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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A costumer walks past a greengrocery store, as Argentina’s annual inflation rate tore past 100% in February, the country’s statistics agency said on Tuesday, the first time it has hit triple figures since a period of hyperinflation in 1991, ov

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By Horacio Soria and Juan Carlos Bustamante

BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) -Argentina’s annual inflation rate soared to 104.3% in March, the official statistics agency said on Friday, one of the highest rates in the world, straining people’s wallets and stoking a cost-of-living crisis that has pushed up poverty.

The inflation reading for the month came in at 7.7%, well above analyst forecasts of 7.1%, marking the fastest monthly rise since 2002 and piling pressure on the government which is contending with angry voters ahead of elections in October.

“I try to think that someday we’re going to be better off. But the inflation we’re living with today in Argentina is terrible. It feels like never before,” said Claudia Hernansaez, a publishing company employee.

“In my case, I have zero capacity to save.”

The soaring prices have hammered salaries and spending power, pushed up poverty to near 40%, and dented the popularity of the governing Peronist coalition as general elections near.

The country, a major global grains exporter, is also grappling with one of its worst droughts in history, that has hammered soy, corn and wheat crops, knocking billions off the economy from lost exports and fanning domestic prices.

“The number we see today represents the worst moment of the impact of the war on international prices and the worst drought in history in our country,” presidential spokeswoman Gabriela Cerruti wrote on Twitter.

“We know, it hurts us, it occupies us, how this affects daily life and every family,” she added, saying the government hoped a downward trend in inflation would be “reflected soon.”

EACH SHOP MORE EXPENSIVE

For now, every trip to the supermarket is a reminder of the country’s inflationary crisis, the worst since 1991, which was the end of a period of hyperinflation. Retiree Juan Tartara said prices spiked with each weekly visit to the store.

“Sometimes food increases 10% or 15%,” he said. “In one year, beef went from around 1,000 pesos ($4.66) or 1,200 pesos to 2,800 pesos.”

Inflation will likely be one of the deciding issue for voters in the October elections, where libertarian economist Javier Milei has been gaining traction in the polls with his promises to break the status quo.

President Alberto Fernandez’s approval rating has decreased as inflation soars, and currently hovers just above 20%. He has not yet confirmed if he will seek re-election for a second term.

Paola Lavezzari, also in publishing, said inflation was forcing her to tighten the purse strings and buy cheaper products.

“The first thing you lose is the quality of the product. Because what you used to consume of a better quality, today is unaffordable,” she said.

“Things were always maybe 10 pesos more, but now it’s 100 pesos more. … When you make the monthly shopping trip, it’s so much. The difference is huge.”

($1 = 214.6700 Argentine pesos)



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