The Argentine peso fell another 8 per cent against the US dollar on Monday, in defiance of the efforts of the Macri government and the International Monetary Fund to prop up the country’s financial position.
The currency fell sharply at the opening of trading to just below 25 pesos the dollar, taking the decline in the last 12 days to 18 per cent. At the end of the day in New York, the exchange rate was 24.98.
The country’s bonds and stocks were also under pressure, with the 100-year bond trading back under 86 cents on the dollar and Argentina-related electronically-traded funds down more than 2 per cent.
The sharpness of the fall again underlined the poor liquidity in the peso, one of the least traded of emerging market currencies. The daily average turnover in over-the-counter foreign exchange in Argentina amounts to only $1bn on a net-gross basis, according to the Bank of International Settlements.
The Argentine government last week approached the IMF about a line of credit, after its central bank’s raid on reserves and a hike of interest rates to 40 per cent failed to arrest the peso’s decline.
Analysts have warned that while the move should help reassure foreign investors, Mr Macri risks alienating ordinary Argentines and their faith in the national currency. The IMF is unpopular in Argentina because of the impact its measures had on the economy in the early 2000s.
President Macri said in a statement he had spoken to US president Donald Trump to discuss the start of the IMF talks. The US has the biggest voting strength among IMF member countries.
The IMF said in a statement that discussions with the government were ongoing and that it would not attach any conditions related to the exchange rate as part of its talks.
“The exchange rate should continue to be determined by market forces, with the central bank continuing to use all the policy tools that are at its disposal,” said an IMF spokesperson. An informal IMF board meeting on Argentina has been scheduled for Friday.
But analysts said time was pressing. They attributed much of Monday’s pressure on the peso to the big test faced by the central bank on Tuesday when it holds its monthly auction of short-term securities, known as Lebacs, with notes worth 639bn pesos maturing on Wednesday, or about $26bn.
There were concerns those Lebacs not rolled over would free up pesos to buy dollars, putting further pressure on the currency. Nevertheless, analysts pointed out that as much as 60 per cent of the stock of Lebacs maturing were owned by the public sector, while high interest rates above 40 per cent meant that many investors might choose to continue holding.
The IMF needed to provide a quick timeframe for the release of financial aid to “calm down domestic sentiment” towards the peso, said Simon Quijano-Evans, EM strategist at Legal & General Asset Management — “or the central bank needs to hike rates yet again”. Failure to stabilise the currency “would raise the spectre of capital controls”, he added.
Brown Brothers Harriman said it thought another rates hike was plausible. “The plunging peso warns of a further spike in inflation, and so the bank will likely need to hike rates again,” it said.
Ilya Gofshteyn, LatAm forex strategist at Standard Chartered Bank, said: “Traders feel like there are still some people caught the wrong way who haven’t liquidated positioning yet.”
But he also attributed peso weakness to the trend running against emerging market currencies. “We have oil higher, US yields higher, and therefore broad-based dollar strengthening,” said Mr Gofshteyn. “Idiosyncratic factors aren’t helping, but if we get stability in EM forex, I still believe we will see peso pain subside.”
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