The International Monetary Fund has thrown down the gauntlet at Argentina's government, demanding that it stop cooking its publicly available inflation statistics to hide the real inflation rate.
The deadline for becoming honest about the country’s alarmingly high price index is Dec. 17, after which the South American country could become the first ever to be censured by the 68-year-old organization and could lead to the first country to bow out of the 188-nation pact. It could also lead to economic sanctions.
Since 2008, the wonks at the statistic institute in Buenos Aires, known as INDEC, have been under pressure not to show inflation shooting up as a result of monetary policy that has caused inflation to skyrocket in recent years. The government’s attempt to hide the economic impact of its policies has apparently been done mainly to cheat on its payments of its debt tied to inflation.
President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner’s government has followed the same tack as that of the president’s husband and predecessor Néstor Kirchner by hiding the real cost of policies aimed at spurring economic activity, particularly of pumping money into the economy to spur lending and business activity as a short-term fix to sluggishness that can also cause hyperinflation.
The difference between INDEC’s numbers and the ones put forth by independent economists is stark. In February, when the IMF previously warned Argentina to clean up its act, the Economist reported that while INDEC was reporting inflation at 9.7 percent, independent estimates -– including those put out by the country’s provincial governments and Torcuato di Tella University in Buenos Aires -– showed the real inflation rate to be as high as 25 percent.
During the IMF’s biennial meeting on Monday, the organization said in a statement it “may consider additional steps based on Argentina's response and in line with IMF procedures."
These measures include a never-before-used declaration of censure that can lead to economic sanctions. Kirchner has accused the IMF in the past of subverting Argentina’s attempts to get through its economic doldrums. The public widely blames the IMF for the 2001 debt crisis and the country has stopped accepting aid from the IMF.
Argentina “actually has very little to lose from this controversy, apart from a further damage to its credibility," Boris Segura, head of Latin America strategy at Nomura investment bank, wrote in a research note on Tuesday.
Earlier this year that credibility in the eyes of foreign investors was further damaged when Kirchner expropriated a majority stake in the country’s largest oil producer, Spain’s Repsol SA (MCE:REP). In May Resol and another shareholder, Texas Yale Capital Corp., initiated a class action lawsuit against the country in New York, demanding $10.5 billion in compensation.