Thursday, January 24, 2008

The South American Euro?

Buoyed by high copper prices and domestic interest rates, the Chilean peso continues to appreciate against the dollar. When I last wrote about
Southern Cone exchange rates, about two weeks ago, it was around 500 pesos per dollar, but it has since gained about four percent to finish the day below 480. Chilean exporters (including the incoming tourism sector, which earns dollars but pays its local bills in pesos) are upset.

In an interview in the Santiago daily El Mercurio, UCLA economist Sebastián Edwards (a Chilean) suggests the central bank should buy dollars (among other measures) to help reach an equilibrium of around 535 to 545 per dollar that he considers sustainable. How soon that might happen is uncertain, even as Chile becomes a costlier destination, but Edwards expects the peso to depreciate.

Meanwhile, the dollar has strengthened a bit against the Argentine peso, at 3.14 versus 3.09 a couple weeks ago. The coin shortage remains acute, though--yesterday's Clarín chronicled a developing black market, in which a 100-peso banknote gets only 97 pesos in coins; in a twist, one corner kiosk operator is offering a free hot dog for every 50 pesos in coins.

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