Global growth during the last five years provided a huge tailwind for agricultural producing countries boosting Argentina’s emergence of one of its biggest crises ever. The government response to this (temporary) windfall in its terms of trade and globalization not seen since the late 1800’s has been to stimulate consumption, instead of investment to capitalize the positive shock for its long-term growth. This can be observed, among many other things, by the huge consumption-credit boom of 2003-2008 (housing credit is relatively small in Argentina), especially to middle- and lower-income families. The domestically generated inflation has exacerbated the extensive use of this form of credit in a potentially unsustainable way.
Inflation, if temporary, can be expected to increase the use of this type of credit. Precisely this is the rational use of credit markets: to finance temporary shocks in order to smooth consumption. However, this is not the appropriate channel for permanent shocks as the current inflation rate, which is not expected to go away any time soon. When inflation starts to accelerate and being incorporated to inflation expectations and the government lacks a serious anti-inflationary program, and real wages start to decline, consumption is likely to lose pace. In this context, it should be expected that lower-income families in countries in which the share of food and basic stuff is non-trivial to being unable to meet all the required payments—the more so the higher the inflation rate—and for such repayments to be put on hold.
Paralleling the home-oriented sub-prime crisis in the U.S. where many credits where extended without the appropriate credit revision, many consumption-loans have been extended in Argentina. Although the amounts involved are lower, the collateral is worse: there is no home to be absorbed by the financial institution in case of default. And many credits were issued not only to buy cars or refrigerators, but also to buy clothes. Recent data from the central bank shows a substantial increase in delinquency rates in these types of credit, which doubled. Recent studies expect the delinquency rate to increase due to higher inflation.
A big share of these lending has been directly extended by stores selling these goods and financial institutions. These credits are then pooled and these financial instruments are then sold in financial markets—the so called financial fiduciary funds—which are supposed to hedge upon risk. As of now, middle and low income families are, on average, indebted on 80% of the monthly household income—for higher incomes this reaches five times the monthly income!).
Although the scale is much smaller, any resemblance to the U.S.? The rest is let for the smart reader to figure out.