Argentina peso gap narrows as central bank tightens purse strings

BUENOS AIRES, Nov 3 (Reuters) - Argentina’s wide gap between its official peso spot rate and closely watched prices of the currency in alternative and black markets has narrowed amid signals the central bank will tighten its funding of government spending.

The gap between the peso rates has soared this year amid tight controls on access to dollars, concerns over the economy and money printing to pay for the indebted country’s emergency response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

But since a peak around Oct. 23, the black market rate - once over 140% away from the official spot - has strengthened, with the gap on Tuesday a still high 108%. The spot rate meanwhile weakened a faster-than-normal 0.76% on Monday-Tuesday.

Traders and analysts pointed to pledges by the economy ministry to stop seeking central bank financing.

“They seem to have returned to the correct path indicating greater fiscal prudence in order to avoid the uncontrolled issuance of pesos,” local consultancy Delphos Investment said.

The peso was trading at 78.9 per dollar on Tuesday, while the alternative blue-chip swap rate was at 148.7 per dollar. The black market saw pesos trading at 161-165 per dollar, off the record low of 195 pesos.

Daniel Artana, an economist, said that Argentina’s country risk - an important reflection of borrowing costs - should drop if the government was able to rain in its primary deficit.

He added there were “signs that the central bank will not issue funds to finance the Treasury”, which could help deflate the huge gap between the different peso rates.

The South American nation, which only recently emerged from a sovereign default with a $65 billion foreign debt restructuring, now faces crunch talks to renegotiate around $44 billion it owes to the International Monetary Fund.

“They did a couple of things well and the (markets) stopped punishing us. They must keep on this path,” said Leandro Ziccarelli, research head at investment training group ICB Argentina.

Reporting by Jorge Otaola and Walter Bianchi; Writing by Adam Jourdan Editing by Marguerita Choy