XX/UPDATE 1-Argentina extends price-freeze accords for 2 more months

Tue Mar 26, 2013 8:40pm EDT

BUENOS AIRES, March 26 (Reuters) - Argentina's government forged an agreement on Tuesday with top retailers to extend a freeze on prices for another two months, the latest attempt to contain inflation estimated by private economists at above 20 percent a year.

The price accords first went into effect for 60 days in early February, after the government reported January inflation at a nearly three-year high. The country's deputy secretary for consumer defense confirmed they will now last until late May.

President Cristina Fernandez's center-left government spends heavily to stoke domestic demand and economic growth, fanning inflation. But while the economic expansion slowed sharply last year, prices continued to rise swiftly.

Argentina's inflation data has been widely discredited since 2007 and the International Monetary Fund has warned it could sanction the country over its statistics.

The government reported 10.8 percent consumer inflation in 2012 versus private estimates that hovered closer to 25 percent - one of the highest rates in the world.

The INDEC national statistics institute said on Tuesday it would finish designing a new, national consumer price index sometime between September and December this year. Analysts initially viewed the new index with optimism, but that faded as it has taken several years to create and doubts over the current, Buenos Aires-based data have persisted.

The price accords were signed by local supermarkets such as Coto and La Anonima as well as foreign-owned stores including Jumbo, Carrefour and Wal-Mart.

Supermarket sources said previously that the price-freeze accords could be extended until October mid-term elections, which will test Fernandez's popularity. Opinion polls show that high inflation is among Argentines' top concerns.