6. Financial Sector
Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment
The Macri administration has enacted a series of macroeconomic reforms (unifying the exchange rate, settling with holdout creditors, annulling most of the trade restrictions, lifting capital controls, to mention a few) to improve the investment climate. In May 2018, the Congress approved a new capital markets law aimed at boosting economic growth through the development and deepening of the local capital market. The law removed over-reaching regulatory intervention provisions introduced by the previous government and eased restrictions on mutual funds and foreign portfolio investment in domestic markets. Argentina also signed several bilateral agreements and MOUs with other countries aimed to increase foreign direct investment. There are no restrictions on payments and transfers abroad (in accordance with IMF Article VIII).
The Argentine Securities and Exchange Commission (CNV or Comision Nacional de Valores) is the federal agency that regulates securities markets offerings. Securities and accounting standards are transparent and consistent with international norms. Foreign investors have access to a variety of options on the local market to obtain credit. Nevertheless, the domestic credit market is small – credit is 16 percent of GDP, according to the World Bank. The Buenos Aires Stock Exchange is the organization responsible for the operation of Argentina’s primary stock exchange, located in Buenos Aires city. The most important index of the Buenos Aires Stock Exchange is the MERVAL (Mercado de Valores).
U.S. banks, securities firms, and investment funds are well-represented in Argentina and are dynamic players in local capital markets. In 2003, the government began requiring foreign banks to disclose to the public the nature and extent to which their foreign parent banks guarantee their branches or subsidiaries in Argentina.
Money and Banking System
Argentina has a relatively sound banking sector based on diversified revenues, well-contained operating costs, and a high liquidity level. The main challenge for banks is to rebuild long-term assets and liabilities. Due to adverse international and domestic conditions with the economy entering into a recession with high inflation and interest rates, credit to the private sector in local currency (for both corporations and individuals) decreased 18 percent in real terms in 2018. In spite of falling credit, banks remain well equipped to weather weak economic conditions. The largest bank is the Banco de la Nacion Argentina. Non-performing private sector loans constitute less than four percent of banks’ portfolios. The ten largest private banks have total assets of approximately ARS 2,643 billion (USD 64 billion). Total financial system assets are approximately ARS 5,506 billion (USD 134 billion). The Central Bank of Argentina acts as the country’s financial agent and is the main regulatory body for the banking system.
Foreign banks and branches are allowed to establish operations in Argentina. They are subject to the same regulation as local banks. Argentina’s Central Bank has many correspondent banking relationships, none of which are known to have been lost in the past three years.
The Central Bank has enacted a resolution recognizing cryptocurrencies and requiring that they comply with local banking and tax laws. No implementing regulations have been adopted. Blockchain developers report that several companies in the financial services sector are exploring or considering using blockchain-based programs externally and are using some such programs internally. One Argentine NGO, through funding from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), is developing blockchain-based banking applications to assist low income populations.
Foreign Exchange and Remittances
President Macri has issued a number of regulations that lifted all capital controls and reduced trade restrictions. In November 2017, the government repealed the obligation to convert hard currency earnings on exports of both goods and services to pesos in the local foreign exchange market.
Per Resolution 36,162 of October 2011, locally registered insurance companies are mandated to maintain all investments and cash equivalents in the country. The BCRA limits banks’ dollar-denominated asset holdings to 10 percent of their net worth.
In June 2018, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and Argentina announced a Standby Arrangement agreement (SBA). Three months after agreeing to a USD 50 billion SBA, Argentina and the IMF announced in September 2018 a set of revisions, including an increase of the line of credit by USD 7.1 billion and front loading the disbursement of funds. The revised program sought to erase any doubts about the government’s ability to cover its financing needs for 2018 and 2019 and in turn, Argentina committed to meeting strict new budget and monetary policy targets. On the monetary side, the BCRA replaced inflation targeting with a policy to ensure zero growth of the monetary base through December 2019. The BCRA also allows the exchange rate to float freely between a floor and ceiling of 34 and 44 pesos per dollar (at the time of introducing the framework).
Originally, the BCRA hoped that the floor and ceiling bounds would avoid a real appreciation of the peso; the adjustment started with a 3 percent monthly increase for the last quarter of 2018, and would drop to a monthly 1.75 percent increase for the second quarter of 2019. However, in mid-April 2019, the BCRA announced that the floor and ceiling will remain constant until the end of 2019, at 39.8 and 51.5 pesos per dollar, respectively. Under this framework, the BCRA may only sell up to USD 150 million reserves per day when trading above the ceiling.
According to Resolutions 3,819/2015 and 1/2017, companies and investors have no official restrictions on money conversion, remittances, or repatriation of their earnings.
Sovereign Wealth Funds
The Argentine Government does not maintain a Sovereign Wealth Fund.