Argentina has been cut off from further financial aid by the International Monetary Fund until it brings its economic program into compliance with an agreement it reached with the multilateral lending agency only three months ago, banking sources reported yesterday.
The cutoff is a major setback to cash-starved Argentina, which also is nearing completion of a $4.2 billion loan from commercial banks. The banks had hoped to disburse several billion dollars of the loan to Argentina within weeks, but the commercial banks will not make loans to debtor nations that are out of compliance with IMF programs.
International banking sources said the IMF took the action because Argentina has made no headway at all in reducing its rampant inflation, which is running at an annual rate of 800 percent.
The bank money and further IMF disbursements will be delayed until Argentina and the IMF reach agreement on a new economic program, a process that could take a minimum of several months. Argentina had been scheduled to receive about $500 million from the IMF between now and May.
Last month the IMF took a similar action against Brazil, the developing world's largest debtor, because the country had failed to take steps to reduce inflation and had permitted its money supply to explode. A new civilian government took over in Brazil last week and has begun negotiations with the IMF to develop an anti-inflation program acceptable to the agency.
Sources said Argentine President Raul Alfonsin received word of the cutoff when he visited IMF Managing Director Jacques de Larosiere earlier this week. Alfonsin was in Washington on the first stop in his week-long official visit to the United States. The Argentine president is the country's first democratically elected chief executive in eight years.
In a cryptic joint statement released last night in New York, Argentina and its major bank lenders said "talks were continuing with" the IMF and that the government of Argentina was determined to "implement measures" that would put its economy on track. It said that because of the need to put those measures into effect, the "first two conditional disbursements" from the IMF would be delayed.
Argentina, which owes foreigners more than $45 billion, received nearly $500 million from the IMF last January, about three weeks after the IMF's executive board approved the Argentine economic program.
Negotiations between Argentina and the IMF had dragged on for more than a year because Argentina was reluctant to take the kinds of austerity measures needed to control inflation, reduce its budget deficit and, ultimately, reduce its need to borrow from foreigners.
International financial officials -- private and public -- expressed relief when the previously recalcitrant Argentina finally came to terms with the IMF. The country had been deeply in arrears to its major bank lenders and its economy was in shambles.
By January, some optimists were saying that the so-called Latin American debt bomb had been defused when Argentina became the last major debtor to put into effect an economic program that would eventually wean it of the need to borrow abroad. Then, in rapid succession, Brazil and Argentina fell out of compliance with those programs.
Brazil, however, poses no immediate threat to the international financial system because it has boosted exports so much in the last two years that it has plenty of dollars to pay the interest on its $100 billion of foreign debts.
Argentina, however, remains about $800 million in arrears on its interest payments, even though it made a big $850 million payout to its bank lenders on New Year's Eve. It has not made any interest payments since then, and if it does not do so by May 4, many of the Argentine loans that U.S. banks were able to take off their problem lists at the end of December may have to be put back on.
About $25 billion of Argentina's foreign debts are owed to banks, and U.S. banks hold about a third of that amount.
Last month Alfonsin fired Economic Minister Bernardo Grinspun, who was the architect both of Argentina's internal economic program and the chief negotiator with the banks and the IMF. The new minister, Juan Sourrouille, already has told Argentinians that the country will have to make more economic sacrifices than those envisioned in the plan approved by the IMF last December.
But officials said that Argentina's economy is so off base, and its inflation raging at such a rapid rate, that making needed adjustments in the economy is proving difficult.