Markets React to the Death of Néstor Kirchner

The city is deserted. Shops are closed. Cafés are empty. Parks and playgrounds stand idle, their trees and swings blowing gently in the soft spring breeze.

Today is census day in Argentina, when 650,000 professional counters hit the pavement to tally up the “whats,” “whens” and “wheres” of their fellow Argentines. Folks have been ordered to stay home between 8 AM and 8 PM and to cooperate fully, as is their “civic duty,” with the busy little tab-keepers.

Of course, there are a few ne’er-do-wells flouting authority…a handful of no-good dog-walkers, the odd roller-skater and even a couple of rogue octogenarians we saw walking arm in arm along the street below our window…the usual riff-raff. For the most part, however, the Argentines seem pleased enough with an excuse to stay in for the day. Many were out late last night celebrating the fact.

But there is a pall hanging over the city, too; a somber mood weighing on her great shoulders. It began to spread in the early morning, from the Rio del Plata in the east, out over the slow, rolling Pampas and, by now, up into the highest reaches of the Andes and to the loneliest Patagonian outpost.

The headline in today’s Buenos Aires Herald delivers the blow:

“Former President Kirchner Dies”

The passing of the nation’s most powerful – and controversial – politician since the Peróns was, of course, deeply felt by his leftist comrades.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez was so touched he sent President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner (Néstor Kirchner’s wife) his regards via his Twitter account. Tweeted Chávez: “Oh, my dear Cristina… So much pain! What a great loss Argentina and America are suffering! Kirchner forever!”

According to the Herald, “Chávez and Fernández de Kirchner share a friendly and cordial relationship via Twitter. Both heads of state tend to communicate with each other to report on any type of news event.”

How sweet.

Unlike the rest of us, a politician needn’t be possessed of any useful talent or skill in order to induce a tone of national mourning when their death finally comes due. It seems even the vilest of busybodies become immortalized on point of departure. Witness Chairman Mao’s grinning banner atop the gates of Tiananmen Square for proof…or the sorry, ever-prostrating state of North Korea, where the dearly departed father of Kim Jong-il (Kim Il-sung) is still held to be the official and supreme leader.

We recall, too, when former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto found eternal glory at the tip of an assassin’s bullet during the tumultuous run up to Pakistan’s elections in late 2007. Twice during the 1990s the since-apotheosized figure was removed from office on grounds of corruption. It had further been alleged that Bhutto’s government had provided military and financial support for the Taliban, even sending a small unit of the Pakistani army into Afghanistan to help the group, seeing them, as one author later wrote, as a group that could “stabilize Afghanistan and enable trade access to the Central Asian republics.”

In ’98 Bhutto fled to Dubai, where she remained in self-imposed exile until 2007. Then, when her time came to depart from life and politics together, all debts were forgiven in the eyes of the public. Such was the outpouring of grief and emotion in the country that Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, Benazir’s 19-year old son, was even appointed head of her Pakistan Peoples Party…which then went on to win the election! The year following Bhutto’s death she was named one of seven winners of the United Nations Prize in the Field of Human Rights.

Néstor Kirchner, too, was no saint on earth. Politics is a grubby game after all. Few escape its arena without at least a little dirt on their mitts.

But perhaps it is not polite to cast judgment on the dead. And of what use is it anyway? They’re not going to change their ways now. In any case, our beat her is money. And besides, the weighing of vice and virtue is a job better left to mightier hands. Fortunately, Mr. Market cares not for such flippant bouts of human sentimentality.

Following news of Kirchner’s death this morning, Argentine assets skipped the mourning period to stage a hefty rally on foreign markets. (Argentine markets are closed due to the people counting project.) The nation’s bonds rose in New York as investors’ fears over Kirchner standing again for top job in 2011 were allayed…forever. Grupo Financiero Galicia (ADR), Argentina’s largest consumer lender, surged as much as 26% on the NASDAQ this morning as investors applauded what they hope will be a new and prosperous era for business in the country.

Roberto Sanchez-Dahl, an emerging market debt manager, summed up the situation in an article posted by Reuters. “For Argentina, as a credit and a country that is the recipient of investors’ money, there is no better scenario than having Kirchner out of the political arena.”

We will have to wait and see what this event portends for South America’s second largest economy. For now, the streets and parks are empty, spring is in the air…and tomorrow is another day.

Joel Bowman
for The Daily Reckoning