Inflation got you down? At least you don’t live in Argentina.
BUENOS AIRES—Trader Jonathan Faez has some advice for inflation-obsessed people around the world: relax.
“I have friends in the United States and Spain and they tell me that they are going crazy with their annual inflation of 5% or 7%,” says Mr. Faez, owner of a lingerie store. “Here, we reach 4% almost every month!”
Welcome to Argentina, where high and almost out of control inflation, now estimated at 55.1% over the past year, is as natural as the country’s juicy sirloins and sultry tango shows.
As the rest of the world experiences higher inflation – a by-product of supply chain crises, heavy stimulus spending and the war in Ukraine – Argentina offers a window of sorts for those concerned. how high inflation will be and what it will mean for their daily lives. lives.
They practiced: in the late 1980s, rampant government spending pushed inflation above 3,000%, and after a period of relative stability the figure rose again, reaching 6.7% in March alone, the highest in 20 years.
“Here, 40% is normal,” explains Mr. Faez. “And when we go over 50%, it doesn’t scare us, it just bothers us.”
Most Argentines have developed strategies to deal with rising prices and other features of the country’s economy, such as the falling value of the currency, the peso. It’s kind of like the old classic “Dr. Strangelove” about nuclear war, with a twist: “How I learned to stop worrying and love hyperinflationary policies.”
With money sitting in a bank account that is rapidly losing value, Argentines empty their paychecks almost as soon as they receive them. A trip to the supermarket often nets weeks of food and supplies, from non-perishable items like shampoo and canned food to frozen meat that’s stuffed in freezers. People are looking to exchange their pesos for US greenbacks, which provide inflation protection. And they easily apply for loans, which become easier to repay over time due to the weakening of the currency.
Yolanda Mastripólito, a 70-year-old lawyer, said one tactic she uses is to pay her taxes late, knowing that if she procrastinates she can cover the bill with money that is less valuable. And like other Argentinians, she learned that the government would not charge her interest on an overdue bill.
“You save a lot of money,” she explains.
Hoarding is a must. “I came to this market and bought as much toilet paper as I could for the month, over 20 packs,” Melanie Lichtensztejn, a 24-year-old university student, said recently. And not just toilet paper, there were also cleaning products, bottled drinks, milk. “I try to buy whatever I can because I know next month it will cost more to buy,” she said.
At the fruit stand outside Buenos Aires where Sofía Finot works, she says her competitors are fighting inflation by adding water and ice to their fruit shakes. “It’s more water, less fruit!” she says, adding that she doesn’t resort to such tactics, instead relying on buying frozen fruit to stock up before prices spike. “They keep for a year,” she says.
In southern Argentina, butcher Exequiel García uses humor to lighten the mood, placing handwritten signs outside the storefront with quips such as “Look at our prices and cry” and “Eat meat during Holy Week! It’s not a sin.”
How bad has inflation been?
According to policy group Argentina Institute of Fiscal Analysis, Russia was first in the world in March and Argentina was second (Venezuela, which does not regularly release fiscal data but which economists estimate has a annual inflation of 251%, is not included in the institute’s estimates).
With the peso falling and inflation rising, workers are increasingly being paid and saving in cryptocurrency. “They prefer the volatile asset of bitcoin to the peso, where they know they will always lose,” said Damian Di Pace of Focus Market Consultancy in Buenos Aires.
Argentines who haven’t caught the bitcoin bug are opting for other, often inventive, ways to stretch their beleaguered peso.
Raúl Ramos, 36, a construction worker, said he and his wife were monitoring sales at the giant Carrefour store they love.
“I come to Carrefour to look for sales of 25% to 50%,” he said, explaining that at the start of the school year, everything from books to backpacks to notebooks was three times more expensive. than a year ago. “I don’t do it to save. I do it to have money at the end of the month. I’m used to wrestling.
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María Oyhanarte, 67, and her husband, Gustavo Pastrana, 68, say they scour La Nación newspaper for special articles for seniors. “We bet on these special offers,” explains Ms. Oyhanarte. “We go there, we look and we make a big purchase once a week.”
She admits it’s a losing battle, explaining that with inflation so high, the couple had to stop consuming some of the things they had bought in the past. “Meat, for example,” she says.
Mr Pastrana, who runs a cafe next to his wife’s bookshop, says he sees people coming in and reading all day, consuming only a coffee, even though he is conscientious about raising prices. “I run a low-margin business,” he said.
Others in Argentina buy in installments, from groceries to clothing to household items.
Cecilia Luna, 50, says her monthly income from working as a super in a building is not enough, so she will buy what she needs in small payments spread over long periods. Right now, her family is building a small house in a poor community outside of Buenos Aires.
“All the building materials we buy with deferred payments,” Ms. Luna said, noting that the materials for the roof are paid for over 12 months, without interest. In other cases, Argentines know that interest on payments is usually lower than inflation, so their money can stretch further.
“We are experts in economics so we can get to the end of the month,” Ms Luna said. “That way we can stay calm and not have to borrow money.”
Write to Juan Forero at [email protected]
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