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Counting the Cost

Argentina's great decline

It has gone from being one of the world's wealthiest nations to a serial defaulter, but can it get back on track?

Last updated: 08 Feb 2014 04:56
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Argentina was once the world's seventh richest country. But economic mismanagement by successive governments has left the country looking down the barrel of another default.
 
Since the 1980s, Buenos Aires has defaulted three times on its debts - most famously, perhaps, in 2001 when it refused to pay the creditors of its $95bn debt. Since then it has essentially been shut out of international markets.

To service its debt, Argentina started using central bank reserves. But the peso has been devalued by almost 20 percent, leading to spiralling inflation as a toxic cocktail of uncertainty and speculation drives prices through the roof. And Argentinians are feeling the pinch:

"We are in bad shape," says mother of six Cynthia Cabrera. "With what my husband makes loading trucks at the vegetable market, we can't survive. I have to ask the grocer to give us credit. We live day to day. Here we either eat at midday or at night; I can't afford two meals now."

So, what will it take for the government to get the country's economy back on track? And can it come soon enough?

A double-edged economic sword

When a central bank raises interest rates, it increases the value of its currency, curbing inflation, cooling the economy and attracting investors seeking higher returns.

Lowering interest rates, on the other hand, devalues a currency, making it less attractive to investors, but easier for businesses and consumers to borrow money and spur economic growth.

Some forces, however, are beyond the control of central bankers, especially those presiding over emerging economies vulnerable to sudden shifts in foreign investment. Political unrest or disappointing economic news at home or in key trading partners can trigger a flight of capital from emerging markets.

For six years, the Federal Reserve's low interest rate policies have pushed investors into emerging markets such as Turkey, Brazil, Argentina and South Africa where they could earn more for their money.

Many have profited handsomely from fast-growing industries feeding China's insatiable demand for raw materials, but a slowdown in China's manufacturing combined with Fed stimulus unwinding has spooked emerging markets investors. In recent weeks, they have cashed in their chips for dollars, leaving a glut of devalued local currencies and while that makes exports more attractive, it also raises the frightening spectre of runaway inflation.

Counting the Cost examines this double-edged economic sword.

Europe's lost generation?

Unemployment is the millstone of this financial crisis, and particularly so amongst 15 to 24 years old. About one-in-four young people in the European Union are unemployed. In the US it is only slightly better at 16 percent.

In the UK alone, youth unemployment cost almost $8bn in 2012, and according to consultancy firm McKinsey, 27 percent of employers have left 'entry level' jobs unfilled because they could not find anyone with the necessary skills.

So, how can youth unemployment be tackled? And has it created a lost generation? 

Watch each week at the following times GMT: Friday: 2230; Saturday: 0930; Sunday: 0330; Monday: 1630.  Click here  for more  Counting the Cost .

Follow Kamahl Santamaria  @KamahlAJE  and business editor Abid Ali @abidoliverali 

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Source:
Al Jazeera
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