Inflation continues to climb in Argentina as presidential election nears

Skyrocketing inflation continues to strain Argentinian pocketbooks, fuel disenchantment with the political establishment.

Argentine presidential candidate Javier Milei for La Libertad Avanza coalition holds a placard depicting a dollar bill with his face, during a campaign rally in La Plata, Buenos Aires, Argentina, September 12, 2023.
Argentinian presidential candidate Javier Milei holds a mock $100 bill from the US, featuring his face in the centre [Agustin Marcarian/Reuters]

Consumer prices in Argentina soared 12.4 percent in August compared with the previous month, the highest rate since February 1991 — a high-water mark that could influence the country’s upcoming presidential race.

Argentina’s annual inflation rate rose to 124.4 percent, according to figures released by the government’s INDEC statistics agency on Wednesday.

Experts say that those numbers will put the ruling centre-left coalition on the defensive, as the October 22 general election approaches.

Argentina has been suffering from galloping inflation for years, but August marked the first time in more than two decades that the monthly rate reached double digits, a phenomenon that is likely to be repeated in September, according to economists.

Amid the sharp rise in consumer prices, Economy Minister Sergio Massa is trying to convince Argentineans to elect him as president.

But Javier Milei — a self-described “anarcho-capitalist” and a right-wing populist who shook up Argentina’s political system by receiving the most votes in last month’s national primaries — appears to be the favourite to win.

“It’s the number that summarises the tragedy left by Massa,” Patricia Bullrich, the presidential candidate for the main opposition coalition, wrote on social media after the inflation number was released.

Recent polls show Milei leading ahead of the general elections, with Massa in second place and Bullrich third.

The high inflation rate is, in large part, a product of the government’s devaluation of the local currency, the peso, by nearly 20 percent following the August 13 primaries.

“The acceleration [of inflation] is the pass-through of the devaluation,” said Martin Kalos, an economist who is a director at local consultancy Epyca Consultores. “The number isn’t higher because the devaluation only captured 15 days of August. That’s why the floor is high for September.”

Inflation in August was particularly high for food items, which increased 15.6 percent from July with the price of some beef cuts soaring by as much as 40 percent, according to INDEC.

The real increase that consumers saw in retail outlets was likely even higher.

The price of beef to consumers increased between 40 percent and 70 percent since July, according to Diego Ponti, a livestock analyst for AZGroup, a local consultancy. Ponti said the sharp rise in prices had to do with a confluence of factors, including the way that beef prices had largely remained frozen for months despite the inflationary economy.

Mariela Suchowieski, 18, has been seeing the effect of the price increases on her diet.

“We don’t even buy beef any more. We buy it once a month and we divide it up bit by bit,” she said. “Everything is very expensive.”

Suchowieski reflected on the effects of rising prices while she attended a rally for Milei on Tuesday in La Plata, a city some 60 kilometres (37 miles) southeast of Buenos Aires. Hundreds had gathered to celebrate the man who has said the answer to Argentina’s inflation woes is to adopt the US dollar as its official currency.

An exultant Milei signed his autograph on 500-peso bills, which are worth less than $1 in the black market, a reflection of how the local currency has depreciated over the past year.

Around him, supporters expressed anger at the current political leadership.

“Everything was done wrong,” said Juan Pedro Aquino, 61, who blamed the country’s problems on politicians’ access to what he called the “little machine”, a reference to their penchant for printing money, which is one of Milei’s rallying cries.

That anger at the government is proving to be a particular challenge to Massa, who has unveiled measures to try to raise the purchasing power of salaries.

“Massa is a candidate who carries the burden of being a minister,” Kalos said. “He is a presidential candidate who must find a balance between the response to the crisis he has been unable to provide as a minister and promising that he could deliver them as president.”

Source: The Associated Press