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Latin America's economies Keeping their fingers crossed

Latin America's economies Keeping their fingers crossed
Oct 2nd 2008 (Economist)

A bigger future fear, though, is that a global slowdown accompanied by a decline in commodity prices will put government finances under pressure. Chile, which pours money into a big fund (currently around $20 billion) when copper prices are high, and bases its budget on a copper price far below the current spot price, is the only big country in the region where the commodity boom has not been accompanied by a government spending spree. Commodity prices have already fallen back a bit. If they fall much further some countries will be in trouble.

Heading the list of those most vulnerable are countries whose markets have been viewed for some time as badly behaved: Venezuela, Argentina and Ecuador. Venezuela, which has given up producing things that its consumers want, importing them instead on the back of its oil revenues, looks particularly exposed. The same oil revenue has allowed the number of public-sector jobs to more than double since President Hugo Chávez came to power in 1999, and is also underwriting a big new arms deal with Russia. Cutting public spending is an option, but not one which he would wish to contemplate before critical regional elections at the end of November. Even then it may not be easy to switch into austerity mode. Despite a recent increase in the arrests of “foreign imperialist plotters”, Mr Chávez would find it hard to explain away large numbers of people descending onto the streets.

If lower commodity prices lead to lower costs of staple foods, this would provide Argentinians with some relief against their country’s rampaging inflation. But for President Cristina Fernández’s government it would be a different story. It gets 10% of its revenue from export taxes. A fall in commodity prices would squeeze farmers (who already pay a 35% tax on exports) even more and might reignite their recent protests. Ms Fernández might be tempted to make up the shortfall by raiding pension funds. There is also a currency concern. The peso, which has won back trust after its crash in 2001, is backed by high soyabean prices. If these fall, it could lead to a fresh flight to dollars for those able to get them, and misery for everyone else.

 ベネスエラは石油で給料を払うなんてことにならないだろうか。

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