Argentina’s economy chief frontrunner pitches Milei’s ‘shock’ therapy to banks – sources

By Jorgelina do Rosario and Jorge Otaola

BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) – Argentine former central banker Luis Caputo, frontrunner to be the new economy minister, met local and international bank officials on Friday to lay out the economic plans of President-elect Javier Milei, three sources and a banking group said.

The meeting at the La Rural conference center in Buenos Aires comes as Milei, who has pledged “shock therapy” for the embattled economy, races to put together his economic team. Caputo has been tipped as a front-runner for the role.

In the meeting, however, Caputo declined to confirm that he would be the new economy minister, two of the sources said. Milei has not yet confirmed any appointment.

However, signs that libertarian outsider Milei is leaning towards a more orthodox economic team and policies have spurred markets this week, with bonds up almost 14% and equities over 40% since he won a run-off election last Sunday.

Caputo emphasized the idea of an abrupt economic adjustment, needed to tamp down inflation nearing 150%, head off a looming recession, undo an array of capital controls and rebuild net reserves seen at negative $10 billion.

“Our approach is fiscal and monetary shock from day one. The roadmap is orthodox and without crazy things,” Caputo told the assembled bank representatives, according to a senior banking source who attended the meeting.

Caputo, former finance minister and central bank chief during ex-president Mauricio Macri’s conservative government, is seen as a more orthodox pick for libertarian Milei’s new administration, which takes office on Dec. 10.

The local ADEBA banking association confirmed the meeting.

“It was a meeting in which we exchanged opinions on the challenges of the economy and the way to address them,” Javier Bolzico, president of ADEBA, told Reuters.

“The meeting was very positive, Caputo emphasized fiscal balance as the basis of the model and a comprehensive and market approach to the BCRA’s remunerated liabilities. Caputo’s vision gave us peace of mind and confidence.”

Milei’s team did not respond to a request for comment.

Macri’s conservative PRO party backed Milei for the run-off vote and his allies are pushing to get positions in the Cabinet.

Caputo did not provide details on how Milei’s government plans to address public spending nor what it aims to do with the central bank’s huge pile of Leliq short-term notes, which Milei has targeted because they expand money supply of local pesos.

Caputo said Milei’s government would lift currency controls rapidly, the first source and a second banking source briefed on the meeting said, but it would not happen immediately. He added no dollarization was planned in the short-term, as fiscal and monetary stabilization were need, the first source said.

“First you need a stabilization program,” Caputo said, according to the first source present in the meeting.

Milei had made shutting the central bank and dollarizing the economy key planks of his campaign, but admitted these things will take time given the economic crisis. Earlier on Friday, though, he said shutting the central bank was “non-negotiable”.

Caputo also told the bank representatives that addressing inflation forcefully was a top priority, though did not provide details on how the future government would tame prices.

The second bank source said Caputo had discussed the need to fully attack inflation and lower the Leliq pile, though did not have details on how this would be done.

“Given his knowledge of the market, he is one of those responsible for gauging the position of the banks before the new government,” a third bank source who confirmed the meeting said.

(Reporting by Jorgelina do Rosario and Jorge Otaola; Editing by Adam Jourdan and Alistair Bell)