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Argentina's poverty rate declines in first half of year

BUENOS AIRES, Sept 28 (Reuters) - Argentina’s poverty rate fell 1.7 percentage points in the first half of 2017 from the second half of 2016, official data showed on Thursday, a sign the sharpest impact of President Mauricio Macri’s austerity measures may have passed.

The data from Indec statistics agency showed 28.6 percent of Argentines were living in poverty in early 2017, down from 30.3 percent in the last six months of 2016.

The lower poverty rate follows signs Latin America’s No. 3 economy is finally picking up steam after exiting recession in the second half of last year and gives a boost to Macri ahead of next month’s mid-term election.

Since taking office in late 2015, Macri has implemented market-friendly policies designed to cut the fiscal deficit and attract foreign investment. Some of those policies, including a reduction in subsidies for electricity and gas, contributed to inflation of more than 40 percent last year and higher tariffs hurt the poorest the most.

Macri’s government began publishing poverty statistics a year ago for the first time since October 2013. The former populist government said at the time the poverty rate was 5 percent, lower than in Germany.

A spokesman for the treasury ministry said on Thursday the current poverty rate was near 2011 or 2012 levels, according to private estimates. (Reporting by Caroline Stauffer; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)