6. Financial Sector
Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment
The Argentine Constitution sets as a general principle that foreign investors have the same status and the same rights as local investors. Foreign investors have free access to domestic and international financing.
Argentina’s economic recession began in 2018 and deepened further in 2019 after the presidential primary election. To slow the outflow of dollars from its reserves, in September 2019 the Argentine Central Bank introduced tight capital controls prohibiting transfers and payments that are likely in conflict with IMF Article VIII and tightened them thereafter. The Argentine government also implemented price controls and trade restrictions. In December 2019, the Fernandez administration passed an economic emergency law that created new taxes, increased export duties, and delegated broad powers to the Executive Branch, with the objectives of increasing social spending for the most vulnerable populations and negotiating revised terms for Argentina’s sovereign debt. These measures deteriorated the investment climate for local and foreign investors.
In April 2020, the government issued a decree postponing debt payments (both interest and principal) of dollar-denominated debt issued under local law until December 31, 2020. In May 2020, Argentina recorded its ninth sovereign default.
The government of Argentina restructured international law bonds for $65 billion and domestic law bonds for $42 billion in September 2020 bringing financial relief of $37.7 billion over the period 2020-2030. In August 2020, the government of Argentina formally notified the International Monetary Fund (IMF) of its intent to renegotiate $45 billion due to the Fund from the 2018 Stand-By Arrangement starting in 2021.
The Argentine Securities and Exchange Commission (CNV or Comisión Nacional de Valores) is the federal agency that regulates securities markets offerings. Securities and accounting standards are transparent and consistent with international norms. Foreign investors have access to a variety of options on the local market to obtain credit. Nevertheless, the domestic credit market is small – credit is 16 percent of GDP, according to the World Bank. To mitigate the recessionary impact of the COVID-19 crisis, the government introduced low-cost lending credit lines (carrying negative real interest rates), and the Central Bank reduced banks’ minimum reserve requirements to encourage banks to expand credit, particularly to SMEs. The Buenos Aires Stock Exchange is the organization responsible for the operation of Argentina’s primary stock exchange, located in Buenos Aires city. The most important index of the Buenos Aires Stock Exchange is the MERVAL (Mercado de Valores).
U.S. banks, securities firms, and investment funds are well-represented in Argentina and are dynamic players in local capital markets. In 2003, the government began requiring foreign banks to disclose to the public the nature and extent to which their foreign parent banks guarantee their branches or subsidiaries in Argentina.
Money and Banking System
Argentina has a relatively sound banking sector based on diversified revenues, well-contained operating costs, and a high liquidity level. Argentina’s banking sector has been resilient in the face of a multi-year economic contraction. Supported by government measures during the COVID-19 pandemic, credit to the private sector in local currency (for both corporations and individuals) increased 10 percent in real terms in 2020. Non-performing private sector loans constitute less than four percent of banks’ portfolios. However, the performance of the financial system has largely been driven by a series of temporary counter-cyclical measures, namely subsidized government-backed loans for small businesses. The banking sector is well positioned due to macro and micro-prudential policies introduced since 2002 that have helped to reduce asset-liability mismatches. The sector is highly liquid and its exposure to the public sector is modest, while its provisions for bad debts are adequate.
Private banks have total assets of approximately ARS 6.1 billion (USD $65 billion). Total financial system assets are approximately ARS 9.9 billion (USD $105 billion). The Central Bank of Argentina acts as the country’s financial agent and is the main regulatory body for the banking system.
Foreign banks and branches can establish operations in Argentina. They are subject to the same regulation as local banks. Argentina’s Central Bank has many correspondent banking relationships, none of which are known to have been lost in the past three years.
In November 2020, the Central Bank launched a new payment system, “Transfers 3.0,” seeking to reduce the use of cash. This system will boost digital payments and further financial inclusion in Argentina, expanding the reach of instant transfers to build an open and universal digital payment ecosystem.
The Central Bank has enacted a resolution recognizing cryptocurrencies and requiring that they comply with local banking and tax laws. No implementing regulations have been adopted. Block chain developers report that several companies in the financial services sector are exploring or considering using block chain-based programs externally and are using some such programs internally.
Foreign Exchange and Remittances
Beginning in September 2019 and throughout 2020, the Argentine government and Central Bank issued a series of decrees and norms regulating and restricting access to foreign exchange markets.
As of October 2019, the Central Bank (Notice A6815) limits cash withdrawals made abroad with local debit cards to foreign currency bank accounts owned by the client in Argentina. Pursuant to Notice A6823, cash advances made abroad from local credit cards are limited to a maximum of USD $50 per transaction.
As of September 2020, and pursuant to Notice A7106, Argentine individuals can purchase no more than USD $200 per month on a rolling monthly basis. However, purchases abroad with credit and debit cards will be deducted from the USD $200 per month quota. While no limit on credit/debit card purchases is imposed, if the monthly expenses surpass the USD $200 limit, the deduction will be carried over to subsequent months until the amount acquired is completed. Also, the regulation prohibits individual recipients of government assistance programs and high-ranking federal government officials from purchasing foreign exchange. Purchases above the USD $200 limit require Central Bank approval. Pursuant to Public Emergency Law 27,541, issued December 23, 2019, all dollar purchases and individual expenses incurred abroad, in person or online, including international online purchases from Argentina, paid with credit or debit cards will be subject to a 30 percent tax. Pursuant to AFIP Resolution 4815 a 35 percent withholding tax in advance of the payment of income and/or wealth tax is also applied.
Non-Argentine residents are required to obtain prior Central Bank approval to purchase more than USD $100 per month, except for certain bilateral or international organizations, institutions and agencies, diplomatic representation, and foreign tribunals.
Companies and individuals need to obtain prior clearance from the Central Bank before transferring funds abroad. In the case of individuals, if transfers are made from their own foreign currency accounts in Argentina to their own accounts abroad, they do not need to obtain Central Bank approval.
Per Notice A6869 issued by the Central Bank in January 2020, companies will be able to repatriate dividends without Central Bank authorization equivalent to a maximum of 30 percent of new foreign direct investment made by the company in the country. To promote foreign direct investment the Central Bank announced in October 2020 (Notice A7123) that it will allow free access to the official foreign exchange market to repatriate investments as long as the capital contribution was transferred and sold in Argentine Pesos through the foreign exchange market as of October 2, 2020 and the repatriation takes place at least two years after the transfer and settlement of those funds.
Exporters of goods are required to transfer the proceeds from exports to Argentina and settle in pesos in the foreign currency market. Exporters must settle according to the following terms: exporters with affiliates (irrespective of the type of good exported) and exporters of certain goods (including cereals, seeds, minerals, and precious metals, among others) must convert their foreign currency proceeds to pesos within 15 days (or 30 days for some products) after the issuance of the permit for shipment; other exporters have 180 days to settle in pesos. Despite these deadlines, exporters must transfer the funds to Argentina and settle in pesos within five business days from the actual collection of funds. Argentine residents are required to transfer to Argentina and settle in pesos the proceeds from services exports rendered to non-Argentine residents that are paid in foreign currency either in Argentina or abroad, within five business days from collection of funds.
Payment of imports of goods and services from third parties and affiliates require Central Bank approval if the company needs to purchase foreign currency. Since May 2020, the Central Bank requires importers to submit an affidavit stating that the total amount of payments associated with the import of goods made during the year (including the payment that is being requested). The total amount of payments for importation of goods should also include the payments for amortizations of lines of credit and/or commercial guarantees.
In September 2020, the Central Bank limited companies’ ability to purchase foreign currency to cancel any external financial debt (including other intercompany debt) and dollar denominated local securities offerings. Companies were granted access to foreign currency for up to 40 percent of the principal amount coming due from October 15, 2020 to December 31, 2020. For the remaining 60 percent of the debt, companies had to file a refinancing plan with the Central Bank. In February 2021, the Central Bank extended the regulation to include debt maturing up to December 31, 2021. Indebtedness with international organizations or their associated agencies or guaranteed by them and indebtedness granted by official credit agencies or guaranteed by them are exempted from this restriction.
The Central Bank (Notice A7001) prohibited access to the foreign exchange market to pay for external indebtedness, imports of goods and services, and saving purposes for individuals and companies that have made sales of securities with settlement in foreign currency or transfers of these to foreign depositary entities within the last 90 days. They also should not make any of these transactions for the following 90 days.
Pre-cancellation of debt coming due abroad in more than three business days requires Central Bank approval to purchase dollars.
Per Resolution 36,162 of October 2011, locally registered insurance companies are mandated to maintain all investments and cash equivalents in the country. The Central Bank limits banks’ dollar-denominated asset holdings to 5 percent of their net worth.
In January 2020, the Central Bank presented its monetary policy framework showing that monetary and financial policies will be subject to the government’s objective of addressing current social and economic challenges. In particular, the Central Bank acknowledged that it would continue to provide direct financial support to the government (in foreign and domestic currency) as external credit markets remain closed. The Central Bank determined that a managed exchange rate is a valid instrument to avoid sharp fluctuations in relative prices, international competitiveness, and income distribution. The Central Bank also noted the exchange rate policy should also facilitate the preemptive accumulation of international reserves.
In response to the economic crisis in Argentina, the government introduced capital controls in September 2019 and tightened them in 2020. Under these restrictions, companies in Argentina (including local affiliates of foreign parent companies) must obtain prior approval from the Central Bank to access the foreign exchange market to purchase foreign currency and to transfer funds abroad for the payment of dividends and profits. In January 2020, the Central Bank amended the regime for the payment of dividends abroad to non-residents. The new regime allows companies to access the foreign exchange market to transfer profits and dividends abroad without prior authorization of the Central Bank, provided the following conditions are met:
- Profits and dividends are be declared in closed and audited financial statements.
- The dividends in foreign currency should not exceed the dividends determined by the shareholders’ meeting in local currency.
- The total amount of dividends to be transferred cannot exceed 30 percent of the amount of new capital contributions made by non-residents into local companies since January 2020.
- The resident entity must be in compliance with filing the Central Bank Survey of External Assets and Liabilities.
Sovereign Wealth Funds
The Argentine government does not maintain a Sovereign Wealth Fund.