Latino finance: Fiesta, futbol and fundas

"Mama, pasta," so explained an Argentine banker friend about his national culture while we were trainees at the Chase Manhattan capital markets boot camp on Wall Street.

By Money Talks By Matien Khalid

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Published: Wed 14 Jun 2006, 11:57 AM

Last updated: Sat 4 Apr 2015, 4:44 PM

"Mama Mia!" I protested. "This is Italy, not Pampastan, amigo."

Alejandro agreed. "Si, hombre. Because an Argentine is really an Italian who speaks Spanish and wishes he was English."

Truly!

Four years ago, Argentina was on its knees, bankrupt and humiliated. Its currency was wallpaper. Its Euromarket debt was the largest sovereign default in history, $130 billion in busted bonds. Its banking system was a joke. Its proud citizens were impoverished. Six presidents came and went in that fateful year alone. You could not think of a bigger Sad Sack investment case in the emerging markets, right?

Wrong. The Argies slashed their subsidies, floated the peso, borrowed against the future from the IMF and the gringo banks of Wall Street. The Merval stock index shot up 550 per cent since 2003. The Argie bonds were the sexist paper in the emerging markets since Russia went belly up under Yeltsin in August 1998.

"Buy when blood runs on the Street" — so advised the iconic Lord Rothschild on the eve of Waterloo. So it was for Argentina, a land so richly endowed it was once the grain and meat capital of prewar Europe.

I visited Argentina ever so often as a JP Morgan Chase investment banker in the 1990's. Buenos Aires is the Paris of Latin America, its boulevards designed by the same Baron Haussman who gifted la ville lumiere with Faubourg St. Honore or Avenue Foch.

Though B.A. has a classically English touch — clock towers, polo clubs, sensible vicar's cottages, mock-Tudor mansions on the great estancias on the pampers where the coolest polo games west of Ghantoot, Palm Beach, Windsor and St Mortiz take place.

Tango is also hot in Argentina though, sadly, Shakira is neither blonde nor Argie.

Argentina's greatest writer Jorge Luis Borges, admired his English blood above all else.

The Brits literally made the trains run on time in Argentina and settled the Welsh and sheep galore in Patagonia — and the Falklands Islands.

In June 1982, General Leapoldo Stupido Galtieri sent his troops to liberate the Malvinas. Maggie sent a Royal Navy task force. The empire struck back at Goose Green and Port Stanley.

The Iron Lady sank the Belgrano. Argie Exocet missiles got the HMS Sheffield. SAS squaddies and Gorkha mercs slit some Argie conscript throats, triggering mutinies and Galtieri's overthrow.

Argentina is haunted by the ghost of an man and his mythic wife. Peron and Evita.

I saw her ornate tomb in the cemetery of Recoleta, not far from the birthplace of tango.

I rapped with gauchos bancarios, economists. Don't cry for me, Argentina Fund, even though I am down 20 per cent since Helicopter Ben became Hawk Missile Ben at the Fed. The truth is I, (sadly) never loved (owned) you!



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