(Bloomberg) -- Banks operated normally in Buenos Aires on Tuesday after reopening for the first time since the weekend’s presidential election, easing concerns that a rush of withdrawals would undermine the financial system.
Branches in the capital and across the country reported no issues, according to executives at multiple lenders who asked not to be identified discussing the matter. While some analysts had anticipated that Javier Milei’s victory would spur cash withdrawals given the libertarian economist’s signature proposal to scrap the local currency and replace it with the dollar, there was little evidence of that happening.
Financial markets continue to factor in the risks associated with Milei’s plans, however. Argentine banks rolled over only 40% of the 2.7 trillion pesos of debt instruments offered by the central bank at auction Tuesday. Milei reiterated on Monday he would “solve the Leliq problem,” without elaborating. That exacerbated the move out of the instruments.
Assets were otherwise relatively calm, with the peso slipping slightly to about 880 per dollar in the unofficial blue-chip swap market Argentines use to skirt currency controls. Local stocks and dollar bonds rallied as investors bet Milei’s radical fixes were the best bet to revive the economy and corporate profits.
The Merval benchmark index closed up 23%. Sovereign bonds due in 2030 rose 1.3 cents on the dollar, according to indicative pricing compiled by Bloomberg. Traders in peso forwards boosted bets on a devaluation of the official exchange rate after Milei takes office, but not under the current administration.
Milei, who rode public outrage over runaway inflation and economic malaise to a shocking come-from-nowhere victory, has managed to calm skeptics worried that his promises to rip apart and remake the system portends chaos ahead. In remarks since his victory, Milei has sought to calm markets, promising that his government would meet its debt obligations, and he sought to dispel fears about governability, boasting about his 10 percentage point margin of victory and support from former President Mauricio Macri.
Read more: Milei Meets Outgoing Argentina President in Start of Transition
During his campaign, Milei won over Argentines and investors by pledging a radical economic overhaul, with a signature proposal to scrap the peso and replace it with the US dollar. While the details of the plan were always sketchy, he framed it as an obvious move after the local currency’s value plunged 90% over the past four years, leaving it worth less than “excrement.”
Read More: Milei’s Win Sealed by a Risky Gamble That Turned Rival Into Ally
But the problem is how to keep the economy operating during the transition. Milei hasn’t revealed the specific steps and timeline the switch would entail or explained in detail how he would slash the country’s massive budget deficit — a painful but crucial measure to make the plan work — leaving Argentines to guess at what’s in store.
The nation has restricted its peso’s daily decline for years through a hodgepodge of currency controls and import restrictions that have spun off myriad exchange rates.
“We are marching somewhat toward the unknown,” said Alberto Ramos, the chief economist for Latin America at Goldman Sachs Group Inc.
A disorderly process risks fueling hyperinflation and a volatile transition to using the new currency, which could undermine Milei and his ideas for a radical economic overhaul before they can even get off the ground. That would be a disappointment to his supporters, who appreciated the maverick politician’s blunt discussion of what ails the country — an economy headed for its sixth recession in a decade, inflation topping 140%, a poverty rate that’s climbed to 40% — and his pledges to do whatever it takes to set things right.
“There’s a chance that this works out, but there’s a lot of challenges,” said Gorky Urquieta, co-head of the emerging markets debt team at Neuberger Berman. “It’s going to be a high-wire act with a lot of risks involved in the execution, but I think the market’s gonna give him the space.”
Bank executives don’t expect a major devaluation of the official exchange rate in coming days, but are concerned about the potential for chaos if a wave of cash withdrawals materializes, according to people with direct knowledge of the matter.
To ease pressure on the gap between exchange rates during the transition period and allow more export dollars to flow in, central bank policymakers agreed to let exporters liquidate more of their sales abroad at the blue-chip swap exchange rate, the people said, asking not to be identified because the information isn’t public. The central bank also plans to keep buying government bonds in pesos in the secondary market to alleviate selling pressure, while also continuing to issue peso contracts in the futures market, the people added.
A spokesman for Argentina’s central bank declined to comment.
Proponents of Milei’s plan to get rid of the peso point out that much of the country has been dollarized for a while now — many real estate transactions and expensive imports are already priced in the US currency. The idea of formally switching over the entire economy may not seem as radical as it otherwise would be.
Read more: Wall Street Welcomes Milei Victory, Warns of Challenges
“Confidence in the local currency is very low and there is already a significant degree of informal dollarization in the economy,” said Ramos of Goldman Sachs. “But that is just a reflection of the fact that the familiar has has not served the country well.”
(Updates with asset moves and Treasury auction starting in third paragraph.)
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