Fernandez numbers hurt by slowing Argentine economy

Reuters News
Posted: Mar 11, 2012 9:58 PM
Fernandez numbers hurt by slowing Argentine economy

By Hugh Bronstein

BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - Argentine leader Cristina Fernandez's popularity fell to a 13-month low of 42.1 percent in a poll released on Sunday, as people in the grains-exporting country start to feel the pinch of the contracting global economy.

Fernandez has cut back on some of her popular subsidies and social spending while her government tries to dodge fallout from Europe's debt crisis and the slowdown in demand from key trade partners Brazil and China.

The survey, conducted by Management & Fit, showed a sharp drop from the 59.1 percent popularity that the 59-year-old Peronist leader enjoyed last month. In October she won a 54 percent re-election landslide, powered by one of the region's fastest economic expansions.

But the headlines have not been great since then, as Europe tries to stave off financial disaster and commodities markets slacken. Argentina's economy grew 5.5 percent in December, the slowest year-on-year rate in nearly two years.

The focus for investors is on the months ahead.

Fernandez will have few of the advantages she had in 2007 when she started her first term. Those included a booming economy in neighboring Brazil, a weak local currency that spurred exports and soaring world prices for Argentina soy, corn and other agricultural products.

The global headwinds are much stronger and, after years of double-digit inflation at home, the Argentine peso is no longer weak.

Argentina is the world's biggest exporter of soyoil, used for cooking and in the booming international biofuels sector. It is also a major supplier of corn and soybeans. But Fernandez has never had a good relationship with the farm sector.

Fernandez has feuded with growers and Wall Street over her state-centric policies, such as nationalizing private pensions, which she did during her first term, export curbs designed to control domestic food prices and her government's use of central bank reserves to pay international debt.

A skilled orator, she won re-election promising to deepen the model of her government. Orthodox economists say they have little reason to think she will adopt a market-friendly strategy now.

"The world is slowing, so the Argentine economy is going to come down to earth," said Beth Morrissey, managing partner at Washington-based emerging markets consultancy Kleiman International. "Inflation is going to continue to rise and, because the peso is so strong, they're uncompetitive."

The nationwide Management & Fit telephone poll of 1,218 Argentines of voting age had a margin of error of 2.81 percent.

(Additional reporting By Jorge Otaola; Editing by Stacey Joyce)