Contigo Microfinanzas S.A. (Contigo) has been operating in Argentina since 2010. Its mission is to improve the standard of living of low-income entrepreneurs and that of their families. Over this period Contigo has originated over ARS 50 million in microcredits to low-income entrepreneurs, encouraging their enterprises and their family incomes to grow.
The institution has continued to support its clients’ productive development in a regulatory and macroeconomic environment that has been hostile to the sector’s development, subject to a heavy fiscal and inflationary burden. Contigo has managed to adapt to these prevailing uncertain and volatile conditions.
The institution has promoted Contigo’s value propositions in social media, instruments which have enabled the institution to promote its clients’ financial education and to serve as a platform to broadcast awareness of its clients’ enterprises.
In 2015 two Contigo entrepreneurs were honored in the annual “Micro-entrepreneur” awards. This is the third year, in the five years since the awards were set up, that entrepreneurs supported by the institution have been recognized.
María Belén Lorenzo
María Inés Silva
Communication with clients is reinforced and personalized by using social media, which enable Contigo to show Argentine society how setting up an enterprise is an effective way for people in vulnerable situations to climb out of poverty.
Two entrepreneurs who are clients of Contigo Microfinanzas were honored at Argentina’s Micro-entrepreneur Awards, which represent an opportunity for society to learn about how being an entrepreneur enables people to carve out their own future and get ahead, by recognizing their work.
Ricardo Pérez won the Gold Award in the “Services” category. Most of his family works in his plastics recycling business – wife, two of his four children and two daughters-in-law – and he is proud to be able to provide employment for them.
Adriana Triviño received a Special Mention. Her eponymous fashion school is a source of great satisfaction, the result of much effort over the years to make her dream come true. Her business gives private dressmaking classes (she currently has over 15 students) so that other people can also set up on their own. She also makes garments for private clients, schools, dance schools and tailors in the area. A third side to her business activity is the sale to her students of fabrics, thread and other materials needed to make garments.
The Argentinian economy has been suffering significant distortions which reveal low growth, high inflation, a major fiscal deficit partly financed by monetization on the part of the central bank, together with multiple exchange rates involving major distortions. These punish exports and investments while encouraging imports, all within a framework of legal problems with its external debt which has raised the country’s risk to levels of an economy in default.
The economy went into stagflation principally because of the fall in its four key sectors: trade, construction, industry and financial services, which has represented the engines of economic growth before 2011, together accounting for 40% of GDP and 46% of jobs in the formal economy.
The key drivers affecting the Argentinian economy have been, on the one hand, its exchange rate and financial instability, and on the other its lower growth trajectory and the drop in employment levels.
In this scenario, after growing 0.5% in 2014, the Argentinian economy performed better in 2015, registering growth of 2.2% in the first half, after achieving a degree of stability in the exchange rate tensions, closing 2015 with growth at close to 1.5%, because of the growth in public consumption and investment in construction, despite the limited increase in private spending.
Investment in general continued to be seriously affected by exchange rate uncertainty, which grew more acute in the months leading up to the presidential elections. In the run-up to elections, fiscal policy was expansive in order to provide momentum for an economy with a deficit close to 6% of GDP, the result of a sharp expansion in spending.
The sectors with most momentum were farming and stockbreeding (12.3%) and construction (7.4%), while manufacturing industry fell back a little (-0.2%), struck particularly hard by the fall in automotive manufacturing (-12%), which had in turn been affected by the drop in demand from Brazil.
The sharp contraction in the Brazilian economy, the main source of the country’s manufacturing exports, and the fall in the international soybean price, its main export product, had a negative impact on the Argentine external sector. This caused the balance of payments to report a 2.5% reduction in GDP, due to a 16% fall in the exports of goods and services, whereas imports only shrank by 10%.
The distortions in the exchange rate have been the determining factors in how the economy has performed. The gap between the official exchange rate and the parallel exchange rate reached 68%. At year end, the central bank began the process of unifying the foreign exchange market by establishing a single exchange rate for all kinds of operations, the flow of current transactions was freed up and only minimal restrictions were retained on capital transactions. This forced a sharp correction in the exchange rate, with the new exchange rate converging towards the parallel rate. The official dollar rose from ARS 9.83 to ARS 15, a hike of 52%, but closed the year at ARS 12.95, because of central bank intervention, bringing the rise down to 40%.
The high inflation that has characterized the economy continued against this backdrop, up to over 30% annually in the last few years, only surpassed in the Region by the hyperinflation suffered by Venezuela.
The labor market performed well, with the unemployment rate standing at 5.9% of the Active Population, down by 1.6 percentage points (pp) from 2014. The employment rate came in at 42.2% of the population, while the labor force remained practically the same as the year before, at 44.8% of the population. The rate of underemployment was 8.6%. The unemployment rate came in at 11.8%, a fall of 2pp from 2014.
The rate of informal employment was 33% among waged employees, unchanged from the year before. There was more momentum in the rate of formal job creation, with the private sector playing a bigger role in the annual generation of jobs, accounting for 73% of the whole. Among the sectors driving this performance, construction, mining and public services were the best performers.
Wages went up by 25% from December 2014, with accumulated rises of 29% in public sector wages and of 23% in the remuneration to workers registered in the private sector, slightly below the level of inflation.
25% of the workforce works for themselves and/or are micro-entrepreneurs and their principal obstacle is financial exclusion. In Argentina half the population has no account in the financial system and only 10% report having asked for a loan in the preceding year.
According to independent reports, poverty in Argentina hovers around 20% to 25% and there is a high level of vulnerability among a wide swathe of the population, making it very sensitive to adverse shocks; a large part of those sections of the population that are outside the financial system cannot carry out activities due to this lack of access: this makes them more vulnerable than the others.