Trumpin' the peso

Mexico’s economy is taking a beating from Donald Trump’s rising poll numbers

Alex Izaguirre/FUSION

A Trump presidency could be a nightmarish scenario for Mexico. And his candidacy alone is already causing some sleepless nights for Mexican economists.

Trump’s trip to Mexico City in late August quickly turned into a diplomatic fiasco for the Peña Nieto administration, reportedly leading to the resignation of Mexico’s Finance Minister Luis Videgaray.

But the extent of the damage might have been greater than initially reported. Some economists are now saying that the Republican’s recent rise in the polls appears to be a contributing factor to the accelerated depreciation of the peso against the dollar. And the situation is making investors very uneasy.

“Trump’s rise in the polls is a major factor affecting the Mexican economy,” Alfredo Coutiño, director for Latin America at Moody’s Analytics, told Fusion. “The possibility of a Trump presidency is probably postponing investment decisions by companies on both sides of the border. It doesn’t mean they are suspending them, but simply waiting to see what happens.”

Some companies seem to be betting Trump won’t win. For example, Ford recently announced it would move its entire production of small cars from the U.S. to Mexico, a decision that drew heavy criticism from the Trump campaign.

But Coutiño says most investors are playing it cautious. And the ripple effects are being felt by Mexico’s exchange rate.

Mexico’s currency recently surpassed the dreaded 20:1 exchange rate with the U.S. dollar— more than a 50% increase from where it was at the start of Peña Nieto’s presidency in 2012.

“I think the pressure on the peso is going to be there until November 8, and the currency will probably depreciate more as election night draws near,” Coutiño said.

The financial expert says there are several other external factors contributing to the peso’s volatility, including falling oil prices, U.S. inflation, and the probability that the Federal Reserve will increase interest rates by the end of the year. But Trump is adding to the uncertainty, and that’s not good for the Mexican economy.

Renowned Mexico City-based economist Rogelio Ramirez de la O says Trump is definitely affecting the Mexican economy.

“It’s having an impact because he has vowed to restrict commerce between Mexico and the U.S.,” he said.

He argues it’s hard to pinpoint how much Trump is hurting the Mexican economy, because “it’s all intertwined with other bad news such as Mexico’s growing debt, how rating agencies are qualifying Mexico and how investors are perceiving a domestic problem of governability and predictability.”

“We really don’t know how much it has to do with Trump and how much it has to do with Mexico’s internal problems,” Ramirez de la O said.

Mexico’s newly appointed Finance Minister Jose Antonio Meade is downplaying the Trump factor. He recently told Mexican outlet Radio Formula Mexico will have to wait and see what happens in the U.S. elections, but in any event neither candidate is talking about repealing the North American Free Trade Agreement, just amending it.

And even if Trump wins, Meade doesn’t expect the peso to enter a freefall.

“The dollar will not go up to 30 pesos [if Trump wins]”, he assured. “We don’t foresee that kind of risk.”