Peso and stock market sell-off triggers risk of contagion

Argentine President Mauricio Macri, who has been defeated in the primary elections for the reelection, during a press conference at the Casa Rosada, the government house, in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Monday, Aug. 12, 2019.

Mario De Fina | NurPhoto | Getty Images

The risk of contagion has flared-up following a stock market and currency crash in South America’s second-largest country, analysts told CNBC on Tuesday.

Argentina’s President Mauricio Macri lost by a far greater margin than expected in primary elections on Sunday, casting serious doubt over the incumbent’s re-election chances in October.

The surprise result set off a shockwave in financial markets, with the peso closing 15% weaker at 53.5 per U.S. dollar and Argentina’s stock market plunging more than 30%.

It marked the second-biggest one day slump anywhere since 1950, Reuters reported.

Andrea Iannelli, investment director at Fidelity International, told CNBC’s “Squawk Box Europe” on Tuesday that it was hard to see how Argentina’s stock market and currency crash could be completely isolated.

“We are going to get a spill over (or) contagion of some sort.”

“But… Let’s not get too carried away because the general fundamental picture in emerging markets — with a Federal Reserve that continues to cut rates and global monetary policy that is being eased everywhere — is actually pretty good,” Ianelli said.

Emerging markets are likely to benefit from lower borrowing costs stateside because it gives them welcome breathing space to cut rates and get back on a path to higher growth.

‘Cascading effect’ on emerging market currencies

At a news conference Monday, Macri said his coalition would reverse the “bad primary election result” despite a surprisingly strong performance by the opposition.

The result of the primaries, seen by many as a key gauge for the first round of Argentina’s presidential elections on Oct. 27, is thought to be a clear signal that the South American country is ready to reject the ruling government’s austere economic policies.

The opposition ticket of center-left Alberto Fernandez, whose running mate is populist ex-leader Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, secured a much-wider than expected 15.5 percentage point margin over the president.

“The worry is the eventual cascading effect on emerging markets FX (foreign exchange) in the region,” Saktiandi Supaat, head of global FX Strategy at Maybank, told CNBC on Tuesday.

“We have not seen it in a big way as yet, but we expect it to have some impact,” Supaat said.

Other currencies in Latin America fell between 0.5% and 2% on Monday, while most regional stock markets closed off by approximately 1% — in line with markets worldwide.

Argentina’s super-sensitive peso

The presidential primaries were viewed by many as a referendum on Macri’s painful economic reforms. The business-friendly president had promised to continue with the same austerity-driven approach if re-elected later this year.

He had hoped recent glimmers of an economic revival would be enough to encourage voters to stick with his free markets reform agenda despite a recession and 55% inflation.

However, analysts told CNBC that his re-election chances were now looking “increasingly bleak.”

A view of Exchange house in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Argentina Peso weakened substantially after Primary Presidential Elections.

Federico Rotter | NurPhoto | Getty Images

Argentina’s super-sensitive peso, seen by some as a guide for the country’s economy, could fall another 20% amid heightened political uncertainty, Morgan Stanley said Monday, according to Reuters.

The U.S. bank warned of “further downside pressure and volatility in prices.”

The dramatic stock market and currency moves prompted Argentina’s central bank to intervene in the foreign exchange market, in order to defend the peso in the wake of a massive sell-off.

“I think that we need to be extremely cautious about Argentina and not just because of the elections,” Daniel Lacalle, chief economist at Tressis Gestion, told CNBC on Tuesday.

Lacelle said he was concerned the result of the presidential primaries would make the country “even more scared to take important structural reforms.”

He added Argentina’s central bank had been left with a binary choice.

“You have one option which is to print peso’s like there is no tomorrow and you have another option which is to print quite a lot — and it is scary.”

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