(Bloomberg) -- Consumers in Argentine are running out of options to shield themselves from runaway price increases as President Javier Milei’s austerity measures send the country deeper into recession. 

Spending at small- and medium-size businesses — Argentina’s largest sector of employment — plunged 25.5% in February from a year ago, the third straight month of double-digit losses, according to data published Sunday evening by Argentine business chamber CAME. 

Shoppers in the South American nation have weathered triple-digit price gains for a full year. But they’re now staying home because real wages, or incomes adjusted for inflation, have fallen 23% over the past three months, according to estimates from Buenos Aires-based broker Portfolio Personal Inversiones.

Milei’s economic shock therapy is seen as necessary by markets to fix the country’s root problems. But it’s also helped push annual inflation above 250%, unleashing price pressures that were artificially contained by the previous government. 

But the cost of Milei’s drastic measures is evident across the real economy. Employers anticipate firing more workers than they hire in coming months, reversing a post-pandemic trend, according to government surveys. Staffing firm Manpower Group ranked Argentina as the worst of 41 countries in its most recent quarterly report on job expectations. 

With recession forecasts piling up from Wall Street to Buenos Aires, the consumer pull back raises questions for investor about how Milei will eventually transition from emergency measures to a sustainable recovery strategy. The International Monetary Fund sees Argentina’s economy contracting 2.8% this year after declining 1.1% in 2023. 

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