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Argentina 'superministry' launch lifts bonds, but uncertainty lingers

Saturday, July 30, 2022

By Jorgelina do Rosario and Rodrigo Campos

LONDON/NEW YORK (Reuters) - Argentina's international bonds rose on Friday but remain near historic lows after President Alberto Fernandez's launched a "superministry" designed to coordinate economic policy, though analysts warned of uncertainties.

Fernandez appointed veteran politician Sergio Massa, who heads the lower house of Congress for the ruling Peronist coalition, to the new role overseeing economic, manufacturing and agricultural policy.

A new economic roadmap will be key to Massa's success as the country's third Economy Minister in a month, analysts said.

"Massa's selection is a last-gasp throw of the dice for an administration in freefall," said Mariano Machado, Principal Latin America Analyst at risk intelligence company Verisk (NASDAQ:VRSK) Maplecroft. 

"His entry into the cabinet is likely to kick-start a series of policy shocks to regain the trust of the markets and other key political stakeholders."

Latin America's third-biggest economy is contending with inflation above 60%, snowballing short-term local debt and the sharp widening between the official and a parallel dollar rate.

Argentina's dollar-denominated bonds gained between 2-4 cents Friday, though still traded in deeply distressed territory between 21 and 25 cents on the dollar, data from Refinitiv showed.

"A key thing to watch in the next few days will be who advises Massa because he's a politician and a lawyer, so he will need to gather a good team to navigate the country's complicated situation," said Carlos de Sousa at asset manager Vontobel, which holds some of Argentina's bonds.

"The market will probably want to see his concrete plans before bond prices go back to the pre-Guzman resignation levels."

Economy Ministry Martin Guzman resigned abruptly in early July, and his successor Silvina Batakis was replaced after only 24 days in the job, underscoring the power of Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, Argentina's vice president and former leader.

Her veto power on the economy and dealing with the IMF will be the next big test for Massa's policy making, analysts said.

"Massa was always on the cards to some extent and has been always regarded as market-friendly in Argentina," said Joe Delvaux, emerging markets distressed debt portfolio manager at Amundi, Europe's largest fund manager.

"The coalition is not an easy environment but he is a well-versed politician. Now we have to see the direction of his policy."

Capital controls are still in place after a $65-billion overseas debt restructuring in 2020 and a recent $44-billion bailout program with the IMF.

Separately, the country's central bank raised its benchmark rate on Thursday by 8 percentage points to 60%, marking its seventh hike this year, in a renewed push to tame surging inflation.

"Massa has higher political capital and stature than the previous two finance ministers," Alberto Ramos, chief Latin America economist at Goldman Sachs (NYSE:GS), told Reuters.

A mix of conventional policies and less pressure from the ruling coalition is much needed, said Ramos.

"Argentina needs to adjust the currency, reduce the high level of financial repression and controls, a tighter monetary policy, and a credible fiscal consolidation plan," he said.

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16-08-2022 20:31:55 (UTC+7)

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 EUR/USD1.0158↑ Buy
 GBP/USD1.2054Neutral
 USD/JPY134.57↑ Buy
 AUD/USD0.7012Neutral
 USD/CAD1.2884↑ Sell
 EUR/JPY136.70↑ Buy
 EUR/CHF0.9647↑ Buy
 Gold1,789.65Neutral
 Silver20.023Sell
 Copper3.6218↑ Sell
 Crude Oil WTI88.98↑ Sell
 Brent Oil94.54↑ Sell
 Natural Gas9.221↑ Sell
 US Coffee C222.68↑ Sell
 Euro Stoxx 503,793.55↑ Sell
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 Siemens AG111.44↑ Buy
 Deutsche Bank AG8.996Buy
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