Venezuela inflation data questioned by economists

Published on NewsOK Modified: December 30, 2013 at 2:34 pm •  Published: December 30, 2013

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — For three weeks Venezuelan economists have complained that the central bank is delaying delivery of its inflation report to hide the government's poor record of containing prices. Its release on Friday only fueled those suspicions.

The report showed inflation slowing in the past two months and for the first time omitted data that track the level of shortages in South America's biggest oil economy. Critics say they don't buy the numbers and fear that the bank, long a redoubt of balance and credibility in polarized Venezuela, is caving to political pressure and losing its autonomy from President Nicolas Maduro's socialist government.

"It makes me very sad to read this report," said Asdrubal Oliveros, director of Caracas-based economic think tank Econanalitica. "It looks like propaganda written by the Information Ministry, not a technical report that you'd expect from a central bank."

The central bank said that inflation slowed after the government took "exceptional and historic" actions to combat a speculative run-up in prices by groups trying to destabilize the country.

Prices jumped 4.8 percent in November and 2.2 percent in December, according to the report. In October, prices jumped 5.1 percent.

As is customary, the report didn't provide an annualized rate of inflation. But Maduro, when asked about the omission at a press conference on Friday, conceded that prices rose 56.2 percent this year judging by the "bourgeoisie" methodology employed by the central bank's statisticians.

He defended the strident, ideological tone of the central bank's 10-page report, saying that if opponents hadn't waged an "economic war" in the aftermath of President Hugo Chavez's death in March, inflation would've ended 2013 under 10 percent.

"We've seen a speculative, induced inflation that exceeds the natural rules of the economy," Maduro told foreign reporters at the presidential palace.

Also missing from the report is the closely-watched scarcity index, which in October showed a record 22 of 100 products were out of stock.

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