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Argentines Hold More Than $50 Billion in U.S. Currency. Here's How We Know

Argentines Hold More Than $50 Billion in U.S. Currency. Here's How We Know
Photograph by Scott Eells/Bloomberg

A lot of U.S. dollars are tucked away somewhere in Argentina, most likely in stacks of $100 bills. Seven years ago, the U.S. Treasury, working with the Federal Reserve and the Secret Service, estimated that in the early 1990s Argentines held $20 billion in cash, a number that by 2006 had grown to “perhaps $50 billion or more.” That year there was a total of about $768 billion worth of dollar-denominated cash in the world, which means that someone in Argentina held at least one out of every 15 cash dollars.

How about now? The Fed is chary with its data releases. One table in a 2012 Fed paper on demand abroad for U.S. currency tells us that the annual net inflow of commercial shipments of bills denominated in dollars to Argentina and the former Soviet Union has increased since 2006 by 500 percent. In 2011, that growth rate stood at 48 percent, while total demand for U.S. currency, in America and abroad, has increased only about 10 percent. It’s unlikely that all of that growth came from the former Soviet Union alone; otherwise, why include Argentina at all? Demand for large dollar cash transfers to Argentina since 2006, then, has outstripped demand for dollar cash overall in the world.