UPDATE 4-Tough road for Venezuela after dire data, inadequate measures

jueves 18 de febrero de 2016 19:28 GYT

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By Alexandra Ulmer and Girish Gupta

CARACAS Feb 18 (Reuters) - Venezuela's central bank on Thursday released long-awaited data showing the depth of the OPEC country's recession, a day after President Nicolas Maduro announced a package of measures seen as insufficient to salvage the unraveling economy.

The bank reported that Venezuelan inflation hit 180.9 percent in 2015, one of the highest rates in the world, while the economy contracted 5.7 percent.

The data showed the depth of Venezuela's crisis and raised the prospect new measures may hurt Venezuelans without significantly improving finances in a country already facing shortages of basics like milk and medicines.

Under Maduro's emergency measures, the price of Venezuela's fuel - the world's cheapest - will be increased for the first time in nearly 20 years and the complex system of fixed exchange rates has been devalued and revamped.

The fuel increase could amount to 5 percent of this year's budget, according to Reuters calculations, and will give state oil producer PDVSA's strained balance sheets a breather.

However, it remains unclear if what Maduro announced as a "floating" exchange rate would actually be allowed to float, or like previous such rates effectively become fixed and fail to satiate demand for greenbacks, further weakening the bolivar on the black market.

"Cheap fuel was the only benefit we had left," said Angel Pina, 41, at a gas station in Caracas. "The increase should have happened a long time ago, but now we don't know what consequences it could have."   Continuación...