Argentina 105% Stock Return Proves Illusory as Peso Sinks

Argentine stocks posted some of the best returns in the world in President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner’s second term, as long as you ignore inflation and depreciation. In reality, they were among the worst.

The CHART OF THE DAY shows that while the Merval index doubled in peso terms since her re-election Oct. 24, 2011, the shares lost 15 percent once returns were converted to dollars at the rate investors use to avoid currency controls. While the 105 percent local-currency return was the fifth-biggest among 94 indexes globally during the period, the drop in dollar terms made the gauge the world’s 12th-worst performer.

“Argentina is a high-risk, high return market and there has been more risk than return lately,” said Eric Conrads, a money manager who helps oversees $750 million of Latin American stocks at ING Investment Management in New York. He said he sold the last of his Argentine shares last year.

Fernandez devalued the peso last week in a bid to shore up foreign reserves that sunk to a seven-year low amid a surge in government spending, inflation estimated at about 30 percent and declining prices for the country’s soy and wheat exports. Restrictions on dollar purchases mean investors use the so-called blue-chip swap, under which local assets are sold abroad for foreign currency at a discount to the official exchange rate of 8.0177 per dollar.

The blue-chip rate of 11.5697 pesos per dollar has depreciated 58 percent since the election, more than the 47 percent drop in the official rate and the worst among 31 major dollar counterparts.

“The intelligent people in Argentina invest in property,” Conrads said.