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29/04/2008 | Argentina - A ministerial shake-up

The Economist Staff

Argentina's troubled government loses its economy minister

 

The resignation of Argentina’s economy minister on April 24th is another symptom of the crisis surrounding the new president, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, in office less than five months. The cabinet change comes in the midst of a protracted confrontation with farmers and persistent questions about the extent of the country’s inflation problem, but it is unlikely to result in any major modification of policy. This raises medium-term risks for the economy, as imbalances will continue to build.

The departure of the minister, Martín Lousteau, did not come as a surprise, as he had limited authority over economy policy, which is widely believed to be in the hands of the former president and Mrs Fernández’s husband, Néstor Kirchner (2003-07), and his confidant, Guillermo Moreno, the secretary of internal trade. The husband and wife team has pursued a policy of robust public spending, a weak currency, and food and energy subsidies to consumers to support fast economic growth. This has averaged around 8% during the last five years, pulling Argentina out of the severe economic collapse of 2001. To bolster public finances, they have also taxed agricultural exporters, who have benefited from high international prices for commodities and a policy to keep the currency weak.

After the administration hiked the tax on a number of farm products in March (up to 45%, according to a sliding scale), farmers engaged in 21 days of strikes and roadblocks, which led to shortages of basic food products on many store shelves. Such shortages threatened to exacerbate already-high inflation, which is unofficially believed to be running at as high as 25% annually. Official inflation statistics, however, show inflation to be around 8.8% year on year in March. These data are suspect because of alleged government intervention at the national statistics office, INDEC, since January 2007.

The government argues that farmers have gained from high commodity prices and that the taxes are a fair way to distribute windfall income to the country's poor by ensuring sufficient domestic supplies at low prices, which will also help to control inflation. Exporters, however, protest that the taxes deprive them of export revenue (while inflation has led to a real appreciation of the exchange rate, eroding profitability) while helping the profligate government replenish its fiscal coffers. Outright export bans and price controls are other policies that have generated tensions with agricultural producers in recent years, tensions that have carried over into Mrs Fernández’s term.

No compromise yet

Striking farmers agreed to a 30-day truce on April 2nd, but are prepared to resume their protests in the absence of an agreement with the government. Thus far, President Fernández has refused to reverse the export tariff hike imposed in March, although she has offered other smaller concessions.

Mr Lousteau, meanwhile, reportedly presented a package of measures to the president, including steps to address both the farmers’ grievances and to slow the rise in the cost of living. Among these was a reduction in the export tax on corn, wheat and dairy products; cuts in public spending; a hike in interest rates; and a commitment to end government manipulation of inflation data, among others. The president rejected the package, leading to Mr Lousteau’s resignation.

The new economy minister, Carlos Fernández, is a close ally of the Kirchners, and previously served briefly as the head of the state tax authority. With his appointment it appears that the administration is determined to stay the course, unwilling to trim public spending or adopt any other policies that will alter Argentina’s fast-growth trajectory.

Further, the new president has not wanted to be perceived as weak by caving in to the demands of strikers. However, if the strike actions and roadblocks resume—and food shortages re-emerge—the risk will grow that she will be blamed, at least partially, for any negative repercussions and that her approval ratings will fall further. These are already down to around 35% (by contrast, she won 45% of the vote in the 2007 presidential election).

Nonetheless, with the government showing no apparent flexibility in its policy approach, the conflict with agriculturalists looks set to escalate, as will price increases.

Policy contradictions

The dispute with the farm sector, and the resignation of Mr Lousteau, serve to underscore the growing incongruence of the Fernández government’s economic policy mix. Rather than the adjustments to fiscal and other policies needed to address economic imbalances and high rate of inflation, as Mr Lousteau appeared to be proposing, the new president has retained, even tightened, the policies of her husband.

This is likely to exacerbate existing problems, only postponing the day when more costly adjustments may have to be made. This raises the risk of an inevitable hard landing for Argentina’s economy, rather than the gradual slowdown that Mr Lousteau wanted to help engineer.

Meanwhile, in expectation of the introduction of a more reliable consumer price index this year, as promised by the government, the Economist Intelligence Unit assumes that official inflation will accelerate over the rest of 2008, ending the year at 11.9%. For the moment we continue to forecast that inflation will cool in 2009, to 9.4% at year-end, on the basis of lower domestic demand and falling import prices. There are significant risks to our inflation forecasts, centred on uncertainty over the timing and extent of possible adjustments to price controls (for example, electricity price rises have been under discussion for some time, but remain pending).

On the growth side, we expect GDP growth to dip to 6.2% in 2008 and 4.5% in 2009, but there is a risk of a much sharper fall if failure to address price misalignments and other distortions spur a faster-than-expected deceleration of investment growth.

Argentina’s economic history of boom and bust partly reflects their policymakers’ inability to adjust policy frameworks in the face of domestic imbalances or external shocks. Soaring commodity prices continue to provide the Kirchners with a favourable external environment. But the longer they postpone the domestic adjustment, the higher the economic costs will be.

The Economist (Reino Unido)

 


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10/02/2010|
08/02/2010|
08/02/2010|
08/02/2010|
28/01/2010|
25/01/2010|
20/01/2010|
20/01/2010|
16/01/2010|
16/01/2010|
15/01/2010|
15/01/2010|
11/01/2010|
11/01/2010|
10/01/2010|
07/01/2010|
03/01/2010|
03/01/2010|
03/01/2010|
17/12/2009|
15/12/2009|
15/12/2009|
13/12/2009|
13/12/2009|
28/11/2009|
28/11/2009|
28/11/2009|
28/11/2009|
27/11/2009|
27/11/2009|
27/11/2009|
27/11/2009|
27/11/2009|
27/11/2009|
21/11/2009|
21/11/2009|
18/11/2009|
18/11/2009|
16/11/2009|
16/11/2009|
30/10/2009|
30/10/2009|
11/10/2009|
10/10/2009|
10/10/2009|
07/10/2009|
07/10/2009|
04/10/2009|
30/09/2009|
30/09/2009|
27/09/2009|
27/09/2009|
27/09/2009|
22/09/2009|
20/09/2009|
18/09/2009|
18/09/2009|
18/09/2009|
16/09/2009|
16/09/2009|
16/09/2009|
08/09/2009|
07/09/2009|
06/09/2009|
06/09/2009|
05/09/2009|
05/09/2009|
26/08/2009|
21/08/2009|
19/08/2009|
19/08/2009|
15/08/2009|
15/08/2009|
15/08/2009|
11/08/2009|
11/08/2009|
11/08/2009|
11/08/2009|
19/07/2009|
19/07/2009|
18/07/2009|
18/07/2009|
27/03/2009|
22/03/2009|
22/03/2009|
27/01/2009|
27/01/2009|
27/01/2009|
17/01/2009|
17/01/2009|
17/01/2009|
17/01/2009|
17/01/2009|
17/01/2009|
11/01/2009|
06/12/2008|
06/12/2008|
06/12/2008|
06/12/2008|
23/11/2008|
23/11/2008|
16/11/2008|
16/11/2008|
04/11/2008|
04/11/2008|
03/11/2008|
03/11/2008|
24/10/2008|
24/10/2008|
24/10/2008|
24/10/2008|
15/09/2008|
15/09/2008|
15/09/2008|
15/09/2008|
15/09/2008|
15/09/2008|
06/09/2008|
06/09/2008|
05/09/2008|
05/09/2008|
05/09/2008|
05/09/2008|
01/09/2008|
01/09/2008|
01/09/2008|
01/09/2008|
22/08/2008|
22/08/2008|
17/08/2008|
17/08/2008|
16/08/2008|
16/08/2008|
28/07/2008|
28/07/2008|
28/07/2008|
28/07/2008|
28/07/2008|
28/07/2008|
19/07/2008|
19/07/2008|
24/05/2008|
24/05/2008|
03/05/2008|
03/05/2008|
11/02/2008|
05/01/2008|
09/12/2007|
18/11/2007|
10/11/2007|
10/11/2007|
06/11/2007|
06/11/2007|
06/09/2007|
26/08/2007|
25/08/2007|
11/07/2007|
16/06/2007|
16/06/2007|
10/06/2007|
10/06/2007|
19/05/2007|
19/05/2007|
19/05/2007|
19/05/2007|
24/04/2007|
24/04/2007|
14/04/2007|
14/04/2007|
05/04/2007|
05/04/2007|
05/04/2007|
28/02/2007|
28/02/2007|
05/02/2007|
05/02/2007|
04/02/2007|
04/02/2007|
04/02/2007|
04/02/2007|
04/02/2007|
04/02/2007|
29/01/2007|
29/01/2007|
29/01/2007|
29/01/2007|
11/01/2007|
11/01/2007|
11/01/2007|
11/01/2007|
27/12/2006|
27/12/2006|
27/12/2006|
27/12/2006|
27/12/2006|
27/12/2006|
20/12/2006|
20/12/2006|
17/11/2006|
30/09/2006|
28/07/2006|
12/04/2006|
12/04/2006|
12/04/2006|
06/03/2006|
21/02/2006|
17/02/2006|
31/01/2006|
10/01/2006|
28/12/2005|
31/10/2005|
26/09/2005|
29/08/2005|
11/08/2005|
08/08/2005|
24/06/2005|
24/06/2005|
24/06/2005|
03/04/2005|
03/04/2005|
03/04/2005|
03/04/2005|

ver + notas
 
Center for the Study of the Presidency
Freedom House