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Peso falls further as Argentina readies IMF debt restructure

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Buenos Aires (AFP)

Argentina's beleaguered currency continued its freefall Thursday, after the government asked the International Monetary Fund to restructure a $57 billion bail-out loan agreed last year.

The peso was trading at 62.33 to the dollar early Thursday, 3.5 percent lower than at Wednesday's close.

Center-right President Mauricio Macri had called on investors for calm ahead of the opening of the markets Thursday.

"It's in our hands to contribute to tranquility without generating fears or bewilderment," the president said during a speech to shipyard workers.

Finance Minister Hernan Lacunza announced on Wednesday that the government had asked the IMF to restructure its repayments on the $56 billion in a bid to calm market turbulence.

Following the announcement, the IMF said in a statement that it would "continue to stand with Argentina during these challenging times."

Lacunza said the government has "proposed the start of a dialogue to roll back the debt repayments" which are due to begin in 2021.

However, he said that while those talks would begin before the October 27 general election, they would not be finished until after the new government takes over on December 10.

The request for repayment extensions aims to allow the next government to "deploy its policies without financial restrictions."

The latest loan disbursement of $5.4 billion is expected next month.

- Whipped by markets -

Recession-hit Argentina has been whipped by market volatility since business-friendly Macri was trounced in party primaries three weeks ago by leftist challenger Alberto Fernandez.

Fernandez has sharply criticized the IMF loan requested by Macri in 2018, saying it had "failed to generate any of the desired results" -- pointing to growing public debt, a contracting economy and worsening unemployment.

Macri on Thursday called for a united approach to the government's debt situation in the run-up to what is expected to be a divisive election.

"There are 59 days left before the election. It's my responsibility as president that it elapses in the best manner possible, but that never depends on one government alone," the president said.

Macri is given little chance of victory in the October 27 election, having to close a 15 percentage-point gap after losing to Fernandez -- by 47 percent to 32 percent -- in the August 11 primaries.

"Some have suggested that the decision by President Macri to reprofile sovereign debt might increase his chances of re-election by reducing uncertainty and restoring calm in the markets," analysts Capital Economics said in a note.

"We're not convinced that this will be enough to turn Mr. Macri's prospects around. Inflation will still rise to 65% y/y prior to October's election, and the downturn in the economy will deepen," it said.

Lacunza, less than two weeks in the job after replacing Nicolas Dujovne, also announced initiatives to postpone the payment of bonds to institutional investors, relieving the pressure on international reserves so they can be used to stabilize the currency.

The Central Bank bought $300 million in pesos on Tuesday to try to calm markets but the currency still depreciated by almost 2.5 percent after Fernandez held talks with visiting IMF officials.

The currency weakened by 20 percent alone in the week after the primaries while the Buenos Aires stock exchange dropped by 30 percent.

Just under two weeks ago, ratings agencies Fitch and S&P downgraded Argentina's credit rating from "B" to "CCC" and "B-" respectively.

Argentina has been in recession since 2018, and is battling rising unemployment and one of the world's highest inflation rates, currently running at more than 55 percent.

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