Argentina loses a third of its dollar deposits

Fri Jun 8, 2012 4:46pm EDT

Related Topics

* Argentines reacting to foreign exchange restrictions

* About $100 mln in dollars withdrawn every day

* Rush toward greenback started in November

By Jorge Otaola

BUENOS AIRES, June 8 (Reuters) - Argentine banks have seen a third of their U.S. dollar deposits withdrawn since November as savers chase greenbacks in response to stiffening foreign exchange restrictions, local banking sources said on Friday.

Depositors withdrew a total of about $100 million per day over the last month in a safe-haven bid fueled by uncertainty over policies that might be adopted as pressure grows to keep U.S. currency in the country.

The chase for dollars is motivated by fear that the government may further toughen its clamp down on access to the U.S. currency as high inflation and lack of faith in government policy erode the local peso.

"Deposits keep going down," said one foreign exchange broker who asked not to be named. "There is a disparity among banks, but in total it's about $80 million to $120 million per day."

U.S. dollar deposits of Argentine banks fell 11.2 percent in the preceding three weeks to $11.5 billion, according to central bank data released on Friday. The run on the greenback has waxed and waned since November, after President Cristina Fernandez won a second term on promises of deepening the state's role in the economy.

From May 11 until Friday, data compiled by Reuters from private banks showed $1.9 billion in U.S. currency had been withdrawn, or about 15 percent of all greenbacks deposited in the country.

Feisty populist leader Fernandez was re-elected in October vowing to "deepen the model" of the interventionist policies associated with her predecessor, Nestor Kirchner, who is also her late husband.

Since then she has limited imports, imposed capital controls and seized a majority stake in top energy company YPF.

A spokesman for the central bank said on Friday that the rate of dollar withdrawal from Argentina's financial system shows signs of slowing.

"We have seen a tendency toward fewer withdrawals, to about $90 million (per day) over the last week from $120 million the week before," the spokesman said a day after the bank lifted daily reserve requirements on dollar deposits to help banks respond to steady drum beat of withdrawals.

DITCHING HER DOLLARS

The near-impossibility of buying dollars at the official rate is driving some savers and investors to pay a hefty premium in the black market.

Many are taking what dollars they can get their hands on and stashing them under the mattress or in safety deposit boxes, fearing moves by the government to forcibly "de-dollarize" the economy. Officials have strongly denied any such plan.

The president's battle to slow capital flight and fatten the central bank reserves needed to pay the public debt has prompted even tighter controls in recent weeks, making it almost impossible to buy dollars at the official rate. The effects have been felt throughout the South American country's economy.

For example. Argentines, who normally pay for new homes with stacks of dollar bills, have been struggling to get their hands on U.S. currency since Fernandez started imposing stringent controls on dollar buying late last year. [ ID :nL1E8H6EZ8]

She wants Argentines to end their love affair with the greenback and start saving in pesos despite inflation clocked by private economists at about 25 percent per year.

Fernandez set an example on Wednesday by vowing to swap her only dollar-denominated savings account for a fixed-term deposit in pesos.

But savers in crisis-prone Argentina are notoriously jittery. Memories of tight limits on bank withdrawals and a sharp currency devaluation remain fresh a decade after the country's massive sovereign debt default.

"There is a lot of fear, considering everything that has happened before," another foreign exchange broker said. "Confronted by risk, whatever kind of doubt, depositors pull their dollars out of the bank and wait to see what happens. (Writing by Hugh Bronstein; Editing by Leslie Adler)

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