Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Hard Times for the Kirchners

We have posted in the past about how Argentina has been fudging their macro data (see here and here) by systematically under-reporting inflation, which is a very convenient thing to do when you have issued inflation-indexed bonds!

However, it seemed like the Kirchner governments were more or less getting away with it. Now, after a humbling electoral defeat, anti-corruption prosecutors are actually going after them for the funny numbers!

"BUENOS AIRES -- Workers at the government's National Institute of Statistics call it crass manipulation: Their agency, under pressure from above, altered socioeconomic data to reflect numbers palatable to the presidency. Inflation and poverty miraculously dropped, they said in interviews, and the economy boomed.

At least officially.

"They just erased the real numbers," said Luciano Belforte, an 18-year veteran at the institute. "Reality did not matter."

The alleged manipulation, which is under investigation by anti-corruption prosecutors, has angered Argentines. But in a globalized world, where a pensioner in Italy might be as likely to invest in Argentina as in Fiat, the suspected modifications are being felt far beyond this city.

In fact, an association of community college professors in New Jersey, a cattleman in Colorado and a Latino business group in California say they too are being shortchanged because they hold Argentine bonds. By underreporting inflation figures, economists say, Argentina is cheating investors of proper compensation on nearly $50 billion in debt benchmarked to inflation.

Economists say the official inflation rate of 8.5 percent in 2007 was really about 25 percent. In the 12 months ended this June, the INDEC put the rate at 5.3 percent, but economists say it might be three times higher. Argentina's vaunted economic growth this decade might have been exaggerated, too. Credit Suisse said the 7 percent expansion the government reported last year is likely 2 to 3 percent lower. "

The fact that this is being investigated shows just how far the Kirchners' star has fallen. Maybe Uncle Hugo can send an army of Guido Wilsons with suitcases over to help them out!