Argentine savers are finding it impossible to buy dollars through official channels as banks struggle to adjust to rule changes that tightened restrictions.
Almost a week after the government announced higher taxes and more limits on the purchases, most of the country’s major retail banks have notices on their websites saying foreign-exchange transactions can’t be completed because their systems must be updated to account for the new rules.
“Right now you can’t buy or sell dollars,” Banco Galicia says in a notice that appears for retail clients. “We apologize. We are adapting to the new rules.”
The technical problems are another roadblock for Argentines who have been furiously converting their pesos into dollars amid speculation that the local currency is due for a crash. The government and central bank, seeking to hold onto hard currency, slapped a new 35% tax on dollar purchases, which already faced a separate 30% levy. They also limited the ability of people receiving government assistance to obtain greenbacks, while keeping a monthly limit of no more than $200 in purchases.
A central bank spokesman said its electronic systems are operating normally, and that any impediment to purchases is the fault of the commercial banks. The country’s domestic and foreign banking associations declined to comment.
The central bank reported late Monday that its foreign reserves dropped by $185 million, the largest one-day decline since early May.
Demand for greenbacks in Argentina’s black market has surged this year, and as it became more and more challenging to exchange pesos for dollars at the bank, the unofficial black-market rate has surged to 141 per dollar, nearly double the spot rate of 75 per dollar.
Some analysts are suspicious of the central bank’s official response to the problems trying to buy greenbacks this week. They see the technical hurdles as serving policy makers’ goals of making it onerous to convert pesos into dollars.
“The operational issues would be a convenient excuse for the central bank to sit on their dollars like a mother hen,” said Joaquin Bagues, the head strategist at Portfolio Personal Inversiones in Buenos Aires.
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