“THE final lie” was what some Argentines called the December 2013 inflation figures published by their country’s statistics agency (INDEC). After the IMF threatened to censure the country for tampering with inflation data, in January INDEC rolled out a new consumer price index (CPINu). At last, the numbers would be more accurate.
Or so people thought. The CPINu’s August inflation figure of 1.3% is less than half the 2.65% of the CPI Congreso, a compilation of private estimates gathered by opposition members of Congress. Since the CPINu began, its figures have been on average 0.94% below those reported by Congress. This is less than the gap that existed between the old price index and the CPICongreso, which differed by an average of 1.45% a month in 2013. But it is significant.
“INDEC has returned to tinkering with its numbers,” says Miguel Kiguel of EconViews, a consultancy. Graciela Bevacqua, who directed INDEC until the government started manipulating the numbers in 2007, is harsher. “It has become clear that it was never the government’s intention to improve the credibility, clarity or transparency of its statistics,” she says.
Ms Bevacqua points out that INDEC has also stopped publishing poverty statistics, the calculation of which depends in part on inflation numbers. The statistics agency claims this is due to the difficulty of bridging the new and old consumer-price indexes. An unconvincing press release posted on the INDEC website in April reads: “As it is known, in January INDEC modified its methodology for measuring its price index, starting to measure prices in the entire country instead of just in Grand Buenos Aires as had been done before… Yesterday the publication of the poverty and indigence data, that the statistics institute has worked on since 1993, was discontinued on account of severe methodological problems.”
The real motive is surely political. Despite a fall in inflation over the course of the year, and despite INDEC’s lower numbers compared with private estimates, Argentina’s 2014 inflation rate is bound to be far higher than the 10.9% INDEC announced for last year. Between January and August prices had already risen by 18.2%, according to the CPINu; Elypsis, a consultancy, is forecasting an annual rate of 38.5%. Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner sells herself as a champion of the poor, and a spike in poverty figures during her last year in power is not the legacy she wants. Transparency can wait.