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ARGENTINA | 06-03-2021 09:42

What we learned this week: February 27 to March 6

Stories that caught our eye over the last seven days in Argentina.

 

THE WEEK IN CORONAVIRUS

There were 2,141,854 confirmed cases of coronavirus and 52,784 deaths at press time yesterday, as against 2,098,728 cases and 51,887 deaths the previous Friday. Last weekend there were protests against the “VIP vaccine” scandal which were not as massively attended as expected by the organisers, despite widespread public indignation, especially over the controversial use of body bags which were attached to the gates of the Casa Rosada. Over half the provinces (13, including Buenos Aires with over 2.5 million schoolchildren alone) housing most of the population began classes on Monday (following this city and Jujuy last month) with often complex shift systems and protocols against the pandemic. Wednesday saw the anniversary of Argentina’s first confirmed case of coronavirus, Ariel Pazzi, 43, who had returned the previous weekend from Italy (where 2,502 people were infected with Covid-19 at that time). Meanwhile, vaccine stocks are slowly building, with Argentina having now taken delivery of more than four million shots of various jabs. The happiest headline of the week arguably came last weekend, when 90-year-old Elsa Nélida Alonso from Cañuelas became the one millionth to receive a vaccine against Covid-19.

LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY

President Alberto Fernández inaugurated the 139th period of ordinary sessions in Congress on Monday with a state-of-the-nation speech almost twice as long as last year’s. The Peronist adopted a far more aggressive tone, criticising the Judiciary at various levels and announcing that he would be lodging a criminal lawsuit against the preceding Mauricio Macri administration for the massive debt incurred with the International Monetary Fund as the biggest scam in Argentine history. 

CRISTINA SLAMS COURTS

In a virtual Thursday court appearance Vice-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner informed the judges that she would not be requesting acquittal in the dollar futures case against her, telling them to "do what you have to do," before lashing into the Judiciary as a whole and her successor Mauricio Macri in a 50-minute broadside, saying that the latter should be in the dock rather than her. "Lawfare remains at its peak" and "you cannot continue behaving like a corporation" were among further jabs at the judicial branch, whom she also accused of aiding Macri’s electoral victory in 2015 to the country’s ruin. The ex-president, whose outburst was streamed live online and across various news sites, also charged that the profiteers from the dollar futures were the friends and officials of Macri since they had inside information on the devaluation they were planning. Her fiery testimony won praise yesterday from both her former vice-president Amado Boudou and President Alberto Fernández with the former saying: "Cristina put things in their place, talking about some very deep things,” also pointing several fingers at Macri, while President Fernández underlined that he was not on good terms with his current vice-president when he first started calling the justice system "scandalous."
 

FORMOSA PROTESTS

Rubber bullets and tear gas were needed in Formosa yesterday to quell the protests triggered by Peronist Governor Gildo Insfrán’s decision last Thursday to revert to the strictest phase of quarantine (known by its Spanish acronym of ASPO) for the provincial capital until March 18 after 23 confirmed cases of coronavirus (17 of them in that city) were registered for the province that day. Shopkeepers were especially upset with only essential services exempt from the lockdown. Several demonstrators were injured by the action of the provincial police. Yesterday the ADEPA press publications association denounced several violations of press freedom on the part of the Insfrán administration. 

BOLSONARO IN BA

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has declared his support for Argentina’s negotiations with the International Monetary Fund while confirming that he will be meeting President Alberto Fernández in this city on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of Mercosur (March 26), Argentine Ambassador to Brazil Daniel Scioli announced on Thursday. It will be their first face-to-face meeting. Bolsonaro has recently been critical of the Frente de Todos government, highlighting how “the upper middle class of Argentina is seeking to emigrate to escape the crisis” although President Fernández responded by saying: “Brazil and Argentina are strategic partners and that must not change.”  

MARKET WATCH

The parallel “blue” dollar continued its downward course of all this year last week, even if only down a peso from 145 to 144 pesos. The official exchange rate thus moved further ahead (if its 65 percent surcharges are added), up from 94.50 to 95 pesos according to Banco Nación, or 153.34 pesos for savers with the surcharges. Among the unofficial but legal exchange rates the CCL (contado con liquidación) moved up to 149.13 from 145.32 pesos between yesterday and last Friday while the MEP (mercado electrónico de pagos) also rose from 141.92 to 145.65 pesos. Country risk rose sharply from 1,504 points the previous Friday to close the week at 1,568 points, influenced by the potential collision course with the International Monetary Fund in the presidential state-of-the-nation speech to open Congress last Monday.

RENTAL WOES

House rentals in the Buenos Aires metropolitan area shot up 157.3 percent last month by comparison with the previous February but in the same period flats rose 8.8 percent and offices 40.3 percent, a joint study by Universidad de San Andrés and MercadoLibre has revealed. But the sale prices for all three categories have dipped since February, 2020 – 5.8 percent for houses, 6.5 percent for flats and 5.5 percent for offices with the heaviest falls coming in the Palermo and Constitución neighbourhoods.

PENSIONS GET 8% LIFT

Anses social security administration has confirmed that all pensions will go up 8.07 percent this month with bonuses of 1,500 pesos in both April and May for minimum pensions. The corresponding decree was published in the Official Gazette during the weekend.

REVENUE RISE

State revenues rose last month by 51.9 percent by comparison with the previous February, well ahead of inflation, AFIP tax bureau announced on Monday, for a total tax haul of 716.59 billion pesos. Personal assets (up 307 percent), export duties (205 percent), import tariffs (81.9 percent), excise (60.7 percent) and income tax (57.8 percent) more than compensated for a substandard performance by all other levies. 

YPF POSTS US$1-BILLION LOSS

YPF state oil company posted a loss of almost US$1.1 billion for the year 2020 despite slashing its costs by 20 percent with its earnings down by 318 percent due to a heavy fall in demand. Petrol prices have already risen several times this year, partly in response to recovering world prices but also to increased fuel taxation.  

INDUSTRY INDICATORS

Industrial output rose 4.4 percent last January by comparison with the first month of 2020, thanks largely to a 23.3 percent surge in construction, with several sectors still registering negative trends.

MILANI ROBBERY

Former Army chief-of-staff César Milani was robbed in his San Isidro home in the small hours of Thursday by a gang of at least five heavily armed criminals who stole cash and firearms after locking up the ex-commander in a wardrobe together with his wife, domestic staff and workmen refurbishing the house. Milani suspected that they were ex-servicemen or former AFI intelligence agents (he himself headed military intelligence during much of his Army career) from their professional methods "like a commando group." 

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