September 24, 2018 / 2:08 PM / a month ago

Argentina close to securing more IMF support, protests simmer

BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - Argentine President Mauricio Macri said on Monday his country was close to a deal with the International Monetary Fund to bolster a $50 billion credit line, while a government source said $3-$5 billion in additional funds could be announced this week.

A man walks the street near the Casa Rosada Presidential Palace in Buenos Aires, Argentina September 20, 2018. REUTERS/Marcos Brindicci

Macri said in an interview with Bloomberg TV in New York that Argentina would receive additional support from the IMF but he declined to provide further details as talks were still in progress.

Argentina approached the IMF last month to modify the details of the $50 billion standby agreement signed in June after concerns over its ability to pay its debts - most of which are in dollars - sparked a renewed run on the peso currency.

“We will have more support from them,” Macri said of the IMF talks, adding that an agreement could be reached “in a couple of days.” He said there was “zero chance” Argentina would default on its debts next year.

The government source, who asked not to be identified because the negotiations were ongoing, said a report by local newspaper La Nacion that Argentina had secured an additional $3 to $5 billion in funding was “close to reality.”

The extra funds would cover most of Argentina’s financing needs through 2019, except for $2.5 billion that would need to be raised in domestic markets next year, according to a recent report from the Treasury Ministry.

The report also said Argentina would roll over all of its short-term treasury notes into next year.

A drought this year sapped Argentina’s grain exports and helped to slam Latin America’s third-largest economy into recession. The currency has lost around 50 percent of its value against the dollar this year, amid wider jitters in emerging markets.

Argentina’s central bank has hiked interest rates to 60 percent. Fueled by the devaluation, inflation is forecast to end the year at over 40 percent, pushing up poverty levels in Latin America’s third-largest economy.

Thousands of people thronged the streets of Buenos Aires on Monday protesting Macri’s policies, a day before a nationwide 24-hour strike called by unions, which have threatened to shut down all public transit in the city.

“We are going to have to hold endless marches and strikes, but just one will not be enough,” said Pablo Micheli, leader of the largest public sector workers union CTA, at a protest in Buenos Aires’ historic Plaza de Mayo.

Macri said in the interview that Argentina would endure four to five more months of recession before seeing an export-driven recovery.

Given favorable weather forecasts, he said grains exports next year would “rocket to new levels of production.”

The peso ARS=RASL slipped 0.13 percent to close at 37.33 to the dollar on Monday, traders said. The Merval stock index .MERV fell 3.4 percent after rising by nearly one-fifth over the previous two weeks.

The central bank said it auctioned $112 million out of $250 million offered at an average price of 37.3172 per dollar.

“The most important part of the agreement is that we have a clear monetary policy that will show where we are going,” Macri said of the talks with the IMF.

Reporting by Scott Squires; Editing by Daniel Flynn, Rosalba O'Brien and Andrea Ricci

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