Venezuelan annual inflation reaches 63 pct in August as currency troubles make goods scarce

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CARACAS, Venezuela — Venezuela's central bank has acknowledged what anyone watching the prices on the shelves already knew: The South American country's inflation rate is continuing its upward march.

After withholding monthly inflation data through the summer, the central bank said Tuesday that inflation over the past 12 months has reached 63.4 percent. That means something that cost $1 a year ago would cost about $1.63 today. It's believed to be the world's fiercest inflation.

Venezuela's bolivar currency plunged to a record low in black market trading this month, now bringing a fourteenth of its official value. The weakening currency has hurt investment and makes basic goods hard to find.

The bank had drawn criticism for halting the publication of its inflation and scarcity indexes, flouting its own bylaws which require it to publish the numbers each month. The bank last reported the data in May, when the annual inflation rate was 60.9 percent.

The new numbers are the worst inflation recorded in the socialist country since the bank began tracking prices nationwide in 2008. It's not the fastest inflation in recent Venezuelan history, however. That would be the hyperinflation of the 1980s and 90s.

As the nation's economy stumbles, President Nicolas Maduro has floated a raft of proposals, including hiking the price of gas — now essentially free at the pumps — and easing the controls that keep the prices of many basic pantry and household items artificially low.

The inflation hurts the poor the most, which is a problem for Maduro, whose approval ratings are wallowing in the 30 percent range. In hyper-polarized Venezuela, the middle class generally wants the administration's ouster, while families living in urban slums and rural areas continue to support the socialist revolution launched by the late President Hugo Chavez.

As inflation soars, salaries have mostly stayed put, eroding what savings Venezuela's poor are able to scrape together. The country's minimum wage now amounts to about $600 a year at the black market rate.

Venezuelans of all economic strata have been grappling with shortages that most analysts agree are caused by the economic imbalances. It's hard to say exactly what the extent of the shortages are today, though. The central bank has not released those numbers since May.


Hannah Dreier on Twitter: https://twitter.com/hannahdreier

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