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ECONOMY | 29-11-2023 14:00

Milei warns Argentina heading to 'stagflation' after picking economy czar

Period of stagflation will be unavoidable as the new administration implements the fiscal adjustment needed to organise the economy, warns Javier Milei.

President-elect Javier Milei let slip his choice of economy minister during a radio interview Wednesday morning, saying that Luis Caputo will take over the job with a mission to pull Argentina from its deep economic crisis.

Speaking to Mitre radio after returning from a trip to the United States, Milei said that Caputo along with Cabinet chief Nicolás Posse had remained in Washington to keep working with representatives of the US Treasury and the International Monetary Fund on an economic plan for Argentina.

“The meetings at the Treasury and at the IMF were led by [future] cabinet chief Nicolas Posse and by Economy Minister Luis Caputo,” Milei said during the interview. “At some point during the day, they will get back to me about what happened.” 

Milei’s spokesperson didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Caputo will be in charge of implementing Milei’s plans to curb inflation that is now running above 140 percent. Other tenets of Milei’s platform, like closing the Central Bank and dollarising the economy, appear to be on pause until he can rein in public spending to balance the budget — one of the culprits of runaway inflation.

The new economy minister will face titanic challenges, including how to unwind a web of currency controls and price freezes imposed by the outgoing government without triggering hyperinflation. 

 

Stagflation ahead

Yet a period of stagflation will be unavoidable as the new administration implements the fiscal adjustment needed to organise the economy, Milei warned in a separate radio interview.

“There will be stagflation because the fiscal adjustment will have an impact on economic activity,” Milei told Radio La Red. “What we are doing is creating all mechanisms to stop the emission of money so that in a lapse of 18 to 24 months we end inflation.”

As part of Milei’s economic plan, Caputo will have to lift more than a dozen exchange-rate controls that are now in place to encourage exports, while safeguarding a nearly depleted stock of international reserves. The official peso rate is now held artificially low at 359.50 per dollar, while the parallel exchange rate is nearly 1,000-to-1. More than 1,000 basic goods are subject to price controls.

He will have to do it all with the economy stalled, public finances in shambles and more than 40 percent of the population living in poverty.

Caputo served as finance chief during the beginning of Mauricio Macri’s administration, when he negotiated a US$16.5-billion deal with holdout bondholders, allowing Argentina to return to international capital markets. He later issued a 100-year bond that the government of Alberto Fernández swapped after defaulting again in 2020. 

Amid a currency run in 2018, Macri tapped Caputo to take over the Central Bank. But he served only a few months before unexpectedly stepping down amid tensions with the IMF. 

On Tuesday, Caputo returned to the IMF for the first time in his new role. He met with IMF Deputy First Managing Director Gita Gopinath and staff, including Western Hemisphere Director Rodrigo Valdes and assistant director Luis Cubeddu, who spearheaded negotiations over Argentina’s current US$43-billion programme.

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by Walter Brandimarte & Manuela Tobias, Bloomberg

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