Argentina, seeking to rebuild relations with foreign investors, will unveil a new consumer price index this week that probably will acknowledge something the government has denied for seven years: that it systematically underestimated inflation.
The nationwide index released on Feb. 13 will replace the benchmark greater Buenos Aires index that has shown inflation at less than half the pace of private estimates since 2007, when former President Nestor Kirchner replaced senior staff at the statistics agency. The move comes a year after Argentina became the first nation to be censured by the International Monetary Fund for failing to report accurate economic data.
All 10 analysts surveyed by Bloomberg said the new index will show consumer prices are rising more than previously reported by the government, though not as much as 28.4 percent estimated by private economists for December. Only half said the changes would be enough to placate the IMF, a first step to restoring relations with international investors following a $95 billion default in 2001.
“Bit by bit they can leave behind a complicated past that’s implicated by lying about inflation,” said Alberto Bernal, head of fixed-income strategy at Bulltick Capital Markets. “It’s a policy that’s so short-sighted and ridiculously wrong.”
Economy Ministry spokeswoman Jesica Rey declined to comment when asked by Bloomberg News about its inflation policy and the survey results.
Inflation in 2013, a year in which the peso tumbled 25 percent against the dollar, was 10.9 percent, according to the government. The new index will show inflation of 22 percent in 2014, according to the survey’s median estimate.
Reporting faster inflation could benefit holders of inflation-linked bonds. National Statistics Institute Director Norberto Itzcovich said the bonds would be tied to the new index, Ambito Financiero reported Oct. 7.
The notes have gained 3.5 percent since Sept. 16, when Argentina began talks with the IMF on creating a new inflation index.
The official consumer price index has been disregarded as a parameter by workers negotiating raises. Wages have risen an average of 24 percent annually over the past seven years, compared with average annual inflation of 9.4 percent.
Police officers in Cordoba, Argentina’s second largest city, went on strike in December and only agreed to resume their duties after a 33 percent wage increase. Their absence from the streets sparked looting, in which at least two people died. The strikes spread to other provinces, leaving at least six more people dead.
The government devalued the peso by 19 percent in January as reserves dropped, in a move that sparked a new round of price increases. International reserves fell 35 percent to $27.7 billion, more than a seven-year low, as the government imports energy supplies and pays foreign debt.
Argentine bonds have lost 8.7 percent this year, the most in emerging markets after Venezuela, on fears the drain of reserves could lead to a balance of payments crisis. Economic growth in 2014 will slow from an estimated 3.2 percent last year to 2.3 percent, falling short of the Latin American average, according to analysts in a separate poll by Bloomberg.
Repairing its relationship with the IMF is a prerequisite if Argentina wants to settle $6.5 billion of overdue debt with Paris Club creditor nations, said Juan Pablo Fuentes, an economist at Moody’s Analytics Inc. Economy Minister Axel Kicillof, who traveled to Paris last month to meet officials representing the 19-country group, said Jan. 21 that an eventual agreement could help companies that are blocked from obtaining credit abroad.
The government also plans to unveil a new gross domestic product index in March.
“Investor confidence, the IMF’s approval, and Argentina’s return to international markets are all at stake—it’s truly a key moment,” Fuentes said in a telephone interview from West Chester, Pennsylvania. “Things have become complicated for the government in the past few months, and some people could see this as their last chance.”
The press office at Elliott Management Corp., billionaire Paul Singer’s hedge fund that has sued for full repayment on defaulted Argentine bonds, didn’t respond to a telephone call seeking comment.
Former Interior Commerce Secretary Guillermo Moreno in 2011 fined private consulting firms that published inflation estimates that contradicted the government. That led opposition lawmakers to begin publishing those surveys to protect the economists.
Opposition lawmakers will publish their January report tomorrow.
As long as the government is transparent about the methodology applied in the new survey, it won’t matter if the numbers don’t concur with those of private estimates, said Bulltick’s Bernal.
“What will no longer be accepted here is that the government pulls the number out of a magician’s hat,” Bernal said. “I only see this being bad news if they announce an index that says the same as the last. That would be a joke in bad taste.”