How Argentina is Stepping Back into the Global Markets
Over the last decade, Argentina has been in the headlines for all of the wrong reasons. Weathering multiple political and economic storms, its recent history has been defined by defaulting on its debts, fears of nationalization, and the age-old Argentinian rhetoric of Peronist populism.
Yet now it seems that change is on the horizon. Following the election of Mauricio Macri as president at the end of 2015, a hunger for reform has seized the nation, and its new leading light has been keen to help it regain its former place at the heart of the global markets.
Nine months on, we look at how he’s doing.
A Momentous Challenge
Throughout the Argentinian election campaign, victor Mauricio Macri made no secret of the fact that the elected party would face a momentous challenge, and the rest of the world could hardly have doubted it either. After a decade and a half defined by political and economic upheaval within the country, his job looked set to be one of the hardest in the geopolitical sphere.
Indeed, the country had been almost entirely shut-out of the global capital markets since 2001, when it had defaulted on its debts. It had repeated this less than inspiring habit in 2014, following a battle with U.S. hedge funds that had speculated in the restructured debt.
By 2015, the fallout from this extended beyond Argentina’s public reputation, and had long since begun to affect its private enterprises too. Foreign investment was scarce, compounded by the added fear of nationalization.
Such speculation was not without merit. Those watching from the outside had already seen Argentina’s state oil firm, YPF, re-nationalized in 2012. Originally privatized in 1999, the Spanish firm Repsol had held a significant stake, but was eventually forced to settle for $5 billion in 2014.
These were the factors that Macri was faced with, and these are just some of the issues that he’s had to try and address in the aftermath of his victory.
President Macri’s Changes
In November 2015, when Macri was elected to office, the question on everybody’s lips was was not whether radical changes to economic policy would be implemented, but what form they would take. It was always known that the victorious center-right candidate would turn the existing state of affairs on their head, but what many wondered was whether his fixes would be enforced immediately, or gradually over time.
In the event, the former approach has been closer to the mark, with a decision made to administer unpleasantness sooner rather than later.
Most would argue that this was necessary considering the sorry state of affairs that the country had found itself in. President Kirchner had reigned for the preceding 13 years, and Macri was only the third man in power since 1983 not to have preached some version of Peronist populism.
Under these former scions of Argentina, the country had turned its back on the global financial system. Although brokers like City Index can attest that it maintained its prosperity during much of this period, this was due to two factors alone, both largely out of the hands of those in power: currency devaluation prior to the country defaulting on its debt, and the commodities boom of the early years of the millennium.
Indeed, there is a strong argument to suggest that the soaring sales of soy beans, corn, and oil were so momentous that they alone could have catalyzed such growth.
Yet this trend was not to last, and as the value of these commodities experienced a sharp drop over the years, those in control of the country were forced to resort to printing money to make up the shortfall. This was pumped into Peronist-style social programs, while capital and price controls were introduced in an attempt to keep these policies in check.
Such an approach was an unmitigated failure: inflation soared, totalling double-digit figures for several consecutive years. Basic goods were suddenly in short supply. What’s more, foreign currency reserves depleted. The situation became so bad that the government eventually resorted to misreporting its economic statistics.
Change in the Air
Unsurprising, then, that on the back of this, voters sought change in the form of now President Macri. Plagued by a mild yet enduring recession, and with the existing approach seeming unlikely to deliver much in the way of growth, the majority spoke, albeit by a small margin, and change became inevitable.
The first move that Macri made was to try and dismantle capital controls. His aim was to dramatically devalue the Argentinian peso, and indeed there has been a significant decrease in its performance through 2016.
He also announced an intention to negotiate with Argentinian bondholders, in order to restore access to the global markets, which had so long been denied. This was part of an overarching attempt to transform the country into a reliable and profitable investment destination.
These ambitions have not been easily achieved, however, largely due to the Peronist legislature of former parties, which has often proved at odds with President Macri’s intentions. Further moves have been thwarted by the Argentinian Supreme Court, such as an attempt to quadruple the price of gas.
Yet despite these roadblocks, the sense of imminent change is undeniable, and Macri remains determined to obtain his end goal. For investors, this has proved enticing, and the possibilities posed by such a sizeable economy re-joining the global community have not gone unnoticed. Although it may take years, Argentina is on its way back to the forefront of the international markets. Intelligent traders know that this simply cannot be ignored.
Marcus Turner Jones graduated in economics from the University of Sheffield before working in London and Madrid. His particular area of expertise are the Latin American markets. He currently lives in Buenos Aires as a freelance writer and investor, with his dog, Luna.