FEATURE-Recession looms over Venezuela, official data under wraps
By Eyanir Chinea
CARACAS, Sept 30 (Reuters) - Venezuela has kept its economic growth figures under wraps this year but empty store shelves, closed factory gates and idled construction projects tell their own story - the economy is contracting and some sectors are in deep trouble.
Private industry groups estimate that the construction and manufacturing sectors - both crucial to broader growth - shrank as much as 10 percent in the first half of the year.
Retail sales chamber Consecomercio says sales fell about 50 percent during the same period, the result of weaker consumer sentiment and tight currency controls that have forced a sharp decline in the availability of imported goods.
"The economy is sick," Jorge Roig, president of the main private industry group Fedecamaras and a frequent critic of the socialist government, told Reuters. "Industries are working far below their capacity due to a lack of raw materials."
Fedecamaras estimates the OPEC nation's economy has contracted 4 percent so far this year.
Strong oil prices, heavy government spending and firmer results in other industries like banking and telecommunications have helped prevent an even steeper decline, but the economy is clearly struggling.
The United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean says Venezuela will be the only economy in the region to shrink this year, by 0.5 percent.
Tight currency controls have left businesses unable to obtain dollars to import machine parts and raw materials, creating bottlenecks in sectors ranging from health care to car manufacturing. Continuación...