Santander sees Argentine bank loans doubling in three to four years

September 14, 2016 6:08 PM EDT

Pedestrians walk past by the Banco Central in Buenos Aires, Argentina, April 21, 2016. REUTERS/Enrique Marcarian

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By Eliana Raszewski

BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - Argentine bank loans should double over the next three or four years as interest rates fall in line with lower inflation expectations, the head of the local affiliate of Spain's Santander Group said in an interview on Wednesday.

The country is gearing up for a potential lending boom, bolstered by reforms undertaken by President Mauricio Macri since his December inauguration, and the settlement he reached with creditors suing the country over its defaulted bonds.

"If you look at credit as a portion of gross domestic product, it's 15 percentage points while in the rest of Latin America it's 50 points," Enrique Cristofani, CEO of Banco Santander Río (NYSE: RIO) told Reuters on the sidelines of the Argentine Business and Investment Forum.

"That's where we think Argentina will be in 10 years. Over the three or four years ahead, it should double to 30 percent of GDP," he said. "This would clearly be very good for the economy.

Macri has implemented a stack of policy reform over the last nine months. He scratched grains export taxes, reduced electricity subsidies in a bid to get the budget under control and cut foreign exchange controls, allowing for a 35 percent devaluation of the peso to 15 per U.S. dollar.

"We think the Argentine economy will grow 4 percent next year," Cristofani said. "We believe every sector of the economy is going to take off."

Analysts in the most recent central bank poll said they expect inflation of 41 percent this year and 19.8 percent in 2017. They see gross domestic product shrinking 1.5 percent this year before rebounding to 3.2 percent growth in 2017.

The central bank cut its 35-day reference rate by 50 basis points to 27.25 percent on Tuesday, the seventh cut in as many weeks amid lower inflation, in a bid to push cash into the real economy by making short-term central bank notes less attractive to investors.

"Before we talk about loans we have to talk about deposits. And what do depositors want? They want interest rates to be at least equal with the inflation rate. We are clearly in this process now," Cristofani said.

On Tuesday the government reported inflation of 0.2 percent in greater Buenos Aires in August. It marked a steep decline over the previous three months, in part due to the shrinking economy and an August court decision that blocked the government from cutting home heating gas subsidies.

(Writing by Hugh Bronstein; Editing by Andrew Hay)



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