Friday, September 19, 2014

Argentina's Adolescent Peso

Throughout Latin America, the quinceañera is a rite of passage that marks a stage in the passage from girlhood to adulthood. It’s a celebration marking the onset of adolescence, at least in the social sense – 15-year-old girls are ready to date, and it’s often an elaborate (and expensive) acknowledgment of that fact by her family.
Argentina arrived at a similar sort of landmark Wednesday when, for the first time, the so-called Dólar Blue reached 15 pesos (the official dollar stands at 8.43 pesos, a breach of 78 percent). The Argentine government blames this on speculative attacks, rather than its own erratic economic policies and, even less credibly, on US Judge Thomas Griesa for the technical default on its foreign debt.

For foreign visitors, as the Southern Hemisphere’s high season approaches, this promises to make Argentina a cheaper destination but, as I’ve written before, dealing with the informal exchange system can be complex for those who don’t know their way around. It also means, as I’ve noted, carrying a walletful of banknotes to make your purchases – at the blue market rate, the 100-peso note (Argentina’s largest) is worth less than US$7.

Chile Cheaper Too?
Meanwhile, across the Andes, there’s no black market for the Chilean peso but, in recent weeks, the currency has also been declining. Since I submitted the manuscript for the upcoming fourth edition of Moon Handbooks Patagonia early this year, the rate has fallen from 550 to almost 600, so Chile is also likely to be cheaper.

Unlike in Argentina, though, there’s no sense of panic on the part of Chilean government officials, who oversee a stable economy, honor their debts, and understand the ups and downs currency markets. Nor do Chilean operators worry – much of their revenue comes in dollars, but their expenses are in pesos, so the decline actually benefits them.
Visitors from overseas, meanwhile, can conveniently use Chilean ATMs without paying a penalty to do so and, when they leave the country, they can exchange their leftover pesos with only a minor loss. I might add that BancoEstado ATMs do not collect a commission on foreign users.

In Argentina, though, it’s nearly impossible to turn your remaining pesos back into dollars or any other foreign currency, so plan wisely – try not to change more than you need - and spend whatever Argentine currency remains. Odds are that, even if you plan to return fairly soon, those Argentine pesos will be worth less (if not necessarily worthless).

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