Argentina’s Return

On a recent visit to Argentina, I was interested to see how things have changed under the leadership of a new administration—in many cases, due to constructive policy reforms. Work still remains to be done to address challenges, and the path forward may be a little bumpy at times, but the progress we have seen has been encouraging so far. Here, my Argentina-based colleague Santiago Petri and I weigh in.

Mark Mobius
Executive Chairman, Templeton Emerging Markets Group

President Mauricio Macri has instituted a number of changes, including the removal of currency controls on the Argentinian peso, tax reforms, revisions to how inflation statistics are calculated, new central bank appointments—and perhaps most importantly, settling with foreign creditors on long-ago defaulted debt.

In my view, decisive and intelligent decisions have generally marked President Macri’s first year. A particularly positive development has been the tax amnesty law. And recently, ratings agency Standard & Poor’s upgraded the country’s long-term credit rating, citing progress in rectifying several macroeconomic imbalances, which is encouraging.

Running the Numbers

Argentina’s economic growth has been very spotty and volatile over the years. In the past 10 years, Argentina’s economy has experienced four years of shrinkage: 2009, 2012, 2014 and 2016. But, there have also been some nice rebounds, with gross-domestic-product growth (GDP) surging 10% in 2010 and 2.5% in 2015. After 2016’s contraction, this year GDP growth is expected to recover to 2.7% amid President Macri’s new growth-oriented policies.1

Meanwhile, inflation has been trending higher over the past decade, running below 10% in 2007–2009 but then spiking to around 40% in 2016. Former President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and her administration were accused of tampering with inflation statistics to hide the detrimental impact of big spending programs and an ever-increasing fiscal deficit the central bank had financed through currency printing. The administration attacked the National Statistics Institute, which reports consumer price index (CPI) data, and fired statisticians presenting data viewed as negative or unsupportive.

Upon taking office, the new Macri administration immediately normalized the Statistics Institute so that Argentina now has a more reliable instrument to track inflation performance. Macri gave the central bank total autonomy, and the monetary authority seems to be making progress in taming inflation.

Reducing inflation temporarily from dramatically high levels is a relatively easier task than bringing inflation down to a more sustainable, long-term, single-digit range. This is currently the central bank’s main challenge. Inflation is expected to decelerate this year to about 22%, but the government still views that as too high.

In 2016, poor economic conditions caused Argentina’s unemployment rate to shoot up to slightly above 9%, but it is expected to fall to about 8.5% this year.2

Argentina’s stock market has generally underperformed the MSCI Emerging Markets Index over the past 10 years, but with the new government, there has been improvement. In 2016, Argentina’s Merval Index surged more than 40% and is up nearly 30% year-to-date.3