UPDATE 2-Argentine court suspends subsidy cuts for home heating gas
(Adds market and economic context, comments from government official)
By Hugh Bronstein
BUENOS AIRES Aug 18 (Reuters) - A key part of Argentina's investor-friendly economic revamp was thrown into question on Thursday when the Supreme Court said that the government must hold public hearings before reducing home heating gas subsidies.
Elected in November on promises of lifting the heavy market controls favored by the previous administration, President Mauricio Macri slashed natural gas subsidies early in his term. As a consequence, heating bills during a particularly cold Southern Hemisphere winter soared, prompting public protests.
The spike in utility rates hit families already slammed by 40-percent inflation and a shrinking economy that has limited wage increases.
"The increase in utility prices cannot be validly implemented without public hearings on the issue," the court said in a unanimous decision.
Macri inherited a government nearly out of cash after eight years of free-spending populism under President Cristina Fernandez. He ditched currency and trade controls as part of his bid to draw investment to Latin America's No. 3 economy.
Households have paid rock bottom energy prices for years, thanks to generous subsidies that Macri says must be moderated as part of his bid to "normalize" the economy.
He was forced to backpedal last month after demonstrations by homeowners, some hit by energy price increases of 1,000 percent. Macri promised to cap increases at 400 percent. Now any change will have to take into account feedback from public hearings. Continuación...