Argentina is booming! (And killing the peso.)

An easy way to get people buying again: if runaway inflation makes saving ridiculous, people will buy anything, especially real estate and other lasting commodities. It works in Argentina...right?

Natacha Pisarenko / AP
Argentinians are eating more, drinking more, buying more, celebrating more, and worrying more that the peso is devaluing so fast there's nothing to do but spend. They might even be dancing more, like this couple at the Aug. 23 Tango World Championship in Buenos Aires, Argentina, but they're dancing their way to the poorhouse.

“This country is in a boom,” said the editor of a financial magazine in Buenos Aires. “Everything is going up. Everything is selling. And inflation is roaring at 25% per annum.”

To hear him tell it, Argentina is everything America wishes to be. Its people shop. Its restaurants are full. Its economy is growing at more than 8% a year.

Why?

“Inflation. Everyone wants to get rid of cash. You hold onto it and it’s worth less and less. So you buy an apartment.”

Amazingly less than 10% of property transactions in Argentina include mortgages. People pay with cash. Still, prices are not as low as you would expect. The lot next to our office is on the market for $250,000.

“It should be about $100,000,” said a friend who keeps an eye on real estate. “But everything is high.”

The cab ride from the airport was 70 pesos when we came 4 years ago. This time it was 128 euros. Two glasses of wine at a local bar were 40 pesos. They would have been half that a few years ago.

“There’s a boom going on,” continued the financial editor. “But it can’t go on forever. You can’t have 25% inflation and have a healthy economy. People don’t make wise investments. They just try to avoid getting ripped off by inflation. They don’t make long-term investments. They just try to park their money where it won’t disappear. That’s why real estate is so expensive. People will save their money and buy an apartment whether they need it or not. They figure it will still be there in five or ten years. The peso won’t be. At least not today’s peso.”

Nor will the dollar.

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