UPDATE 1-Argentina's YPF breaks taboo by warning of inflation

Wed May 1, 2013 12:23am EDT

* State-controlled YPF warns that inflation may hurt its results

* Inflation at about 25 percent, one of world's highest

* Gov't data says consumer prices rising at far lower rate

* IMF has reprimanded Argentina about its data reporting

* Private economists fined for voicing inflation views

By Hugh Bronstein

BUENOS AIRES, April 30 (Reuters) - Argentine energy company YPF warned on Tuesday that inflation in the South American country may keep rising and affect its results, a rare admission considering the company is controlled by a government known for playing down the problem.

President Cristina Fernandez, re-elected in 2011 on promises of increasing government influence over Latin America's No. 3 economy, has dismissed complaints that galloping prices make life hard for consumers and the businesses that employ them.

Inflation has been around 25 percent for several years, according to private estimates, one of the highest rates in the world. The government says inflation is less than half that, and has fined economists whose estimates differ from its own.

However, YPF - which was nationalized last year when the Fernandez administration seized control from Spanish oil company Repsol - said inflation could get to be a problem.

"In recent years, Argentina has confronted inflationary pressure," YPF said in a filing to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. The filing went on to describe the conflict between the official statistics agency and private analysts.

"Increased rates of inflation in Argentina could increase our cost of operation, and may negatively impact our results," YPF added. "There can be no assurance that inflation rates will not be higher in the future."

YPF officials were not immediately available for further comment on the company's inflation warning.

The International Monetary Fund has reprimanded Argentina about its data transparency, and given the country until Sept. 29 to take action.

The World Trade Organization added its voice to the criticism in March, saying Argentina's restrictive trade policies could fuel price pressures.

But Fernandez has largely remained defiant while Economy Minister Hernan Lorenzino has at times appeared tongue-tied on the subject.

"I think that, eh, it's a ... Can we cut this off? Sorry," Lorenzino said when asked about consumer prices in a documentary that aired in late April. "Speaking about inflation statistics in Argentina is complex, OK?"

Also on Tuesday, YPF said it will distribute dividends of 330 million pesos ($63.6 million) this year, up from the 303 million pesos distributed in 2012.

The company reported a net profit of 3.902 billion pesos in 2012, down 12.2 percent from 2011. The dividends to be paid this year come from last year's earnings, just as those distributed in 2012 derived from 2011 operations.

YPF, taken over by the government in May 2012, is seeking private investment of $4.5 billion to finance part of the $32.6 billion it says it needs over the next five years to boost oil production.

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