September 4, 2019 / 5:05 PM / 16 days ago

Banks suspect Argentine controls may stall this month's FTSE Russell index upgrade

LONDON, Sept 4 (Reuters) - FTSE Russell's possible upgrade this month of Argentine equities to emerging market status might be in doubt after the South American country imposed capital controls, emerging market professionals said.

Argentina is on the index provider's watch list for possible reclassification from its current frontier status, with FTSE Russell scheduled to publish the decision on the move on Sept. 26.

FTSE Russell declined to comment ahead of the decision.

In a bid to shield the battered peso from a bruising crisis, President Mauricio Macri's government on Sunday authorised the central bank to restrict purchases of dollars as it burns through its reserves to prop up the currency.

The move has prompted MSCI, another index provider, to say it was closely monitoring developments.

MSCI - which had only decided to lift Argentina to emerging markets in June last year - said that for now the current classification remained valid as only the American Depository Receipts of Argentinian stocks were included, which analysts say are still freely traded.

Around $140 billion tracks the FTSE Emerging Index, according to FTSE Russell, which includes large and mid cap securities from countries it deems advanced and secondary emerging markets.

"Given the enormous change that's taken place in recent weeks I think it would be reasonable to take that into account and postpone a decision for an upgrade," said Jan Dehn, head of research at emerging markets investment manager Ashmore Group.

Argentina has a 9.3% weight in the FTSE Frontier Index Series, smaller than Vietnam, Bangladesh and Morocco, according to FTSE Russell data on Aug 30.

According to FTSE Russell's published guidelines, if a government impose restrictions for more than 20 local business days that hinder foreign investors from repatriating their capital, the index provider will consider removing affected stocks from its indexes.

It would make sense for FTSE Russell to leave Argentina on the watch list for now, said Vikram Lopez, quantitative analyst for Renaissance Capital's macro-strategy team.

"Index providers are not known for making bold calls," he said. (Reporting by Tom Arnold; Editing by Alison Williams)

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