Wednesday, May 31, 2023

Colombia, Peru and Costa Rica join currency war

Readers already know that Brazil is at the helm of the currency war when it comes to Latin America. However, increasingly, Colombia, Peru and even Costa Rica are turning into brothers in arms, determined to ease the appreciation of their own currencies, the peso, the sol and the colón, respectively.

Colombia’s finance minister, Mauricio Cardenas, said earlier this week that the government is “studying formulas, options” to curb it. “The government is aware that this is a problem. It’s a reflection of the economy’s strength,” he said.

Indeed, the country has been at the receiving end of a record level of foreign investment, with inflows expected to hit $16bn in 2012. This in turn has pushed the peso up almost 9 per cent last year – something that is proving to be a drag on the country’s manufacturing sector.

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That can be seen in the latest GDP data which showed that the economy of one of the region’s darlings grew a meagre 2.1 per cent in the third quarter compared with the same period in 2011 . (Nevertheless, the economy is expected to grow around 4 per cent for the whole of last year.)

Appreciation is also harshly affecting some non-commodity exporters, such as those of flower, banana and, more worrying in the land of Juan Valdéz, coffee.

Cardenas’ remarks followed those of the country’s agriculture minister, Juan Camilo Restrepo, who cornered the central bank to ramp up dollar purchases.

The monetary body’s chief, Jose Darío Uribe, echoing the concerns said it was committed to buying a minimum of $20m a day through the end of March to keep the peso’s appreciation in check. The move comes after the bank spent a record $4.8bn in 2012 to stem the peso’s rise.

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“Would I like to step up those interventions? Yes, of course,” Cárdenas, who sit in the central bank’s board, told Bloomberg this week, without specifying a number. He also said the Treasury will increase dollar purchases in January with excess cash.

He made it clear, though, that he would not like to tackle the peso’s rally with taxes on foreign portfolio investments or other capital controls, something the Brazilians have done – but which Costa Rica is on its way to impose after a recent surge in financial inflows.

From afar, Peru’s economy appears to be fit as a fiddle. According to the Andean country’s National Statistics Institute, production figures, which act as a GDP proxy, expanded 6.8 per cent year-on-year in November last year, above market’s expectations. Overall, the economy is expected to expand by 6 per cent in 2012.

However, the stone in the shoe is the appreciation of the sol, which went up 5 per cent last year. As in Colombian, FDI is expected to hit a record high, $11.1bn for the whole of 2012. On top, non-residents bought $2.42bn of the Andean country’s securities, something certain local economists label “speculative capital.”

To try and ease this, since September last year Peru’s central bank has been trying make the currency movements less predictable. The bank has also purchased a record $13bn in 2012 in its attempts to keep the national currency from appreciating too rapidly as well as increasing greenback purchases when the sol rallied to a 16-year high on January 14.

Also, late last month, finance minister, Miguel Castilla, said Peru would prepay between $1bn and $1.5bn debt this year in a bid to curb the appreciation of the sol.

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A week later, the bank raised reserve requirements 75bps for deposits in dollars in a “context of high liquidity abroad and exceptionally low interest rates in international markets,” according to the monetary body.

It remains to be seen if, in the end, any of the brother’s strategies would end up having the desired effects.

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