Argentina looks trapped in a now familiar downwards spiral

Just over a year ago on the 3rd of May 2018 I gave some advice on here to Argentina about its ongoing economic and currency crisis.

The problem is twofold. Firstly you can end up chasing your own tail like a dog. What I mean by this is that markets can expect more interest-rate rises each time the currency falls and usually that is exactly what it does next. Why is this? Well if anticipating a 27,25%% return on your money is not doing the job is 30.25% going to do it? Unlikely in my view as we note that the currency has fallen 5% this week.

Events accelerated later that day as the Argentine central bank the BCRA did this.

This article came to late for the BCRA it would appear as just before 5 pm UK time they raised interest-rates to 33.25%. I would place a link bit nobody seems to have told the English version of their website yet.

That backed up my point and that theme just carried on as this from Reuters on April Fools Day highlights.

Argentina has established an interest rate floor of 62.5 percent, the central bank said in a statement on Monday, as the country looks to rein in stubborn inflation and ease concerns about a run on the local peso currency.

As of yesterday the interest-rate was 71.44% which must feel somewhat bizarre to ordinary Argentine’s in a world of low and indeed negative interest-rates. Another sign of trouble is the gap to deposit rates which were 51.94% yesterday.

The Argentine Peso

Let me hand you over to the Buenos Aires Times.

Argentina’s peso, the worst-performing emerging-market currency this year, could see more volatility as investors learn how to connect the latest pieces of the country’s complex political puzzle……..So far this year, the peso has slumped by about 16 percent against the US dollar and equity assets have been shaky.

As you can see the situation has continued to deteriorate. In fact there has been something of a double-whammy as interest-rates have soared above 70% and the Peso has gone from 21.52 versus the US Dollar when I wrote my post to 45.2 as I type this. Indeed things are so bad that even Bitcoin supporters are trolling the situation.

If an Argentinian had bought Bitcoin at the highest point of the “biggest bubble in history”, in 2017, he would have been better off than leaving his money in his Argentinian bank account. So tell me again how Bitcoin is a horrible store of value. ( @josusanmartin )

Of course you can look at that the other way which is that he has gone to the outer limits of cherry-picking by choosing the Argentine Peso.

Inflation, Inflation,Inflation

The currency fall was always going to led to inflation and the situation is such that as the Buenos Aires Times reports the government has resorted to direct controls.

The government agreed with leading supermarkets that the price of 60 essential products of the food basket will be frozen for at least six months.

The list includes 16 manufacturing companies of rice, sugar, milk, yoghurt, flour, tea and coffee, among others, whose products will be available at 2,500 outlets as from April 22.

At the same time, the Macri administration agreed with slaughterhouses to offer beef cuts at 149 pesos per kilo (120,000 kilos weekly), which will be available at the Central Market and at other retail outlets.

I am pleased that they are focusing on such an important area that is regarded by central bankers as non-core.  I fear however that this is a sign that some people are in real trouble.

However the statement below is something of a hostage to fortune.

“We are entering into a new phase. Currency instability is now something of the past, which guarantees a lower inflation rate,” Economy Minister Nicolás Dujovne said at a press conference

Moving to the present situation there is this.

The government plan was announced in the same week as March’s inflation data of 4.7 percent was revealed, sending alarm-bells ringing among Macri administration officials. Prices have now increased 11.8 percent increase in the first quarter of the year and 54.7 percent in the last 12 months.

As you can see we now have a triple-play of economic woe with high interest-rates, a devalued currency and high inflation

Fourmidable

Let us advance on the economic situation with trepidation and an apology to Manchester City for appropriating their current punchline. A chill is in the air from this.

Consumption in supermarkets also dropped 8.7 percent in March compared to the same period last year, accumulating a 7.3 percent decline so far this year, according to a report by the consultancy Scentia. ( Buenos Aires Times)

The OECD has updated its economic forecasts this morning and in spite of its efforts to cheer lead for the present IMF programme it has downgraded economic growth from the -1.5% of March to -1.8% now. This is something we have become familiar with in IMF programmes as we note that last summer the government was forecasting 1.5% growth for this year. This comes on top of the 2.5% contraction in 2018. So recession and depression.

Consequently the OECD finds itself reporting that the unemployment rate has risen by 2% since 2017 to 9.1%.

100 Year Bond

Here is Bloomberg from yesterday.

Argentine bond spreads against US Treasuries rose 19 basis points to 962, double the average for Latin America……..The country’s five-year credit default swaps also rose 1.3 percent to 1,274 basis points.

There was a bit of a rally today but in general the bonds of Argentina trade about 9.3% over their US equivalents. However bonds in Peso’s yield more highly with the 9-year being at 23%.

The 100 year bond is trading at 68.5, but I suppose you have 98 or so years left to get back to 100.

Comment

Those who have followed the recent history of the International Monetary Fund will find the statement below awfully familiar.

The authorities’ policies that underly the Fund-supported arrangement are bearing fruit. The high fiscal and current account deficits – two major vulnerabilities that led to the financial crisis last year – are falling. Economic activity contracted in 2018 but there are signs that the recession has bottomed out, and a gradual recovery is expected to take hold in the coming quarters. ( Managing Director Christine Lagarde)

There are similarities with her “shock and awe” description for Greece as I note the OECD 2.1% economic growth forecast for next year is the same number as was forecast for it at this stage. I also note that the “exports fairy” is expected to make an appearance although so far the trade adjustment in the first quarter of 2019 has involved them falling slightly and imports falling by around 27%. Again familiar and as Japan showed us yesterday the import plunge will flatter the next set of GDP numbers. There is a different situation in that the currency has devalued although Argentina rather than defaulting on some of its debt is finding the foreign currency part of it ever more expensive whilst it is in the teeth of a fiscal contraction.

Even the Financial Times is questioning the IMF and Christine Lagarde.

When the IMF completed its third review of Argentina’s economy in early April, managing director Christine Lagarde boasted that the government policies linked to the country’s record $56bn bailout from the fund were “bearing fruit”.

The IMF has strongly supported the present government.

Even former senior fund officials are concerned by the organisation’s exposure to Argentina, and the potential fallout should its biggest ever programme implode.

Of course we do not know who will win the election in October but we face a situation of economic crisis which follows other crises in Argentina. Also most of us unlike the FT live in a world where Lagarde lost her credibility years ago.

In truth this was always going to be a really difficult gig along the lines of when Neil Young decided to stop playing his hits and just play his new (unpopular) album. As the comment below suggests what is really needed is long-term reform which is exactly what the IMF has not provided in Greece.

“Argentina has signed 22 agreements with the IMF, most of which ended with bitterness on both sides.”

Clearly neither side has heard the phrase ‘once bitten, twice shy’! ( Donald in the FT)

 

 

 

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The economic impact of the 2018 currency crises are now being felt

This morning has brought yet more developments in the ongoing currency crises of this summer. An early morning economic salvo was fired by the Turkish central bank the TCMB.

Recent developments regarding the inflation outlook indicate significant risks to price stability.
The Central Bank will take the necessary actions to support price stability.
Accordingly, in line with the previous communication, monetary stance will be adjusted at the
September Monetary Policy Committee Meeting in view of the latest developments.
The Central Bank will continue to use all available instruments in pursuit of the price stability
objective.

The press release was in response to this from the Turkish Statistical Institute.

A rise in general index was realized in CPI (2003=100) on the previous month by 2.30%, on December of the previous year by 12.29%, on same month of the previous year by 17.90% and on the twelve months moving averages basis by 12.61% in August 2018.

What we are seeing here as inflation accelerates is a consequence of the fall in the value of the Turkish Lira as it had been around 10% in the early months of this year. If we look back to last year as well the inflation boost has been ~7%, and if we look at the producer price data also released today we see that there is more to come.

Domestic producer price index (D-PPI) increased by 6.60% on monthly basis, by 25.32% on December of the previous year basis, by 32.13% on same month of the previous year basis and by 18.78% on the twelve months moving averages basis in August 2018.

We get the clearest guide to the driver here when we note what has happened in August alone to goods which are priced across the world in US Dollars.

The highest rates of monthly increase in D-PPI by sub divisions of industry were index for coke and refined petroleum products by 25.11%, for metal ores by 15.33%, for basic metals by 12.07%.

What we are seeing here are the economic consequences of a currency crisis on the real economy, as we see inflation not only considerably up but heading higher as well. This will impact directly on consumers and workers via its impact on real wages. There are other consequences as well.

7 local newspapers in İzmir all cut their Sunday editions this week due to the price of imports like paper ( @06JAnk)

Another is more sinister as there are reports of an investigation into companies which have raised prices. Also the state bank which sold some incredibly cheap US Dollars last week might wish it had not.

But returning to the TCMB it has trouble ahead as we note the last sentence of its press release as of course President Erdogan has publicly stated he is no fan of interest-rate increases. So after a rally the Turkish Lira has been slipped backwards and is at 6.61 versus the US Dollar.

The economic situation

The last few days have given us signals that the economy is not only heading south but it may be doing so at a fair old lick. Here is the Hurriyet Daily News from Saturday.

Turkey’s foreign trade deficit in August fell 58 percent on a yearly basis, according to the trade ministry’s preliminary data on Sept 1.

Trade Minister Ruhsar Pekcan said in a statement that the trade deficit of $2.48 billion last month was the lowest monthly figure in the last nine years…….She added that Turkish exports amounted to $12.4 billion in August, with a yearly fall of 6.5 percent, while the country’s imports declined by 22.4 percent to $14.8 billion.

Care is needed on two counts as there was a longish national holiday in these figures and they are just for merchandise trade. But it is hard not to note the fall in imports which is more of a plummet, and it comes on the back of this reported in the full trade figures for July released last week.

while imports decreased by 9.4% compared with July 2017.

We are seeing a large contraction in purchases of foreign goods and services and this is where initially national accounts let us down. This is because the fall in imports improves the trade balance and via that GDP ( as imports are a subtraction from GDP), so it is a bit like when in the cartoons someone runs straight off the edge of a cliff and hangs in the air before gravity takes over. It takes the national accounts a while to record that people are worse off. On the other side of the coin I think that some help will be provided by export rises and that the August fall was driven by the national holiday.

Looking ahead

The manufacturing survey of the Istanbul Chamber of Industry released this morning was rather pessimistic.

August was a month of challenging business
conditions for manufacturing firms in Istanbul.
Weakness of the Turkish lira led to strong inflationary
pressures, and contributed to slowdowns in both
output and new orders.

They also follow the Markit PMI methodology.

After posting above the 50.0 no-change mark at
51.0 in July, the headline PMI dipped back into
contractionary territory during August. At 46.3, the
PMI signalled an easing of business conditions for
the fourth time in the past five months and the most
marked moderation since July 2015.

The only flicker of good news was from exports.

There was positive news
with regards to new export orders, however, which
increased fractionally and for the second successive
month.

Cots however were reported as rising at a record rate ( since 2006) which after the inflation data should surprise no-one.

Argentina

In Argentina there has been a different response as the central bank has tried to battle a declining Peso with interest-rate increases of which the latest came only on Thursday. Those of a nervous disposition might like to sit down before reading this from the BCRA.

the Monetary Policy Committee (COPOM) of the Central Bank of the Argentine Republic (BCRA) resolved Unanimously after meeting outside the pre-established schedule to increase the monetary policy rate to 60%. Likewise, to guarantee that monetary conditions maintain their contractionary bias, COPOM undertakes not to reduce the new value of its monetary policy rate until at least December.

This is a new form of central bank Forward Guidance in that not only were interest-rate raised by an eye-watering 15%, which is only a couple of percentage or so less than even Turkey, but there was also a promise they would stay there until December. A consequence of such interest-rates was noted this morning by the Financial Times.

One of the bond market’s biggest investors has seen its flagship funds battered by the turmoil in emerging markets unleashed by Argentina’s spiralling financial crisis ………Franklin Templeton funds have lost $1.23bn in the past two weeks on just three of its biggest Argentine positions, according to FT calculations.

Those of you who have a wry sense of humour might like to mull how quickly things can change.

Argentina, which increased interest rates last week by 15 percentage points to 60 per cent, emerged as one of the hottest stories in emerging markets two years ago after the centre-right reformist Mauricio Macri came to power.

Or as David Bowie put it.

Fashion! Turn to the left
Fashion! Turn to the right
Oooh, fashion!
We are the goon squad
And we’re coming to town.

Meanwhile Argentinians will be facing soaring interest-rates for any mortgage or business borrowing rather I would imagine in the manner of their rugby team as it faces up to playing the All Black this weekend.

Comment

There is a certain irony in the war that the “currency wars” described by Brazil’s Finance Minister some 8 years ago have hit its neighbour Argentina. But of course Argentina has long had a troubled path, although we return to the concept of fashion as we recall that it was able to issue a 100 year bond in June of last year. The Vomiting Camel Formation for its likely price that I noted on the third of May performed really rather well.

However as we look at Turkey and Argentina in particular we see that the currency crises are causing inflation which will create a recession. How large and deep depends on where their currencies eventually settle as right now things could hardly be much more volatile. Yet they are far from alone as we note that the Indian Rupee has fallen to 71 versus the US Dollar and impacts on Russia, South Africa, Brazil and Indonesia. It should get more attention than it does as after all that is quite a bit of the world’s population. Also we see the power of the reserve currency the US Dollar.

 

How not to deal with a foreign exchange crisis

Just over three months ago on the third of May I gave some suggestions as to how to deal with a foreign exchange crisis using the hot topics at the time of Argentina and Turkey. Back then the Argentine newspaper had reported this.

On Wednesday, the US currency jumped again to reach $ 21.52 in the retail market and $ 21.18 in the wholesaler. It went up 5% in the week…….. And the Argentine peso is the currency that fell the most in the year against the dollar (12.5%) followed by the Russian ruble (9%).

Actually the R(o)uble is currently in a soft patch but it is slightly different due to its role as a petro-currency, But returning to Argentina the central bank had a few days earlier done this with interest-rates as they raised them by “300 basis points to 30.25%.”

I suggested that this was unlikely to work.

Firstly you can end up chasing you own tail like a dog. What I mean by this is that markets can expect more interest-rate rises each time the currency falls and usually that is exactly what it does next. Why is this? Well if anticipating a 27,25%% return on your money is not doing the job is 30.25% going to do it?

Actually they did not even get out of that day as the dam broke quickly and interest rates were raised by 3% later that day. Of course that just provokes the same question if a 3% rise does not work why do you think another 3% will? Well my logic applied again as the next day the central bank announced this.

It was resolved to increase the monetary policy rate by 675 points to 40%.

Frankly they were in utter disarray as they proved my point at what was extraordinary speed. Such an interest-rate will have quite a contractionary influence on an economy if sustained and so far it has been as this announcement from Tuesday informs us.

the Monetary Policy Committee (COPOM) of the Central Bank of the Argentine Republic (BCRA) unanimously resolved to define the Liquidity Rate (LELIQ) ) to 7 days as the new monetary policy rate and set it at 40%.

They can have as many new rates as they like but reality is still the same.

What about the Peso?

If we return to Clarin to see what is being reported in Argentina then it is this.

After having closed stable in a day in which the Central Bank maintained the rates, the dollar rose this Wednesday 20 cents in the banks . The average of the entities surveyed by the BCRA showed a closing value of $ 28.23.

In the same sense, at wholesale level the currency increased 23 cents, to $ 27.63 .

So that is around 6 more Pesos per US Dollar. I am not sure at exactly what point a currency fall becomes a plunge but 56% over the past year is hard to argue against.

Along the way Argentina decided that is had to go to the International Monetary Fund or IMF. Although how they both think moving the goalposts will help I am not sure.

 In particular, the central bank has adopted a new, more credible path of inflation targets (for example, the inflation target for end-2019 moved from 10 to 17 percent).

Also this is one way of putting it.

The exchange rate regime is a big change. It is now floating, not fixed, so it’s working as a shock absorber.

Also as I understand it this is rather economical with the truth.

Banks and the private sector also operate without money borrowed in foreign currency, so their balance sheets are not at risk from a depreciation of the peso.

It seems that the Governor of the BCRA thinks so too if this from his annual speech in January is any guide.

As a result of these measures, interest rates in dollars went down from 5%-6% annually by late 2015 to 2%-3% annually today, and lending in foreign currency went up 379% since then, from a stock of U$S 2.9 billion to 14 billion dollars today.

Perhaps the IMF were trying to deflect attention from the foreign currency borrowings of the Argentine state that the central bank had been helping to finance. You may remember the Vomiting Camel Formation that some drew on the 100 year bonds that had been issued in US Dollars by Argentina.

Turkey

Yesterday brought an example of the opposite line of thought to mine as I note this from Bloomberg.

Turkey must hike rates to 23% as the crisis gets worse, Investec says

This was presumably driven by this from Reuters.

The currency had fallen as much as 5.5 percent on Monday to 5.4250 per dollar, an all-time low and its biggest intraday drop in nearly a decade, after Washington said it was reviewing access to the U.S. market for Turkey’s exports.

Actually the territory gets even more familiar because back on June 7th Reuters told us this.

Rates rise by 125 basis points, more than expected……..Turkey’s central bank ramped up its benchmark interest rate to 17.75 percent on Thursday, taking another step to assert its independence, two weeks after an emergency rate hike and just ahead of elections.

No doubt the cheerleaders would have proclaimed success as this happened.

The lira strengthened to 4.4560 against the dollar after the rate rise from 4.5799 just before. It was trading at 4.4830 at 1605 GMT.

However they would have needed the speed of Dina Asher Smith to get out of Dodge City in time if we note where the Turkish Lira is now. So an interest-rate rise that was more than expected did not work and of course it was on top of a previous failure in this regard.

So if we stay with Investec we are left wondering about the case for a rise to 23% or 4.25% more. Especially if we note that such a rise would not even match Monday’s fall in the Lira. The environment is very volatile and the Lita has hit another new low this morning although it is jumping around.

If you want a sense of perspective well if we look back to May 3rd some got ahead of the game.

Good market spot: Turks are buying gold to hedge against booming inflation and a falling currency ( Lionel Barber)

Anecdotally central London agents tell me they are seeing an increase in Turkish buyers this year… ( Henry Pryor)

Comment

These are situations which were described rather aptly by the band Hard-Fi.

Can you feel it? Feel the pressure? Rising?
Pressure
Pressure
Pressure, Pressure, Pressure
Feel the pressure
Pressure
Pressure
Pressure

In that sense perhaps we should cut central bankers a little slack as after all the academics which are often appointed will hardly have any experience of this sort of thing. Then again that begs the question if they are the right sort of person? I recall when the UK was in such a melee back in 1992 that the establishment and I am including the Bank of England and the government in this was simply unable to cope with events as each £500 million reserve tranche disappeared even after promising interest-rate rises of 5%. What a day and night that was…..

In my opinion a combination of Bananarama and the Fun Boy Three gave some coded advice.

It ain’t what you do it’s the way that you do it
It ain’t what you do it’s the way that you do it
It ain’t what you do it’s the way that you do it
And that’s what gets results

As to Turkey the official view is that it’s all fine.

*TURKEY SEES NO FX, LIQUIDITY RISK FOR COMPANIES, BANKS ( h/t @Macroandchill )