Argentina's Currency Board Collapse: Weak Policy or Bad Luck?

16 Pages Posted: 1 May 2004

See all articles by Michael Bleaney

Michael Bleaney

University of Nottingham - School of Economics


Two basic views can be discerned in post-mortems of Argentina's currency board: (1) that weak fiscal policy was fundamentally to blame, and (2) that the peso had become too severely overvalued for the peg to survive. This paper evaluates the evidence for these rival interpretations. The real effective exchange rate index did not indicate massive overvaluation, but this index does not capture the effects on the equilibrium rate of the 'sudden stop' in capital flows to emerging markets after 1998. It also understates the amount of adjustment required for Argentina to reach the equilibrium rate, because neighbour countries' dollar exchange rates were held up by Argentina's overvaluation, as is indicated by their depreciation in 2002. Argentina was particularly vulnerable to the sudden stop because of the extreme volatility of its portfolio inflows. Fiscal policy simulations suggest that, even with a substantially improved primary balance from 1994 onwards, loss of investor confidence would still have triggered unsustainable debt dynamics once the recession began to bite after 1998. The stagnation of output and prices in Argentina created a yawning gap between the interest rate on debt and the rate of growth of nominal GDP. Had the currency been floated in, say, 1995, the real devaluation of the peso would still have pushed up the debt/GDP ratio, but higher output would have left greater scope for addressing this by running a sizeable primary surplus. Moreover, the more gradual depreciation under floating might have allowed the economy to adjust to higher debt service payments without resort to default. The IMF has criticised itself for not pressing for tighter fiscal policy in the 1990s. A more fundamental criticism would be that it was seduced by the bipolar model into complacency about adjustment to real shocks and forgetting the teachings of optimum currency area theory.

Suggested Citation

Bleaney, Michael, Argentina's Currency Board Collapse: Weak Policy or Bad Luck?. Available at SSRN:

Michael Bleaney (Contact Author)

University of Nottingham - School of Economics ( email )

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