UPDATE 1-Venezuela June inflation slows, annual rate hits 40 pct

Tue Jul 9, 2013 1:20pm EDT

* June inflation 4.7 pct, vs 6.1 pct previous month

* Rise led by transport, food and non-alcoholic drinks

By Eyanir Chinea

CARACAS, July 9 (Reuters) - Venezuela's June inflation slowed from the previous month to 4.7 percent, the central bank said on Tuesday, but the annualized rate soared to 39.6 percent following a currency devaluation and heavy state spending last year.

The annualized figure tops all the yearly inflation rates since 2008, when the central bank changed its inflation methodology and consumer prices rose 30.9 percent.

Though it represents a decline from a record 6.1 percent increase the month before, the news points to a stagflationary panorama for President Nicolas Maduro following a sharp slowdown in economic growth during the first quarter.

The June reading, which takes inflation to 25 percent for the first half of the year, was spurred by a 6.4 percent jump in transport costs and a 5.8 percent rise in food and non-alcoholic beverage prices.

The annualized rate is higher than any annual inflation since 2008, when the new measurement began, with 30.9 percent being the highest

A devaluation of the bolivar currency in February, and heavy government spending throughout 2012 when the late Socialist leader Hugo Chavez won re-election, have exacerbated price pressures in Venezuela, which has suffered from high inflation for decades.

Consumer prices could come under further pressure as the central bank revamps the foreign exchange system, known as Sicad, which is meant to boost the supply of dollars to counter nagging shortages of consumer products.

Sicad is expected to sell dollars for as much as double the official rate of 6.3 bolivars, further weakening the bolivar currency and boosting the cost of imported goods.

A lack of hard currency has left businesses struggling to import key consumer products. Long queues at shops, and even scuffles, have become common as Venezuelans face shortages of basic goods such as toilet paper and wheat flour.

The May figure was the worst under a new measurement system started in 2008. The worst previous monthly figure, under an old measurement based on major cities, was 7.1 percent in 1996.

Critics say mismanagement by Maduro and the late Chavez have left the country in a dire economic situation even as the price of oil, the OPEC nation's principal import, remains at a comfortable $100 per barrel.

Government supporters point to advances in social welfare over the last decade, thanks to the government's spending of oil revenue on programs such as free health services and subsidized groceries, as reasons to back Chavez's "21st century socialism."

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