Remember the “Corralito”? Lessons on Greece and Argentina from the New York Times

This is from the New York Times today:

Greece will keep its banks closed on Monday and place restrictions on the withdrawal and transfer of money, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said in a televised address on Sunday night, as Athens tries to avert a financial collapse.

The government’s decision to close banks temporarily and impose other so-called capital controls — and to keep the stock market closed on Monday — came hours after the European Central Bank said it would not expand an emergency loan program that has been propping up Greek banks in recent weeks while the government was trying to reach a new debt deal with international creditors.

The debt negotiations broke down over the weekend after Mr. Tsipras said he would let the Greek people decide whether to accept the creditors’ latest offer. That referendum vote is to be held next Sunday, after the current bailout program will have expired.

And this is from the New York Times on December 2 2001:

The government (of Argentina) has limited cash withdrawals from banks and taken a step toward adopting the dollar as Argentina’s currency, as part of a desperate effort to avert a run on banks and a chaotic devaluation.

The measures, announced late Saturday, were another sign that Argentina is on the brink of a default on its $132 billion in public sector debt. It has already cut the interest payments it makes on $45 billion in bonds in recent days.

A month later we had street rioting, banking sector collapse, a sovereign default and a major devaluation – not to mention the collapse of government and a very busy rotating door at the presidential palace!

Will Greece be luckier in the coming month? Let’s hope so.

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If you want to hear me speak about these topics or other related topics don’t hesitate to contact my speaker agency Specialist Speakers – e-mail: daniel@specialistspeakers.com or roz@specialistspeakers.com.

How the RECOVERY will look like when Greece leaves the euro

Most indications are that Greece this weekend effectively has been pushed over edge by the collective failures of Greek and European policy makers. The combined forces of an European monetary straitjacket, the lack of a coherent European sovereign debt crisis resolution mechanism and weak Greek institutional structures and a lot of badwill on both sides of the issue in the end did it.

And we are now facing bank run, possible banking sector collapse, the likely introduction of capital controls, a Greek sovereign default and potentially also a Greek exit from the euro area.

So there is no doubt that the future looks very bleak for the Greek economy, but there are also good arguments that all this actually might mark the beginning of a Greek economic recovery in the same way the Argentine default and devaluation in January 2002 was the beginning of a sharp recovery in Argentine growth in from 2002 to 2007.

Argentina in 2001-2, Greece today 

it is no coincidence that I mention the example of Argentine. Hence, I have long argued that the present Greek crisis is very similar to the Argentine crisis of the late 1990s and early 2000s. Both countries have been suffering under the combined pressures of a monetary regime that creates strong deflationary pressures and a weak domestic political system.

We can essentially think of this as both a demand and a supply problem. With the monetary system causing a collapse in aggregate demand and weak institutional structures at the same time causing a negative supply shock as well as creating downward rigidities to wages and prices.

In the late 1990s the Argentine’s currency board set-up created serious deflationary pressures and a drop in nominal GDP, which caused a rise in Argentine debt ratios. There was a simple “solution” to this problem – Argentina should give up the currency board and devalue. That happened in early 2002.

Even though the contraction in the Argentine economy continued in the first couple of quarters after the devaluation growth soon picked up and in fact Argentine real GDP growth in the period 2003-2007 averaging nearly 8.5% per year. Obviously we should not forget that GDP dropped 10% in 2002, but that was essentially the impact of the banking crisis that played out ahead of the devaluation rather than a result of the devaluation.

I think that we very well could be in for a very similar development in Greece if the country indeed leaves the euro area. Obviously we are now in the midst of an extremely chaotic political and economic situation and what could become a full scale banking crisis and a disorderly sovereign default. The bank run we effective already have seen on its own constitutes a massive monetary tightening – due to the drop in the money-multiplier – and that on its own is going to have a strongly negative impact on the Greek economy in the coming quarters.

However, Grexit will also remove the monetary straitjacket, which has had caused an enormous amount of economic hardship in Greece since 2008. The removal of this straitjacket will cause a significant easing of Greek monetary conditions, which in my view very likely will cause a sharp rise in nominal GDP in Greece in the coming years. The graph below shows the development in Argentine M2 and nominal GDP on the back of the Argentine devaluation in 2002.

I think we might very well see a similar development in Greece on the back of Grexit and given the price and wage rigidities in the Greek economy we are likely to see a sharp recovery in Greek real GDP growth – after the initial deep recession, but my guess is that Grexit will be the beginning of the end of this recession.

The graph below shows the development in real GDP in Argentina eight years ahead of the default and the devaluation in 2002 and in eight years following the initial collapse. The graph also includes Greek real GDP. “Year zero” is 2001 for Argentina and 2014 for Greece.

Argentina Greece RGDP

The recovery will not primarily be about exports

Hence, I believe there is good reason to think that a potential Grexit will be the beginning of a sharp recovery in Greek growth – following the initial sharp contraction. However, I would like to stress that contrary to the common-held view such recovery will not be about Greece becoming more “competitive” due to the drop in value of the “New Drachma” (I easily see a 70-80% devaluation following Grexit).

Rather we are likely to see a sharp recovery in domestic demand as a likely sharp rise in inflation expectations will cause a sharp increase in money velocity. This combined with the expected increase in the money supply will cause a significant easing of Greek monetary conditions, which likely will spur a strong recovery in Greek growth.

This is exactly what happened in Argentina. This is from Mark Weisbrot and Luis Sandoval’s 2007-paper on “Argentina’s economic recovery”:

“However, relatively little of Argentina’s growth over the last five years (2002-2007) is a result of exports or of the favorable prices of Argentina’s exports on world markets. This must be emphasized because the contrary is widely believed, and this mistaken assumption has often been used to dismiss the success or importance of the recovery, or to cast it as an unsustainable “commodity export boom…

During this period (The first six months following the devaluation in 2002) exports grew at a 6.7 percent annual rate and accounted for 71.3 percent of GDP growth. Imports dropped by more than 28 percent and therefore accounted for 167.8 percent of GDP growth during this period. Thus net exports (exports minus imports) accounted for 239.1 percent of GDP growth during the first six months of the recovery. This was countered mainly by declining consumption, with private consumption falling at a 5.0 percent annual rate.

But exports did not play a major role in the rest of the recovery after the first six months. The next phase of the recovery, from the third quarter of 2002 to the second quarter of 2004, was driven by private consumption and investment, with investment growing at a 41.1 percent annual rate during this period. Growth during the third phase of the recovery – the three years ending with the second half of this year – was also driven mainly by private consumption and investment… However, in this phase exports did contribute more than in the previous period, accounting for about 16.2 percent of growth; although imports grew faster, resulting in a negative contribution for net exports. Over the entire recovery through the first half of this year, exports accounted for about 13.6 percent of economic growth, and net exports (exports minus imports) contributed a negative 10.9 percent.

The economy reached its pre-recession level of real GDP in the first quarter of 2005. As of the second quarter this year, GDP was 20.8 percent higher than this previous peak. Since the beginning of the recovery, real (inflation-adjusted) GDP has grown by 50.9 percent, averaging 8.2 percent annually. All this is worth noting partly because Argentina’s rapid expansion is still sometimes dismissed as little more than a rebound from a deep recession.

So you better get ready for the stories in the media following a potential Grexit that this will be “good for Greek tourism” and “feta exports”, but if you study monetary history you will know that this will only be part of a the story and looking ahead over the coming five years it is much more likely that the story will be a sharp recovery in Greek domestic demand.

But don’t forget Greece’s quasi-Constitutional problems

Concluding, I am probably more optimistic that a potential Grexit will cause a recovery (after the initial contraction) in the Greek economy than most economists who tend to stress Greece’s structural problems. That, however, does not mean that I don’t think Greece has structural problems. In fact I believe the Greece has very serious structural problems and I will even go so far as to say that Greece’s deep structural problems are a result of fundamental constitutional problems.

Hence, at the core of the problems that have dominated the Greek economic development for decades (if not centuries!) is a flawed political system. Therefore, if Greece wants to avoid ending up as present-day Argentina – where the initial positive effects of monetary easing has been “replaced” by overly easy monetary policy and large political uncertainties – then there is a need for fundamental constitutional reform to reduce the role of government in the Greek economy and constrain the unhealthy relationship between economic and political interests.

So yes, monetary easing can solve the demand problems in the Greek economy (I think that actually was under way prior to Syriza winning the parliament elections), but monetary easing will not do anything about Greece’s structural and constitutional problems.

Finally, on a personal note I must say I have a very deep sympathy for the economic and social suffering of the Greek population and I full well understand their justified frustration they have with European and Greek policy makers who so utterly have failed in the past seven years. I equally understand the frustration of German, Danish and Slovak tax payers who directly or indirectly over the past seven years have been asked to pick up the bill for numerous badly designed bailout packages. They have done very little good to Europe or Greece.

But I mostly hope that we would give up the national stereotyping and instead study the fundamental economic and monetary issues. The Greek crisis is not about the Greeks being “lazy” (in fact Greeks work a lot more than the Germans…) or corrupt, but it is about the serious monetary policy failures of the ECB and a generally badly designed monetary policy framework in Europe combined with the failures of the Greek political establishment.

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If you want to hear me speak about these topics or other related topics don’t hesitate to contact my speaker agency Specialist Speakers – e-mail: daniel@specialistspeakers.com or roz@specialistspeakers.com.

The end game or a new beginning for Greece? We have seen all this before

Ever since I started my blog in 2011 Greece has been on the verge of banking crisis, sovereign default and euro exit. It now looks as if we might get all of that very soon and very quickly.

This is from CNBC today:

Talks fell apart between the Greek government and its creditors, and European officials said Athens’ bailout program will expire on Tuesday.

Euro zone finance ministers met to try and thrash out a reforms-for-rescue deal for Greece after the country’s prime minister threw a curveball of a referendum on the deal late Friday night. During Saturday’s meeting, the finance ministers rejected Greece’s request for a one-month bailout extension, meaning that Athens could soon face very serious economic issues.

“It’s not a question to see what might happen on Monday. In terms of a crisis (for Greece), the crisis has commenced,” Irish Finance Minister Michael Noonan said after the day’s second meeting.

Greece is due to pay the International Monetary Fund 1.5 billion euros Monday and without a deal this weekend risks missing that payment.

I can’t say I am surprised we are here now – maybe I am surprised that it has taken this long – but the rest is unfortunately not that surprising to anybody who has studied economic and monetary history. We have seen all this before.

I wrote about that already back in 2011:

The events that we are seeing in Greece these days are undoubtedly events that economic historians will study for many years to come. But the similarities to historical crises are striking. I have already in previous posts reminded my readers of the stark similarities with the European – especially the German – debt crisis in 1931. However, one can undoubtedly also learn a lot from studying the Argentine crisis of 2001-2002 and the eventual Argentine default in 2002.

What this crises have in common is the combination of rigid monetary regimes (the gold standard, a currency board and the euro), serious fiscal austerity measures that ultimately leads to the downfall of the government and an international society that is desperately trying to solve the problem, but ultimately see domestic political events makes a rescue impossible – whether it was the Hoover administration and BIS in 1931, the IMF in 2001 or the EU (Germany/France) in 2011. The historical similarities are truly scary.

I have no clue how things will play out in Greece, but Germany 1931 and Argentina 2001 does not give much hope for optimism, but we can at least prepare ourselves for how things might play out by studying history.

I can recommend having a look at this timeline for how the Argentine crisis played out. You can start on page 3 – the Autumn of 2001. This is more or less where we are in Greece today.

I wrote that back in 2011. It has been four more years of economic and social pain for the Greek population so you got to ask yourself – just how bad can the alternative be?

And finally a – highly speculative – note: If we in fact get Grexit then my forecast is that we will have a couple of quarters of negative GDP growth (as a result of the bank run we already have seen), but then Greece will see the mother of all recoveries as the New Drachma plummets (likely 70-80%).

This will be the positive result of ending the monetary strangulation of the Greek economy. However, structurally and politically it is hard to be positive – and hence Greece will then again within the next decade face another crisis likely in the form of weak growth and this time around high inflation as public finance problems will likely remain unsolved. At least this is how it played out in Argentina…

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If you want to hear me speak about these topics or other related topics don’t hesitate to contact my speaker agency Specialist Speakers – e-mail: daniel@specialistspeakers.com or roz@specialistspeakers.com.

Argentina’s peso plunges

When I have written about monetary policy in Argentina I rarely have had anything positive to say. However, today I will have to say that the Argentine central bank made a sensible decision – even though it mostly looks like a coincidence.

This is from FT.com:

Argentina’s peso suffered its biggest one-day fall since the financial crisis of 2002 on Thursday, after the central bank stopped intervening in currency markets in an effort to preserve foreign exchange reserves that have fallen by almost a third over the past year.

The peso, whose long-running decline has accelerated since November, plunged 17.5 per cent to 8.1842 pesos to the dollar, according to Bloomberg data, although a lack of liquidity made it difficult to gauge its true level.

That is still at some distance from the black market rate that most Argentines use, which stood at around 12.85 to the dollar on Thursday.

Intervention and currency controls have kept the Argentine peso artificially strong for years – or rather the official peso rate has been much stronger than the real market rate – the black market rate. By allowing the peso to weaken today the peso at least has been allowed to move closer to the true market value. Hence, the market distortions have been reduced today. That is good news.
That said, the fact the peso as dropped so sharply today reflects an underlining problem – the total lack of nominal stability in Argentina. What policy makers in Argentina needs to do is of course as fast as possible to moved towards a rule-based monetary policy.
There are numerous options for providing nominal stability, but one thing is clear if the present polices are not changed fundamentally then the peso collapse is likely to continue.
…And as I was wrapping up this blog post the Argentine central bank is back! It is apparently intervening to strengthen the peso. Never expect central bankers to learn anything.
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See also my recent post on Cachanosky and Ravier’s proposal for a dollar-based Free Banking monetary reform in Argentina.

A dollar-based Free Banking system: The way to nominal stability in Argentina

Inflation is skyrocketing in Argentina and the country seems unable to ever maintaining any form of nominal stability. In my view the problem with lack of nominal stability in Argentina is, however, not fundamentally monetary – it is rather a constitutional problem. Hence, it seems like the country’s politicians are able to make the decisions that are necessary to maintain monetary stability.

So even though I am quite critical about different suggestions for dollarization in different countries I for some time have thought that in the case of Argentina there is no reason to try to come up with an “optimal” monetary regime. In many ways Argentina is economically-politically a failed state. Hence,  simply getting rid of the Argentine peso might be the least horrible solution.

Nicolas Cachanosky and Adrian O. Ravier in a new very interesting paper – A Proposal of Monetary Reform for Argentina: Flexible Dollarization and Free Banking – has an interesting proposal for dollarization in Argentina.

Here is the abstract:

Argentina’s economy and monetary institutions are, once again, experiencing a serious crisis. In this document, we propose a monetary reform for Argentina that consists of flexible dollarization plus a free banking regime. By flexible dollarization, we mean that the peso should be replaced with the U.S. dollar as a first step, but the market should have the freedom to interact with any selected currency. Therefore, the country does not become attached the U.S. dollar; on the contrary, it becomes a free currency country. By free banking, we mean giving financial institutions permission to issue their own banknotes convertible into U.S. dollars or any other currency or commodity of their choice.

It should be noted that the problems of the Argentine economy go beyond those of monetary policy. This proposal should not be understood as a sufficient reform to fix the Argentinean economy but as a necessary one. This proposal should also not be understood as a monetary panacea but as a monetary framework that is still superior to one provided by the Argentine central bank BCRA and Argentine policy makers to their country.

There is only major problem with the suggestion – Argentine policy makers seem unable to make sensible decisions. That said, ideas matter. In fact they matter a lot so hopefully one day some visionary Argentine reformist government will pick-up Cachanosky-Ravier monetary reform plan.

HT Anthony Evans

A textbook graph that even Augusto Costa and Cristina Kirchner should be able to understand

Argentina is an economic basket case. It is that simple. The country never seems to be able to emerge from its problems. The key reason is that the country is extremely weak constitutionally and institutionally and as a result the country has some of the worst policy makers in Latin America (if not in the world).

You probably don’t need a lot of further confirmation of the fact that Argentina has horrible policy makers, but try to take a look at this story from Bloomberg anyway:

Argentina’s government pledged that a new system of price controls introduced today won’t lead to the shortages that have crippled other countries’ attempts to enforce cost-cuts for consumers.

The government will use computer software to monitor prices on 194 products in the Greater Buenos Aires area, Commerce Secretary Augusto Costa said today in a press conference. The “voluntary” agreement comprises 10 supermarket chains and 65 suppliers and will incorporate other regions of the country during January, Costa said.

The accord follows a similar agreement in June when the government froze the price of 500 goods on supermarket shelves in a bid to rein in the region’s second-fastest inflation. Government and consumer vigilance along with fines and the threat of closure will stop supermarkets from reducing stocks and creating shortages, Costa said. About 1 in 5 products can’t be found on supermarket shelves in Venezuela where more than 100 products are price controlled.

“The prices we are agreeing today are viable prices — they’re reasonable from the point of view of production, distribution and commercialization,” Costa said. “They’re prices that will guarantee adequate supply but that won’t allow for disproportionate and unjustifiable costs that we’ve detected in certain cases.”

I sometimes get the impression that nobody in Argentina studied any economics (I know good Argentine economists so I know that that is not true) so maybe we should help the policy makers with a simple graph that explains what happens when you introduce price controls (a price ceiling). See here.

512px-Binding-price-ceiling

I stole the graph from Wikipieda, but you can find a similar graph in any intermediate microeconomic textbook. I suggest that Augusto Costa and his boss president Cristina Kirchner try to get hold of such textbook very soon so this foolishness can come to an end once and for all!

The Kuroda recovery will be about domestic demand and not about exports

There has been a lot of focus on the fact that USD/JPY has now broken above 100 and that the slide in the yen is going to have a positive impact on Japanese exports. In fact it seems like most commentators and economists think that the easing of monetary policy we have seen in Japan is about the exchange rate and the impact on Japanese “competitiveness”. I think this focus is completely wrong.

While I strongly believe that the policies being undertaken by the Bank of Japan at the moment is likely to significantly boost Japanese nominal GDP growth – and likely also real GDP in the near-term – I doubt that the main contribution to growth will come from exports. Instead I believe that we are likely to see is a boost to domestic demand and that will be the main driver of growth. Yes, we are likely to see an improvement in Japanese export growth, but it is not really the most important channel for how monetary easing works.

The weaker yen is an indicator of monetary easing – but not the main driver of growth

I think that the way we should think about the weaker yen is as a indicator for monetary easing. Hence, when we seeing the yen weakeN, Japanese stock markets rallying and inflation expectations rise at the same time then it is pretty safe to assume that monetary conditions are indeed becoming easier. Of course the first we can conclude is that this shows that there is no “liquidity trap”. The central bank can always ease monetary policy – also when interest rates are zero or close to zero. The Bank of Japan is proving that at the moment.

Two things are happening at the moment in the Japan. One, the money base is increasing dramatically. Second and maybe more important money-velocity is picking up significantly.

Velocity is of course picking up because money demand in Japan is dropping as a consequence of households, companies and institutional investors expect the value of the cash they are holding to decline as inflation is likely to pick up. The drop in the yen is a very good indicator of that.

And what do you do when you reduce the demand for money? Well, you spend it, you invest it. This is likely to be what will have happen in Japan in the coming months and quarters – private consumption growth will pick-up, business investments will go up, construction activity will accelerate. So it is no wonder that equity analysts feel more optimistic about Japanese companies’ earnings.

Hence, the Bank of Japan (and the rest of us) should celebrate the sharp drop in the yen as it is an indicator of a sharp increase in money-velocity and not because it is helping Japanese “competitiveness”.

The focus on competitiveness is completely misplaced

I have in numerous earlier posts argued that when a country is going through a “devaluation” as a consequence of monetary easing the important thing is not competitiveness, but the impact on domestic demand.

I have for example earlier demonstrated that Swedish growth outpaced Danish growth in 2009-10 not because the Swedish krona depreciated strongly against the Danish krone (which is pegged to the euro), but because the Swedish Riksbank was able to ease monetary policy, while the Danish central bank effectively tightened monetary conditions due to the Danish fixed exchange rate policy. As a consequence domestic demand did much better in Sweden in 2009-10 than in Denmark, while – surprise, surprise – Swedish and Danish exports more or less grew at the same pace in 2009-10 (See graphs below).

Similarly I have earlier shown that when Argentina gave up its currency board regime in 2002 the major boost to growth did not primarly come from exports, but rather from domestic demand. Let me repeat a quote from Mark Weisbrot’s and Luis Sandoval’s 2007-paper on “Argentina’s economic recovery”:

“However, relatively little of Argentina’s growth over the last five years (2002-2007) is a result of exports or of the favorable prices of Argentina’s exports on world markets. This must be emphasized because the contrary is widely believed, and this mistaken assumption has often been used to dismiss the success or importance of the recovery, or to cast it as an unsustainable “commodity export boom…

During this period (The first six months following the devaluation in 2002) exports grew at a 6.7 percent annual rate and accounted for 71.3 percent of GDP growth. Imports dropped by more than 28 percent and therefore accounted for 167.8 percent of GDP growth during this period. Thus net exports (exports minus imports) accounted for 239.1 percent of GDP growth during the first six months of the recovery. This was countered mainly by declining consumption, with private consumption falling at a 5.0 percent annual rate.

But exports did not play a major role in the rest of the recovery after the first six months. The next phase of the recovery, from the third quarter of 2002 to the second quarter of 2004, was driven by private consumption and investment, with investment growing at a 41.1 percent annual rate during this period. Growth during the third phase of the recovery – the three years ending with the second half of this year – was also driven mainly by private consumption and investment… However, in this phase exports did contribute more than in the previous period, accounting for about 16.2 percent of growth; although imports grew faster, resulting in a negative contribution for net exports. Over the entire recovery through the first half of this year, exports accounted for about 13.6 percent of economic growth, and net exports (exports minus imports) contributed a negative 10.9 percent.

The economy reached its pre-recession level of real GDP in the first quarter of 2005. As of the second quarter this year, GDP was 20.8 percent higher than this previous peak. Since the beginning of the recovery, real (inflation-adjusted) GDP has grown by 50.9 percent, averaging 8.2 percent annually. All this is worth noting partly because Argentina’s rapid expansion is still sometimes dismissed as little more than a rebound from a deep recession.

…the fastest growing sectors of the economy were construction, which increased by 162.7 percent during the recovery; transport, storage and communications (73.4 percent); manufacturing (64.4 percent); and wholesale and retail trade and repair services (62.7 percent).

The impact of this rapid and sustained growth can be seen in the labor market and in household poverty rates… Unemployment fell from 21.5 percent in the first half of 2002 to 9.6 percent for the first half of 2007. The employment-to-population ratio rose from 32.8 percent to 43.4 percent during the same period. And the household poverty rate fell from 41.4 percent in the first half of 2002 to 16.3 percent in the first half of 2007. These are very large changes in unemployment, employment, and poverty rates.”

And if we want to go further back in history we can look at what happened in the US after FDR gave up the gold standard in 1933. Here the story was the same – it was domestic demand and not net exports which was the driver of the sharp recovery in growth during 1933.

These examples in my view clearly shows that the focus on the “competitiveness channel” is completely misplaced and the ongoing pick-up in Japanese growth is likely to be mostly about domestic demand rather than about exports.

Finally if anybody still worry about “currency war” they might want to rethink how they see the impact of monetary easing. When the Bank of Japan is easing monetary policy it is likely to have a much bigger positive impact on domestic demand than on Japanese exports. In fact I would not be surprised if the Japanese trade balance will worsen as a consequence of Kuroda’s heroic efforts to get Japan out of the deflationary trap.

HT Jonathan Cast

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PS Scott Sumner also comments on Japan.

PPS An important non-competitiveness impact of the weaker yen is that it is telling consumers and investors that inflation is likely to increase. Again the important thing is the signal about monetary policy, which is rather more important than the impact on competitiveness.

Blame del Pont for the nightmarish rise in Argentine inflation

This is from MercoPress today (Saturday)):

For a third consecutive day the ‘blue’ dollar which trades in Argentina’s informal market established a new record and after having brushed 10 Pesos in earlier trading finally closed Friday at 9.84 (buying price) and 9.88 (selling price) Pesos.

This means the price of the greenback in Argentina’s informal market, as people flock to get rid of their local currency, has soared 44 cents in a week and the gap with the ‘official’ rate which ended trading on Friday at 5.20 Pesos selling price, has reached 90%.

“There are plenty of buyers, but people wanting to sell dollars are scarcer and scarcer. Nobody wants to get rid of the dollars in Argentina, not even tourists”, said Buenos Aires city financial quarter money traders.

“Despite the rain we’re literally flooded with demands for dollars and we have been forced to work on weekends. Because of inflation, people collect their salaries and rush to turn them into foreign currency”, added the money traders…

…With the latest advance, the ‘blue’ dollar in Argentina has ballooned 44.49% since the beginning of the year, while the official rate has only increased 5.5%. The rush on the dollar is reflected in the Central bank’s international reserves which lost 911 million last month and now stand at 39.535 billion, which is the lowest in six years.

The situation called for an urgent meeting at midday convened by President Cristina Fernandez and the cabinet chief Juan Manuel Abal Medina together with Economy minister Hernan Lorenzino, Deputy minister Axel Kicillof, Domestic Trade Secretary Guillermo Moreno, the president of the Central bank, Mercedes Marcó del Pont and the head of the tax revenue office Ricardo Echegaray.

The collapse of the peso should be no surprise to anybody who have studied Milton Friedman. Unfortunately Argentina’s central bank governor Mercedes Marcó del Pont hates Milton Friedman, but she loves printing money to finance public spending.

Paradoxically one can say that del Pont at the moment is providing a very good demonstration that monetary policy “works”. First, she is showing that printing a lot of money will eventually lead to inflation and second that expectations are tremendously important in the conduct of monetary policy.

As Argentines know that del Pont has no plan of stopping her “money printing mission” they also know that inflation will accelerate further in the future. That of course is the reason why the are dumping the peso to buying dollars. The consequence of course is a sharp increase in money-velocity. Therefore, Argentine prices now very likely increasing at a much faster rate the the growth of the money supply.

The Argentine government is refusing to recognize the connection between del Pont’s nightmarish monetary policy and the spike in inflation. Instead the Argentine government is fighting inflation in two other ways.

First, the government simply is cheating on the numbers. Nobody thinks that the official Argentine inflation numbers are correct. In fact in a recent highly embarrassing interview with Greek TV Argentina’s economic minister Hernan Lorenzino was completely unable to explain what the level of inflation is in Argentina. Lorenzino called the Argentine inflation statistics “complex”. Well, it might be “complex” to Lorenzino, but understanding the inflation process is extremely simple – when you print more money than is demanded then you get inflation.

Second, the government has introduced draconian price controls. But as Milton Friedman would have explained to del Pont and the Argentine government – price controls cannot curb the inflation pressures, but it is a very effective mechanism to empty the shops for goods to buy and that is of course exactly what is happening in Argentina right now. See more on the rise of price controls in Latin America in this excellent article from Steve Hanke.

I have recently argued that based on the collapse in the blackmarket peso exchange rate inflation might already have surpassed 100%. That might or might not be the case, but the escalation in the sell-off in the peso is a very clear indication of a complete collapse in average Argentine’s trust in the value of the currency. Normally when we see such a collapse of confidence in the currency inflation will spike dramatically. In fact I would argue that if Del Pont continues her misguided monetary policies for much longer then Argentina clearly risks hyperinflation. We don’t have hyperinflation at the moment, but inflation is certainly extremely high and is accelerating very fast.

The only thing to be happy about – from a distance – is that del Pont at the moment is proving to the world that there is no such thing as a liquidity trap. A central bank can always increase inflation by printing more money than is being demanded. In Argentina the demand for pesos has collapsed, while at the same time the supply of pesos is exploding.

If del Pont had bothered studying Milton Friedman she would have known that that will cause a massive rise in inflation. Unfortunately it seems like del Pont never studied monetary theory or monetary history, but she is unfortunately giving every Argentine a horrific lesson in central bank incompetence.

This should teach you not to mess with Milton Friedman

This is Argentine central bank governor Mercedes Marcó del Pont in an interview on March 26 2012:

“We’re recovering the sovereign capacity to formulate and implement economic policy”, said Marcó del Pont who anticipated some pictures will be coming down from the bank’s hall of fame “beginning with Milton Friedman.”

Now take a look at what have happened to the Argentine peso since these “brilliant” comments.

Peso crash

I leave it to my readers to figure out whether del Pont made a massive policy mistake when she ordered Uncle Milty’s picture removed….

 

PS take a look at this very interesting interview with the Argentine Minister of Economy Hernán Lorenzino about Argentine inflation. Lets just say Mr. Lorenzino seems a bit unsecure about how to present the “facts”

Argentina’s inflation might already have surpassed 100%

There is no doubt that the main monetary policy problem in world over the last five years has been overly tight monetary policy – particularly in the US and the euro zone. However, there are certainly also central banks of the world that have erred on the other side.

Hence, Iran is flirting with hyperinflation and the policies of the petro-socialist regime in Venezuela has sparked runaway inflation. Furthermore, there is no doubt that inflation in Argentina is increasingly getting out of control and that is the topic for this blog post.

Officially inflation in Argentina is around 11%. However, anybody who has just a minimum of knowledge about the Argentine economy knows that the Argentine inflation numbers are as real as Mickey Mouse. Inflation in Argentina is not 11%, but much higher.

According to an alternative measure of inflation the so-called Congressional Index, which is a price index based on private surveys inflation is more likely around 24-25%.

But inflation is likely even higher than that. Surveys of inflation expectations indicate that inflation is running around 30%.

However, I think that it might be even worse than that. One thing that is strongly distorting all of these measures is the extensive price controls that have been put in place in recent years in Argentina. These controls undoubtedly have “helped” curb inflation. However, the underlying reasons for the sharp increase in inflation cannot be removed by draconian price controls. It might have postponed inflation from rising further in the short-run, but sooner or later the underlying inflationary pressures will be translated into actual inflation.

A Hankeian measure of Argentina’s near-hyperinflation

The world’s foremost expert on super high inflation and hyperinflation in my view is Steve Hanke. Steve has suggested to use black market exchange rates as a proxy for inflation when official data is none-existent or manipulated. Steve suggests using the black market exchange rate rather than the official exchange rate when capital and currency controls distort the official exchange rate (as is presently the case in Argentina).

This is Steve (his case is Zimbabwe):

The principle of purchasing power parity (PPP) should be able to come to our rescue. PPP states that the ratio of the price levels between two countries is equal to the exchange rate between their currencies. Changes in the exchange rate and the ratio of the price levels move in lock step with one another, with the linkage between the exchange rate and price level maintained by price arbitrage.

…But does PPP hold during periods of hyperinflation? If not, we cannot use changes in the Zimbabwe dollar/U.S. dollar exchange rate to estimate Zimbabwe’s inflation rate. There is a consensus among economists that, over relatively short periods of time and at relatively low inflation rates, the link between exchange rates and price levels is loose. But as inflation rates increase, the link becomes tighter.

In a study of the German hyperinflation of 1921–23, Jacob Frenkel  (1976) found that correlations between various German price indices and the German mark/U.S. dollar exchange rate were all close to one. Every 1 percent increase in the exchange rate was associated with a 1 percent increase in the price level. Frenkel’s empirical work strongly suggests that PPP holds when a country is hyperinflating. Additional evidence supporting the PPP principle during periods of very high or hyperinflation has been reported for a wide range of countries…

That PPP holds under conditions of very high inflation or hyperinflation should not be surprising. After all, under these conditions, the temporal dimension of price arbitrage is compressed and the long run effectively becomes the short run. For example, in July 2008, Zimbabwe’s inflation was 2,600 percent a month—equivalent to a 12 percent daily rate. That is per day—not per month, or per year. In these circumstances, arbitrage benefits per unit of time are relatively large and transaction costs can be overcome quickly. Accordingly, price arbitrage works to ensure that PPP holds.

Steve in his paper on Zimbabwe utilized PPP and the black market exchange rate to calculate the inflation rate in Zimbabwe. I have used the same method to make an estimate for Argentine inflation. The graph below shows the official price level and the price level implied by the black market rate for the Argentine peso against the US dollar (and the US price level).

Price Level Argentina

The graph is pretty clear – until  2007-8 the official price level more or less developed in line with the price level implied by PPP. However, ever since the price level implied by PPP has grown much faster than the official inflation rate.

This is a very a clear indication just how manipulated the official inflation data has become since 2007-8 and the graph also very clearly shows how steep an increase in prices we have seen in Argentina since early 2012.

Inflation might have surpassed 100%

There is no doubt that inflation has accelerated further in the last couple of months and this is clearly confirmed by my calculation of the PPP implied price level. Hence, over the past three months the PPP implied price level has increased by an annualized rate of 127%!

This is the reason why I would argue that it is likely that Argentine inflation already has surpassed 100% – maybe not on a year-on-year basis, but at least on a annualized basis over the last 3-6 months. This is not just high inflation, but rather an inflation rate that might very well turn into outright hyperinflation (more than 50% increase in prices per month) unless there is a dramatic change in economic policy in Argentina.

It is monetary policy failure – stop the press NOW!

There is no doubt that Argentina’s super high inflation is caused by excessive money supply growth and that is obviously also the case in Argentina where President Cristina Kirchner’s populist government has been funding excessive growth in public finances by letting the printing press running overtime.

Hence, there is only one way of stopping the runaway inflation in Argentina and that is by stopping the printing press. Unfortunately it has hard to be optimistic that inflation will be slowed anytime soon when Argentina’s central bank governor don’t believe that there is a connection between money supply growth and inflation. We live in an age of central banker ignorance.

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