Argentina’s Milei Vows to Pay Country’s Debt While Shuttering the Central Bank

Argentina’s leading presidential candidate Javier Milei pledged to close the nation’s central bank while saying he would make every effort to avoid a default on the country’s sovereign debt if he wins the October vote.

(Bloomberg) — Argentina’s leading presidential candidate Javier Milei pledged to close the nation’s central bank while saying he would make every effort to avoid a default on the country’s sovereign debt if he wins the October vote. 

Milei, a radical libertarian whose surprise win in Sunday’s primary vote roiled markets, told Bloomberg News his bold fiscal adjustment will boost Argentina’s reputation and credit profile, making a default unnecessary. 

His plan includes slashing spending by at least 13% of gross domestic product before mid-2025 by dramatically downsizing public works, reducing the number of ministries, removing subsidies and capital restrictions that would allow businesses to transact in US dollars. More drastically, he also plans to shutter the central bank — which he said has “no reason to exist” — and dollarize the $640 billion economy. 

“I will make every effort to avoid a default, obviously,” Milei said in a two-hour-long interview in Buenos Aires Wednesday. “If you do the fiscal adjustment that’s needed, the financing will be there.” 

Read more: Milei’s Foreign Policy: Reject ‘Assassin’ China, Leave Mercosur

Argentina’s assets sold off after Milei, an outsider few investors saw as a serious contender until now, came out ahead in the primary, seen as a barometer for presidential elections in a country where polls are notoriously unreliable. The slump forced the government to devalue its tightly controlled official exchange rate by 18% when markets opened Monday. 

The country’s bonds were mixed on Wednesday after the interview. Securities due 2030 edged 0.2 cent lower to 31.4 cents on the dollar for their fourth day of losses, while bonds due in 2046 edged up. The peso sank as much as 4% in parallel markets to around 710 pesos per dollar, a record low.

Read More: Argentine Shops Hit With 20% Overnight Price Hike After Election

In the first interview to foreign media after his unexpected win, Milei detailed his plan to scrap the Argentine peso for the US dollar as a way to bring down inflation that’s running at 113%, and upped his criticism of the central bank, which he called “the worst garbage that exists on this Earth.”

“Central banks are divided in four categories: the bad ones, like the Federal Reserve; the very bad ones, like the ones in Latin America; the horribly bad ones; and the Central Bank of Argentina,” he said. 

If Milei wins the presidency, he plans to hand over the keys to the central bank to economist Emilio Ocampo, his informal adviser on the dollarization program, so that he can shut it down. Ocampo will also help in negotiations with the International Monetary Fund, which has a $44 billion program with the South American nation. The candidate says he has no plans to ask the IMF for more money.

“A fiscal deficit is immoral,” Milei said. “If you live continually with a fiscal deficit, you’re going to be insolvent.”

Milei said he’s already developed a plan to dollarize the economy, a move he vows would be among his first in case he wins the Oct. 22 election. Argentina would follow El Salvador’s model, allowing people to voluntarily choose between currencies. Once two-thirds of the monetary base is converted, the economy would become fully dollarized, he said. 

“If nobody wants to have pesos in Argentina, the question is how much are pesos worth in real terms? Nobody wants them, we’re not talking about water in the middle of the desert. We’re talking about something nobody wants,” Milei said. 

The one-time congressman obtained more votes than the pro business coalition led by Patricia Bullrich and the ruling Peronist bloc of Economy Minister Sergio Massa, surprising pollsters who expected him to come in third. Investors are worried the country is headed for its fourth debt workout in the past two decades.

Read More: Week of Shocks Leaves Investors Dreading Next Argentina Default

Among chief concerns for markets is that Milei, a political outsider, wouldn’t be able to get backing for his plans. The 52 year-old, who doesn’t shy away from criticizing politicians he says have been robbing Argentines for decades, said he would call referendums if he can’t get legislative consensus to approve his measures. 

“If I lower the currency risk, and I lower the credit risk, that means country risk will plummet. It means that bonds are literally going to fly,” he said. “The truth is it’s a pretty simple trade. Or, if you buy and hold, for example, returns in a year would be above 200%.” 

In the interview, Milei also criticized China and Latin America leftist leaders he considers “socialists,” said he would seek to leave the Mercosur trade bloc and would quickly move to deregulate commodity markets.  

–With assistance from Patrick Gillespie and Sydney Maki.

(Updates with market moves in the sixth paragraph)

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