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Monday, 7 January, 2002, 15:14 GMT
International cost of Argentina devaluation
Argentines demonstrate against former President de la Rua
Argentina has been mired in recession for several years - sparking angry demonstrations
Several utilities, oil companies and banks are likely to feel the pain of the Argentine economic upheaval.

It is not so much the devaluation that will hit them - but plans to denominate utility bills in dollars and tax oil exports.

Already, French and Spanish politicians are reported to have put pressure on the Argentine administration to help the companies which invested heavily there.


It is a programme which puts Argentine households first. Clearly there was huge political pressure to do that

David Lubin, emerging markets analyst HSBC
Even as these companies count the cost, analysts are questioning whether the economic plan outlined at the weekend will be enough to win back international lenders.

Doors closing?

Spain's finance minister Rodrigo Rato has been in touch with his Argentine counterpart - Jorge Remes Lenicov - after he refused to meet with the heads of Spanish companies, a report in the Financial Times said.

By some accounts, Spanish companies have invested $30bn in Argentina - with Spanish companies some of the most active participants in the Argentine economy.

Eduarde Duhalde
The Duhalde administration has sought to appease angry voters
In an interview broadcast on Spanish national radio, European Commissioner Pedro Solbes said: "I am convinced that [the Spanish companies in Argentina] are in good health and can weather the storm."

The French government has urged the Argentine foreign minister to do "everything in your power to look after our companies, who have invested much in Argentina" - the same report said.

Pleading

The pleas may mount but it is unclear what the Argentine government can or is prepared to do.

It looks like banks will be cushioned by a plan to partially compensate them for dollar-debt conversions with bonds guaranteed by fuel exports.

A proposed export tax increase could hit Spanish energy company Repsol hard.

"In the case of 25% tax levied on crude exports, Repsol's accounts could be affected to the tune of between 288 million euros in the worst case scenario," a note from Ibersecurities analysts said.

"People are saying that [Repsol] could see their 2002 profits cut by as much as 30%", Flemming Barton, Latin American expert at AFX News in Madrid told the BBC's World Business Report.

"Something like...15% of their assets are Argentine and it is mostly upstream and production," he added.

Shares in Repsol fell 4% on Monday.

One Spanish-based utilities specialist suggested that Repsol may be compensated by a future cut in corporate tax - though this appears to be a distant prospect.

Utilities hit

Many utilities who invested in Argentina sought to protect their interests by linking their tariffs to the dollar.

News that dollar-based tariffs on services such as water and electricity will be turned into pesos on a one-to-one basis could hit their revenues hard.

French utility giant Suez - whose water activities are exposed to the peso devaluation - has said it plans to talk to the government.

Any spillover could increase the number of Spanish companies that are effected - particularly those who have invested in Brazil, a Spanish utilities specialist said.

He added that - even though Endesa has since sold some of its Argentine interests - Argentina contributed 9% of sales to Endesa's third quarter profits.

Starting point

The details of the Argentine programme that exist have met otherwise with a mixed international reaction.

"It is a programme which puts Argentine households first. Clearly there was huge political pressure to do that," David Lubin, emerging markets analyst at HSBC, told the BBC's World Business Report.

"What we have is the skeleton of an economic programme. There are still some very important aspects of the programme that the market is awaiting details of," he added, referring to the monetary and fiscal programme.

The Argentine government may pay a price for the domestic focus of its programme - if this makes it more difficult to convince international lenders to help them out.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Theo Leggett
on the impact of the crisis on European companies
Flemming Barton, AFX News in Madrid
"The devaluation was largely expected but the measures themselves were not"
HSBC's David Lubin
"There has been some repercussions with some European-owned utilities"
See also:

07 Jan 02 | Business
Argentina devalues the peso
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