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Inflation? I don’t want to hear it!

Dan Grech Feb 22, 2007

Inflation? I don’t want to hear it!

Dan Grech Feb 22, 2007

KAI RYSSDAL: What do you do if your economy is overheated and inflation is spiraling out of control? Well you could raise interest rates. Or you could do what Argentine President Nestor Kirchner’s done and shoot the messenger. He’s fired the guy in charge of calculating inflation and he’s started playing with the numbers himself.

From the Americas Desk at WLRN, Marketplace’s Dan Grech has more.

DAN GRECH: Inflation in Argentina in January was 1.1 percent.

Or was it?

Today, workers at Argentina’s statistics agency hung a banner near the presidential palace that read: “No more touched-up stats.”

They chanted: “Uno-coma-nueve; uno-coma-nueve.” As in 1.9 percent — the actual inflation rate according to independent economists.

MICHAEL CASEY: Most people would say it was a PR disaster for the government.

That’s Michael Casey, Argentina bureau chief for Dow Jones newswire.

CASEY: The numbers themselves are sort of a secondary issue to the perception that the whole thing is being managed and manipulated.

Argentine President Nestor Kirchner has made attacking inflation a central strategy of his government. He put price caps on hundreds of products used to measure inflation, banned beef exports, and prevented utility companies from raising rates.

The strategy’s . . . not really working. Last year, inflation was 10 percent, the second highest in the region.

So he’s developed a new formula for calculating inflation — a move that helped spark today’s protests.

DANIEL KERNER: For the international markets, of course, this is very, very negative.

The Eurasia Group’s Daniel Kerner.

KERNER: A significant share of Argentina’s debt is adjusted by inflation. Once inflation is not reliable, it is unclear how to value this asset and how much they will actually pay.

Argentina already has the stigma of the largest debt default in history.Kerner says playing with the numbers will further erode investor confidence.

I’m Dan Grech for Marketplace.

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