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ARGENTINA | 19-12-2020 10:07

What we learned this week: December 12 to 19

Our weekly round-up of the stories that caught our eye in Argentina over the last seven days.

 

THE WEEK IN CORONAVIRUS

The lives lost to Covid-19 climbed from 40,606 to 41,534 between the end of last week and an early press time yesterday while the confirmed cases of contagion rose from 1,489,328 to 1,524,372 in the same period, crossing the threshold of 1.5 million on Monday and creeping upwards during the week. On that day Health Minister Ginés González García co-hosted with British Foreign Office Minister for the Americas Wendy Morton a virtual seminar on vaccination (with a special emphasis on distribution and countering fake news) as part of Britain’s billion-pound programme of international aid against Covid-19, the British Embassy informed us. The next day the minister admitted to delays in the arrival of vaccines which placed in doubt any inoculations before next year, further recognising problems in signing a contract for the purchase of vaccines from the Pfizer lab due to their “unacceptable conditions.” Across the River Plate Uruguay closed its frontiers on Wednesday. In the second half of the week there was growing confusion as to the dates of the arrival of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine in Argentina with government dismay increasing as it was confirmed that the vaccine had yet to be cleared by testing for those aged over 60 (which would exclude the presidents of Russia and Argentina, alongside the main risk group).

 

DOUBLE-DIGIT SHRINKAGE

The economy shrank 10.2 percent year-on-year in the third quarter of the year, INDEC statistics bureau revealed on Wednesday, which nevertheless represented a 12.8 percent improvement on a catastrophic second quarter due to a partial relaxation of lockdown. Hotels and restaurants suffered the sharpest plunge (-61.5 percent) with private sector consumption as a whole down 14.7 percent – construction (-27 percent) and transport and communications (-21.7 percent) were other leading casualties. Meanwhile a report by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (CEPAL, in its Spanish acronym) forecast a plunge of -10.5 percent for Argentina for this year as a whole with shrinkage averaging 7.7 percent throughout the Latin American region (the worst figure for both this century and the last) – only Venezuela (-30 percent), Peru (-12.9 percent), Panama (11 percent) and several West Indian islands fare worse in the report. But on the other hand, Argentina is tipped for a bigger rebound next year than the regional average – 4.5 percent as against 3.7 percent.

 

NOVEMBER INFLATION

Last month’s inflation was 3.2 percent, INDEC statistics bureau announced on Tuesday, for a total of 30.9 percent thus far this year. The general trend was downward from October’s 3.8 percent, aided by a stable exchange rate and continually frozen utility billing and transport fares, with the key “food and beverage” item almost halved from 4.8 to 2.7 percent as the most encouraging feature but core inflation remained high at 3.9 percent while a new factor entered the pipeline for this month’s inflation – on Tuesday YPF hiked its petrol prices 4.5 percent nationwide (5.5 percent in this city).

 

UNEMPLOYMENT KEEPS CLIMBING

Despite the government ban on dismissals and layoffs, unemployment in the third quarter rose two percentage points from the same period last year to reach 11.7 percent, INDEC statistics bureau reported on Thursday, although also improving 1.4 points on a second quarter marked by a strict quarantine. The number of jobless thus rises to 2.25 million, or 200,000 more than last year, while the workforce has shrunk from 42.6 to 37.4 percent of the workforce.

 

MARKETS MAINTAIN CALM

The “blue” parallel dollar returned yesterday to the 150 pesos of a fortnight ago as against the previous Friday’s 148 pesos. The indirect but legal alternative exchange rates CCL (contado con liquidación) and MEP (medio electrónico de pagos) reversed their decline of recent weeks with the CCL moving up from 141.76 to 143.60 pesos and the MEP from 139.10 to 141.80 pesos since the previous Friday. The official exchange rate at Banco Nación moved up from 87.50 to 88 pesos or 145.20 pesos with the 65 percent surcharges for savers. Country risk retreated throughout the week from the previous Friday’s closing figure of 1,401 points to 1,378 points at our early press time yesterday (two points down from Thursday).

 

EL PALOMAR SHUTTERED

At the start of the week the government finally took the long coming decision to close down El Palomar for commercial flights, restoring the airport to its original status of an Air Force base from which the Mauricio Macri administration had transformed it in the summer of 2018, since when it has flown almost 2.5 two million passengers (many for the first time). Aviation observers see this as the last nail in the coffin of low-cost airlines in Argentina, already shattered by months of coronavirus pandemic paralysis, thus virtually ensuring a monopoly for Aerolíneas Argentinas. These airlines may still use Ezeiza Airport but, apart from being a low-cost centre, El Palomar had the added advantage of being accessible via public transport, unlike Argentina’s chief aviation hub. But Transport Minister Mario Meoni argued that the Morón airport was not viable without an investment of four billion pesos, maintaining that a local aviation market of 20 million passengers annually did not allow for more than one airport according to international criteria. Meanwhile laid-off Latam airline and outsourced employees blocked roads to Ezeiza on Monday.

 

SWEET AND SOUR PORK

President Alberto Fernández stumbled into a new contradiction this week with the emergence of a photograph showing him receiving in the Casa Rosada last month a group of vegan militants (with the model Liz Solari as their most visible face) actively campaigning against the upcoming agreement to export pork to China, an agreement which would entail almost doubling output from 700,000 to 1.3 million tons and which is a cornerstone of the government’s commercial strategy. But Productive Development Minister Matías Kulfas insisted that the presidential action did not go beyond passively receiving a petition against the deal with over half a million signatures within his philosophy of dialogue and that the agreement would be moving full speed ahead.

 

ECLIPSE

There was a total eclipse of the sun last Monday, considerably more visible in Patagonia than in these parts.

 

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