its head resigned with Fund recourse. Local and foreign investor lack of monetary policy confidence was apparent for months after inflation persisted at above target 25% and a neutral to easing stance was pursued nonetheless. Fiscal credibility was also in question with likely overshoot of the 3% of GDP deficit goal on spending plans ahead of 2019 elections, with President Macri widely expected to eye a second term. With access to multilateral credit lines, including from the World Bank and Inter-American Development Bank, he can meet the $20 billion external financing hump over the next year and a half, but near-term growth is set at less than 1% under ambitious budget and exchange rate blueprints. They envision a primary surplus and subsidy and provincial transfer cuts, and regular $5 billion incremental boosts to $25 billion in net reserves while steering inflation toward 20%. Central bank autonomy will be reinforced under new legislation, and the Treasury will conduct continuous currency auctions as domestic bond LEBAC stock is reduced. The policy rate will rise to 40% by year end for peso stability and then can relax for slight depreciation against the dollar, assuming pass-through inflation is on track toward moderation and fourth quarter union wage settlements do not upset the mix. Austerity will combine with agricultural drought for technical recession, and Brazil’s outlook as a leading export destination has soured at the same time, with the pre-election 2018 growth forecast recently halved to 1%. A baseline scenario projects no commercial borrowing except through public-private infrastructure projects, as buybacks retire more expensive debt. The current account gap will remain high over the medium term, but level off at 4% of GDP with import compression, according to initial calculations.
Brazil as well fell from grace as stocks went negative through May, as the central bank defended the real through swaps after a long respite and the benchmark rate cutting cycle bottomed. A national truckers strike over increased fuel costs tested investor patience over smooth inflation and political transitions. A large fiscal adjustment is need to restore the primary surplus and social security solvency and cap ballooning public debt, and Lula whose administration bequeathed the mess, remains the presidential favorite while in prison on a corruption conviction. Right winger Bolsanoro and leftist Silva are next, each with 15% in opinion surveys, but “none of the above” respondents are an unprecedented chunk. The candidates attack establishment taint and pledge wholesale reform but have been careful not to propose draconian spending curbs and state enterprise privatization to appeal to swing and young voters. In the balance of payments FDI at 3% of GDP has more than covered the current account hole, but a market-unfriendly election result could interrupt the inflow and unleash corporate remittances to tarnish that silver lining.