Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Default Blue(s)? An Exchange Rate Update

Preparing a new edition of any guidebook involves challenges, and one of them is to present exchange rates and prices accurately. My upcoming fourth edition of Patagonia covers three countries, but Argentina is the most challenging to predict because of its volatile politics and economy. During the research period, its peso fell from six to eight-plus per US dollar, but that’s not nearly the whole story.
Argentina’s made front-page news recently, after having failed to persuade the US Supreme Court that its plans to pay debt from its 2001 bond default and 2005 restructuring conformed to the New York State laws under which much of that debt was contracted. As of mid-2014, it was still unclear whether the country was again facing default that might result in another peso collapse.

Given its foreign debt problems, due partly to limited foreign currency reserves, President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s government instituted a series of patchwork measures to stem the flow of dollars, which Argentines often use to preserve their savings in the face of inflation and a depreciating peso. One of these was the cepo cambiario (“currency clamp”), which has made it difficult or impossible to purchase foreign currency – even for overseas travel, where Argentines must use credit cards with purchases subject to a punitive tax.

That’s led to an active black market for the so-called “blue dollar,” which has traded for upwards of 12 pesos despite some fluctuations. At that rate, Argentina is a relatively inexpensive country for foreign visitors, but for those who don’t know their way around, there’s a certain risk in changing at so-called cuevas (“caves”) in Buenos Aires and elsewhere. Some cambios (formal exchange houses) have been paying the blue rate, but real estate brokers may be another option. A few businesses, most notably some hotels and restaurants, may accept cash dollars at a premium rate.

Of course, using the “parallel” market also entails the risk of carrying substantial amounts of US cash (Euros and other currencies are not popular). Some purchasers will only accept 50- and 100-dollar notes at the blue rate. For current Buenos Aires rates, check the website Dólar Blue or see the widget on the column to the right; rates are usually lower in the provinces. Prices for the new edition were calculated at the official rate, but are vulnerable to dramatic changes.

During the research period, Chilean exchange rates versus the dollar slipped from roughly 520 pesos per dollar to the 550 range, and have fluctuated only slightly. There is no black market and, barring unforeseen circumstances, both exchange rates and prices should remain relatively stable. The Falkland Islands pound, at par with British Sterling, is likely to remain the most stable of the bunch.

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