(Adds analyst comment, details on job losses)
By Jorge Iorio and Adam Jourdan
BUENOS AIRES, May 6 (Reuters) - Argentina’s industrial output slid a steeper-than-expected 13.4 percent in March compared with the same month last year, the government’s Indec statistics agency said on Monday, as the recession-hit economy struggles to return to growth.
The fall in output, an early indicator of growth data, was the 11th straight month of declines since the middle of last year when South America’s No. 2 economy was hit by a debt crisis, steep inflation and a tumbling peso currency.
Argentine President Mauricio Macri is battling to revive growth ahead of what is expected to be a knife-edge presidential election in October, where the state of the economy will play a central role in whether he can fend off a rising political challenge.
The country’s economy has remained sluggish, however, despite hopes that growth would start to turn around as the year progressed, with high interest rates and stubborn inflation sapping economic activity.
Goldman Sachs analyst Alberto Ramos said in a note following the data that political uncertainty, weakening consumer sentiment and tight domestic financial conditions were damaging any “green shoots” of economic recovery.
“Even higher inflation and a deeper and longer recession are political liabilities for an incumbent facing voters whose top concerns are precisely inflation and growth/employment,” he said, adding prices would keep rising fast for now.
Inflation is running at an annual rate of close to 55 percent, hitting savings, while job losses are starting to mount, with employment down by around 250,000 jobs over the last year, according to data released last month.
Industrial output dropped 8.5 percent in February after falls of 10.8 percent in January and 14.7 percent the month before. Analysts had predicted a 9.5 percent drop in March.
Reporting by Jorge Iorio in Buenos Aires Writing by Adam Jourdan Editing by Peter Cooney and Matthew Lewis