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Cablegate: Argentine Government Fails Credibility Test On

VZCZCXYZ0001
RR RUEHWEB

DE RUEHBU #1545/01 2202024
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 082024Z AUG 07
FM AMEMBASSY BUENOS AIRES
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 8862
INFO RUEHAC/AMEMBASSY ASUNCION 6429
RUEHBO/AMEMBASSY BOGOTA 1611
RUEHBR/AMEMBASSY BRASILIA 6289
RUEHCV/AMEMBASSY CARACAS 1397
RUEHGT/AMEMBASSY GUATEMALA 0304
RUEHLP/AMEMBASSY LA PAZ AUG LIMA 2132
RUEHMU/AMEMBASSY MANAGUA 0146
RUEHME/AMEMBASSY MEXICO 1427
RUEHMN/AMEMBASSY MONTEVIDEO 6642
RUEHOT/AMEMBASSY OTTAWA 0540
RUEHZP/AMEMBASSY PANAMA 0311
RUEHFR/AMEMBASSY PARIS 1306
RUEHQT/AMEMBASSY QUITO 0983
RUEHSG/AMEMBASSY SANTIAGO 0654
RUEHVL/AMEMBASSY VILNIUS 0128
RUEHSO/AMCONSUL SAO PAULO 3462
RUEHGV/USMISSION GENEVA 0654
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC
RUEATRS/DEPT OF TREASURY WASHINGTON DC
RUCPDOC/USDOC WASHINGTON DC

UNCLAS BUENOS AIRES 001545

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

NSC FOR DAN PRICE, DAN FISK
PASS FED BOARD OF GOVERNORS FOR KROSZNER, ROBITAILLE
PASS EXIM BANK FOR MICHELE WILKINS
PASS OPIC FOR JOHN SIMON, GEORGE SCHULTZ, RUTH ANN NICASTRI
USDOC FOR 4322/ITA/MAC/OLAC/PEACHER

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: EFIN ECON ETRD AR
SUBJECT: ARGENTINE GOVERNMENT FAILS CREDIBILITY TEST ON
INFLATION STATISTICS

REF: BUENOS AIRES 1496

Summary
-------
1. (SBU) On August 6, the Argentine statistical agency,
INDEC, reported monthly inflation of 0.5%, once again below
even the lowest private sector estimates, indicating
continued GoA manipulation of the data. This dashed market
hopes that new Economy Minister Miguel Peirano (reftel) would
use this first announcement of monthly CPI numbers under his
mandate to begin the long process of rebuilding the
credibility of official statistics. Bond prices reacted
negatively to the inflation news, and concerns are rising
about the longer-term impact of unreliable statistics on
investment, GoA finances, and economic growth. End Summary.

July Inflation Numbers Disappoint
---------------------------------
2. (SBU) INDEC reported that the July month-on-month CPI
increase was 0.5%, or 8.6% year-on-year. Most analysts, both
international (JPMorgan, CreditSuisse, Citigroup) and local
(Miguel Angel Broda, Miguel Kiguel, Research for Traders) had
expected a month-on-month increase of at least 0.6 - 0.7%,
with several noting that the market would interpret an even
higher number as a signal of new Economy Minister Peirano's
intention to roll back the GoA's 7-month long campaign of
manipulating inflation statistics. (Comment: The idea was
not so much "no" manipulation as just "less" manipulation.
End Comment).

3. (SBU) Peirano and other GoA officials have come out in
force to justify the INDEC report. These include Secretary
of Internal Trade Guillermo Moreno, known as the price
control czar and alleged to be behind the worst of the
manipulation of INDEC statistics, who argued to the press
that the inflation number "reflected reality." However, in
comments to the press (and to Emboffs) the private sector has
roundly rejected GoA explanations, demonstrating that at
least the informed public has completely lost faith in GoA
officials' pronouncements on the economy.

INDEC Statistics: "Fantasy and Lies"
-------------------------------------
4. (SBU) Local papers have reported local economists'
estimates of "actual" inflation for July of over 1%, while an
anonymous group of INDEC workers, protesting the Economic
Ministry's interference, estimated the month-on-month
increase at 1.6%. A Citigroup August 6 publication estimated
that accumulated 2007 inflation through June would be 7.08%
without the "methodological innovations" that INDEC
introduced several months ago in its inflation calculations.
This compares to INDEC's official CPI increase through June
of 3.9%, which is even lower than the 4.9% accumulated
inflation for the same period in 2006. Citigroup also notes
that the protesting INDEC workers estimate January-June
inflation at 10.1% (or on a pace to exceed 20% for the year).


5. (SBU) INDEC's low numbers are also at odds with anecdotal
evidence of higher inflation, especially as reported by
consumer groups, who allege much higher food prices, as well
as in reports from the provinces, some of which are
reportedly seeing inflation of over 20%. Without exception,

Post's private sector contacts predict actual 2007 annual
inflation in the range of 12-15%, and the press is
increasingly quoting local economists with estimates as high
as 15-20%.

6. (SBU) There are also reports of increasing concern over
the veracity of INDEC's other statistical reports. Not only
are doubts increasing over poverty and indigence numbers,
which use official inflation statistics in their
calculations, but there are even questions about GDP growth
and industrial production data. Argentine Daily "Clarin"
quotes one prominent, local economist as calling INDEC
statistics "fantasy and lies."

Negative Affect on Argentine Bond Prices
----------------------------------------
7. (SBU) Local press reports allege that the market's
disappointment in the INDEC announcement has driven down
prices of Argentine bonds, especially those linked to
inflation (which comprise over 50% of total Argentine debt
outstanding). Argentine bonds lost an average of two percent
on August 6 (in anticipation to and following the 4:00 p.m.
announcement), with the largest hit being the
peso-denominated bonds that are adjusted by an
inflation-linked index. The reality is, however, that
INDEC's influence on bonds will be statistically difficult to
prove at this time, given the sudden and severe global flight
to quality and repricing of risk over the last few weeks.
Nevertheless, the INDEC debacle clearly has compromised the
credibility of the GoA and is a key factor in the perception
of Argentina as an increasingly high-risk market (as measured
by Argentina's high country risk relative to other similar
economies in the region).

Comment: Credibility going, going, gone
----------------------------------------
8. (SBU) The fact that no one knows the actual rate of
inflation complicates not only investor decisions but
monetary policy and wage negotiations. Add to this volatile
mix of Argentine risks price controls, the rapid increase in
spending in 2007, loose monetary policy, normal election year
uncertainty, and the President's penchant for blaming
foreigners for Argentina's problems, and it answers one
Argentine University Professor's question to his students:
how could Colombia, with its fiscal deficit and drug and
insurgency problems, have a lower country risk than
Argentina?

9. (SBU) Private Argentine economists and analysts -- who
understand that the lack of untrustworthy data will undermine
the long-term health of the Argentine economy -- are
clamoring for a restoration of the credibility of official
statistics. U.S. and Argentine financiers at this week's
Council of the Americas seminar expressed serious concerns
privately to the Ambassador and others that worsening
inflation and its root causes -- expansionary fiscal and
monetary policies -- will undermine GoA finances and the
longer-term health of the economy, if credibility is not
restored soon. Unfortunately, new Economy Minister Peirano
has not yet acted to restore confidence among key actors in
the economy. End Comment.
WAYNE

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