Truth to Power

Argentina says exact change please

Where are Argentina’s coins?

A serious shortage of coins in Argentina causes problems for consumers and merchants.

BUENOS AIRES – Think you’ve got cash problems? Just be glad you’re not in Argentina.

No one knows the inconveniences of the peso better than Buenos Aires’s convenience store owners. Walter Teich and his wife opened one right in the center of town three years ago. He’s seen a lot of coins come and go, but never so few as right now.

“There’s no coins, they don’t exist,” said Teich, standing next to a hand-written sign taped to the cash register telling his customers as much. “And it’s getting worse all the time.”

The coin scarcity has created a strange predicament: Merchants regularly refuse to sell their goods or services if it means they’ll have to give coins back as change. For small transactions, they’d rather lose the revenue than spare the change.

Teich, for example, won’t make a photocopy – and earn his 20 cents – for anyone who doesn’t offer exact change. He simply doesn’t have the coins, even after he and his wife make separate trips to the bank to buy the daily 20-peso coin ration that the government guarantees.

The shortage might have been precipitated by the rise in commodity prices in the last few years, said Dardo Ferrer, chief economist at the Market Foundation. There have been reports of people inside Argentina and across its borders melting coins for their metal, which became worth more than coins’s face value when the price of raw materials rose.</em>

Nobody tell Obama about this, or he’ll send them bailout rolls of change.


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