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ECONOMY | 23-05-2024 00:30

Argentina's economic activity plunging amid austerity, confirms INDEC stats bureau

Bureau’s monthly estimate of economic activity records 8.4% drop for March; Industry and construction collapse, 5.3% slump in first quarter of 2024.

Argentina's economic activity continued to plummet in March, with the construction and manufacturing industries leading the slowdown as President Javier Milei's government slashed spending.

In a report published Wednesday, the INDEC national statistics bureau said that economic activity had slowed 8.4 percent year-on-year in March – the biggest such interannual change since the days of the Covid-19 pandemic.

In the first quarter of 2024, the body’s monthly estimate of economic activity shows a 5.3 percent decline from the previous year.

Milei took office in December, vowing to halt Argentina's economic decline and reduce the budget deficit to zero.

He slashed public spending, downgraded government ministries, did away with tens of thousands of government jobs, suspended new public works contracts and ripped away fuel and transport subsidies.

Shortly after his inauguration, La Libertad Avanza leader devalued the peso by 50 percent. The measures have hit consumers hard. While inflation is slowing, prices are still up some 290 percent from the previous year.

"Without a doubt, the path that the level of activity is following already speaks of a recession," said Joel Lupieri, an economist at the EPyCA consulting firm.

The construction industry saw economic activity drop 29.9 percent year-on-year after Milei cancelled almost all public works.

"Today, national public works are almost 100 percent stopped," Gustavo Weiss, president of the Cámara Argentina de la Construcción (CAMARCO), told Forbes magazine in May, adding 100,000 jobs had been lost in the sector.

"If there is no investment in public works, there will be no recovery,” he said in a radio interview on Wednesday. 

Lupieri said that beyond the disappearance of government works, "the sustained increase in the price of materials also leads to a fall in private demand."

Manufacturing activity dropped 19.6 percent, as aluminium and steel factories, automakers and tyre manufacturers laid off workers and cut production.

The slump was uneven across the board, with growth in some export-related areas. The only areas reporting an uptick in activity were agriculture and livestock, which increased 14.1 percent and mining, which is up five percent, along with fishing, up 2.9 percent.

Minor increases were seen in health and social services (one percent), education (0.9 percent).

The overall slump in activity is on its fifth consecutive decline since November.

"It is unlikely that a rebound will be evident before the second half of the year," said Lupieri.

The consulting firm Equilibria estimates a total 240,000 job losses in the first quarter of 2024.

The latest official data from INDEC in 2023 said some 41 percent of the country was living in poverty. A more recent study from March this year by experts at the Catholic University of Argentina put this figure at 55 percent.

The International Monetary Fund expects that Argentina's economy will contract by 2.8 percent this year.

Last week, it welcomed "faster-than-anticipated progress in restoring macroeconomic stability" in the country, but also warned of a "long and difficult road ahead."

 

– TIMES/AFP/NA
 

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