Argentine peso crashes after election surprise

Currency exchange values are displayed on the buy-sell board of a bureau de exchange in Buenos Aires, on Aug 12, 2019.
Currency exchange values are displayed on the buy-sell board of a bureau de exchange in Buenos Aires, on Aug 12, 2019.PHOTO: AFP

BUENOS AIRES (REUTERS) - Argentina's beleaguered peso currency collapsed 30.3 per cent to a record 65 per US dollar on Monday (Aug 12), traders said, after market-friendly President Mauricio Macri's worse-than-expected performance in the country's Sunday primary election.

Bonds and shares were also expected to fall after opposition candidate Alberto Fernandez - whose running mate is former president Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner - dominated the primary by a wider-than-expected 15.5 percentage point margin.

The result cast serious doubt on Macri's chances of re-election for a second term in elections in October, analysts said.

Bank of America Merrill Lynch analysts said the scale of the Fernandez win was much more extreme than their "bear case" scenario. "We expect a significant sell-off in EXD (hard currency) assets and heavy pressure in ARS (Argentine peso) with a potential devaluation in coming weeks," they said in a note.

Fernandez's lead far exceeded the margin of 2-8 percentage points forecast in recent opinion polls.

"Markets react badly when they realize they were scammed. We are living a fictitious economy and the government is not giving answers," Fernandez said in a radio interview on Monday morning.

Argentina is in recession with inflation at over 55 per cent after more than three years of Macri's policies. Investors nonetheless see the Fernandez/Kirchner duo as a riskier prospect than free-markets advocate Macri.

Kirchner imposed strict currency controls that slammed investment during her 2007-2015 administration. She feuded with the country's key farm sector over export taxes and presided over a multi-year standoff with bondholders that kept Argentina locked out of the international capital markets.

"Macri has already implemented a number of short term measures to try and shore up support ahead of the October vote. Additional promises can be made, but the gap he needs to make up is a very wide one," Ilya Gofshteyn, senior emerging markets

The comprehensive victory by Peronists Fernandez and Kirchner "paves the way for the return to left-wing populism that many investors fear," consultancy Capital Economics said in a note to clients.

"With a renewed focus on sovereign default risks, bonds, equities and the peso will come under severe pressure in the coming days. That said, falls in the currency might be tempered by intervention in the foreign exchange market," it said.

The primary result indicated that Fernandez had enough support to clinch the presidency in October's first round, without having to go to a November run-off election.

A candidate needs at least 45 per cent of the vote, or 40 per cent and a difference of 10 percentage points over the second-place runner, in order to win the presidency outright.