Argentine banks create new funds, eyeing tax amnesty

BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - Banks and brokerages in Argentina are creating dozens of investment funds to soak up billions of dollars they hope will return to the country under a tax amnesty announced by its new, market-friendly government.

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The CNV securities regulator is studying requests for 28 new funds, a spokesman said, as fund managers bet they can convince Argentines to end their long-held habit of parking spare cash in safe-haven real estate.

“The industry is very dynamic and we do not rule out adding more,” a CNV spokesman said, while noting the funds should be operating by the end of the year.

President Mauricio Macri’s government is betting a tax amnesty opened in August can bring in some of the investment crucial to restoring growth in Argentina, Latin America’s third-largest economy.

After taking office in December following 12 years of leftist rule, Macri quickly implemented policies favored by investors, such as lifting currency controls and ending a decade-long debt dispute with hold-out creditors. But many are hesitant to invest in an economy battling double-digit inflation and known for frequent crises.

Now, the government has its sights on an estimated $400 billion of undeclared assets Argentines hold abroad.

The amnesty would be a failure if under $40 billion were declared, while more than $60 billion would be a great success, said Jorge Viñas, of Asset Management, in a recent forum. Assets declared by the end of March will be taxed at a maximum 15 percent rate.

Though past amnesties have had little impact, the government is betting new transparency laws with other countries will make it harder to hide assets overseas. There are no estimates for asset declarations so far, however.

Local investment options could also help convince Argentines with funds stashed in offshore accounts to move investments home. Bank Banco de Valores said it is trying to open new mutual funds specifically because of the amnesty.

The government meanwhile is offering those who declare assets of more than $20,000 the right to invest in a bond issued specifically for the amnesty.

Funds linked to the real economy, also known as closed-end funds, are common in other South American countries but previously non-existent in Argentina. Now, there are investment opportunities in funds related to infrastructure, construction and renewable energy.

One fund now under evaluation because of the amnesty is linked to the construction of modern, low-cost housing for middle-income families - an investment option for Argentines still hot on real estate.

“What we offer investors is efficient profitability: save 10 percent for entering the amnesty and also generate good returns through a sustainable fund,” said Juan Politi, vice president of brokerage Allaria Ledesma, which is partnering with builder CasasARG for the $400 million housing project.

Additional reporting by Eliana Raszewski and Walter Bianchi; Writing by Caroline Stauffer; Editing by Steve Orlofsky