Currency crisis in Argentina or the IMF’s tango

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By Roberto Lampa and Nicolás Hernán Zeolla

The Argentinian government has requested financial assistance from the IMF to tackle the consequences of a serious currency crisis. Last Wednesday, the government emphatically announced the new terms of such an agreement. However, unpacking the terms of those agreements and the current situation reveals serious concerns about the country’s future .

A few months back (see here), we provided an analysis of the current Argentinian crisis, highlighting the excessive vulnerability of the economy produced by the abrupt financial deregulation carried out by Macri’s administration. Three aspects in particular threatened the country’s future prospects: the deregulation of foreign exchange that failed to stop capital flight, a boom in foreign debt (at a record level among emerging market economies) and the promotion of speculative capital inflows to carry trade (buying financial instruments issued by the Central Bank called LEBAC in order to pursue carry trade operations).

When international conditions worsened and the carry trade circuit came to an end, the “LEBAC bubble” exploded and produced a tremendous foreign exchange crisis that shook the Argentine economy, causing a sharp rise in inflation and a severe recession from which the country has not yet managed to escape. Read More »

How History Matters in Post-Socialist Economies

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Though it has been suggested that The Beatles Rocked the Kremlin’ it was “Wind of Change” by Scorpions in the early 1991 that captured the minds of the new generation of Eastern Europe (EE) and the Former Soviet Union (FSU).

The promise of more open societies following Mikhail Gorbachev’s perestroika announcement set in motion powerful dynamics completely transforming the world. The Berlin Wall fell in 1989 and by the end of 1991 the Soviet Union disintegrated bringing down the entire socialist institutional edifice. Newly independent nation-states emerged across Europe, the Caucasus, and Central Asia. This new “wind” was that of hope, progressive stability and economic prosperity, or so it seemed at the time. And yet, “[f]or whom the wall fell?” as Branko Milanovic has recently inquired, is not as straightforward as might have been expected.

Despite the independence premium in national policy and in parallel with evidence suggesting recent strong economic growth the post-socialist economies are yet to achieve the ideals announced at the outset of market reforms. Ironically, the most unfortunate economic plan was the 1990s script of transition from planned economy to free market in the EE and FSU.

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Unanswered Questions on Financialisation in Developing Economies

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The discussions of the processes behind the growing importance of finance, financial transactions and financial motives, as well as the sustainability of the financial systems, have been located in the critical political economy debate of financialisation and neoliberalism (Crotty, 2003; Epstein, 2005; Fine, 2013; Lapavitsas, 2013; Palley, 2016; Sawyer, 2013; Stockhammer, 2004).

The analysis of financialisation in developing and emerging economies (DEEs) is relatively novel (Bonizzi, 2013). It is rooted in earlier discussions about the risks of financial globalisation and liberalisation (Akyuz & Boratav, 2005; Barbosa-Filho, 2005; Crotty & Lee, 2005; Frenkel & Rapetti, 2009; Grabel, 2003; O’Connell, 2005; Palma, 1998; Taylor, 1998), including the Latin American Structuralist literature on the hegemonic role of the US dollar and its financial and monetary implications for DEEs (Belluzzo, 1997; Braga, 1997; Fiori, 1997; Miranda, 1997; Tavares, 1997); the debate on capital account liberalisation and capital market integration (Cohen, 1996; Rodrik, 1998; Stiglitz & Ocampo, 2008; Strange, 1994); and the Minsky-inspired currency and boom bust dynamics of financial crisis in developing economies (Arestis & Glickman, 2002; de Paula & Alves, 2000; Dymski, 1999; Kregel, 1998; Schroeder, 2002).Read More »

How We Learned Not to Say No to Gold… In International Reserves

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By Aleksandr V. Gevorkyan (St. John’s University) and Tarron Khemraj (New College of Florida)

In May 2016, economist Kenneth Rogoff argued that central banks in emerging markets should add gold to their reserves. Rogoff stated “that a shift in emerging markets toward accumulating gold would help the international financial system function more smoothly and benefit everyone.” Despite initial disagreement, we find there may actually be some justification for this view in a recent paper coming out in Emerging Markets Finance and Trade.Read More »

Emerging Market Downgrades: Panic at the Disco?

When it rains, it pours. For emerging markets, the downpour has come in the form of credit rating downgrades by the big three global ratings companies. Fitch, Moody’s, and S&P took a record 1,971 negative rating actions on emerging market sovereign and government-related entities in 2016. Emerging economies are right to be concerned. With a ‘good’ credit rating (AAA), a sovereign state can borrow at very low rates of interest from investors. A poor rating could force states to pay significantly higher borrowing costs. Rating downgrades could have negative ripple effects throughout the affected economies, raising the cost of borrowing for banks and firms, and, in turn, consumers.

Infrastructure projects, business ideas, and consumer credit extensions, become unprofitable due to the higher cost of credit to banks, businesses, consumers, and governments. If a country is downgraded to ‘junk status’ (more formally known as ‘non-investment-grade’ or ‘speculative-grade’), it risks the mass exodus of investors from its bond markets. As the cost of borrowing for governments increases, this can lead to a dangerous downward spiral as borrowing and spending dries up business and consumer activity declines.

Getting back on course
So what is the best set of policies for emerging markets to recover their credit ratings? On one side are economists who argue for ‘austerity’. In their view, recovering from a ratings downgrade requires sharp reductions in state spending, even if this results in poor conditions in the short term. The benefits are twofold: It can reduce inflation and prices, thereby helping restore a country’s price competitiveness in international markets; and it can enhance the credibility of a government when it comes to containing profligate spending.

Former British Prime Minister David Cameron called this philosophy ‘expansionary austerity’. The problem is that there is not much evidence to support this idea. The EU enforced austerity among its member states in response to the 2007 financial crisis, until it helped propel a ‘double dip’ recession in 2011/12. Following this largely unsuccessful adventure with austerity, the EU turned towards more pro-growth policies, which supported expansions in infrastructure and fixed-capital investment, with notable success.Read More »

The BRICS and a Changing World

This July and August, I led an international group of experts in preparing an Economic Report on the role of the BRICS countries (Brazil, China, India, Russia and South Africa) in the world economy and international development.  The Report was commissioned as an input to the Summit of BRICS countries that took place in early September 2017 in Xiamen, China.

It surveys the BRICS countries’ sizable contribution to global growth, trade and investment, evaluates the prospects for this to continue in the future, and explores the possible role that these countries can play in bolstering the global economy, in reshaping international economic arrangements and in contributing to the Sustainable Development Goals and to international development generally. An important conclusion in the report is that continued BRICS growth as well as policy initiatives can substantially benefit other developing countries (the report uses the IMF category of Emerging Market and Developing Countries, or EMDCs) – and developed countries too.  I will  be pleased if the report will be circulated widely, and welcome all reactions.Read More »