* 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* About $100 mln in dollars withdrawn every day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 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third of their U.S. dollar deposits withdrawn since November as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
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withdrawn, or about 15 percent of all greenbacks deposited in
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
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)