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Argentina heads for a deeper slump economists warn

Erica Canepa /Bloomberg

Argentina's economists warn of deeper slump as crisis escalates. Pedestrians walk past a currency exchange
in Buenos Aires on Sept. 2, 2019.

- Central bank's REM survey shows estimates revised down
- Inflation projected to be higher, while peso expected to fall

By Jorgelina Do Rosario and David Biller / Bloomberg

Petroleumworld 09 05 2019

Argentina's escalating financial crisis is prompting economists to replace forecasts for a rebound in growth in 2020 with predictions of a third year of contraction.

The country's central bank on Tuesday released a monthly survey of economists which projected a toxic mixture of declining gross domestic product, faster inflation and a slump in the peso. The economy is now seen shrinking 2.5% in 2019 compared with a July projection of -1.5%. Banks such as Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Barclays have revised down their bets.

The sharp turnaround in fortunes comes as President Mauricio Macri looks almost certain to lose to opposition candidate Alberto Fernandez in the October election. That outlook has scared investors and forced the current administration to seek to pacify them with a re-profiling of the nation's debt, price freezes, minimum wage hikes and even capital and currency controls .

“Argentina is heading for a credit crunch,” said Marcos Buscaglia, senior partner of the Buenos Aires-based investment firm Alberdi Partners. “It's also facing a loss of confidence, a brutal drop in growth and an increase in inflation.”

Read More: Visibility on Argentina's Economic Outlook is Extremely Low

His firm had forecast a contraction of 1% this year; but now expects a 2% to 3% decline in gross domestic product. For 2020, it anticipates the economy will shrink between 4% and 5%.

The central bank's so-called REM survey, which accepted its last forecasts on Friday, showed that the median expectation among Argentine economists is now for a contraction of 1.1% in 2020, down from a previous projection of 2% growth in July. Thirty-nine economists took part in the poll, the lowest number since the start of 2018.

Tricky Forecasting

Forecasting Argentina's unpredictable economy is a challenge at the best of times. With polls published prior to the primaries showing a pretty evenly balanced contest, analysts had based their outlooks on a Macri win and a continuation of his pro-business policies. While Fernandez's plans for the economy remain deliberately vague, his running mate -- former president Cristina Kirchner -- alarms investors horrified by her bluntly interventionist policies in her two presidential terms of office, from December 2007 to December 2015.

“We expect the peso and interest rates to remain under pressure (downward and upward, respectively) ahead of the election, unless Fernandez eases market concerns on three main issues: monetary policy, IMF relationship and trade.”

-- Adriana Dupita, Bloomberg Economics

Last Friday Goldman Sachs revised downwards its forecast for both 2019 and 2020, to -3.2% and -1.6% respectively. Like Buscaglia, Alberto Ramos, the investment bank's chief Latin America economist, stressed that the latest forecasts were tentative, given the fluid nature of developments in Argentina. Nevertheless, the trend is clear.

“Tighter financial conditions will significantly affect the performance of the economy through the end of the year,” he said. “And we think those tighter conditions are with us for most, if not all, of next year.”

Inflation Rising

Inflation is now set to reach 55% by the end of year, up from an earlier estimate of 40%, the central bank survey also showed. Meanwhile the peso will fall to over 66 per dollar by the end of 2019, compared with the prior forecast of 50 per dollar.

“Our main case for Argentina was disinflation, and now the scenario is upside down,” says Daphne Wlasek, XP Investments macro strategist. The company is now projecting inflation at 60% at the end of 2019 from 35%-40%.

“Argentina's macroeconomic scenario changed completely from the primary vote,” she added. “Inflation is in an upward trajectory and growth won't come anytime soon.”

Story by Jorgelina Do Rosario and David Biller from Bloomberg. / 09 04 2019


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