By Girish Gupta
CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuela has stopped publishing money supply data, depriving the public of the best available tool to ascertain soaring inflation in one of the world's worst-performing economies.
The country quit issuing inflation data more than a year ago, but annual consumer price rises are widely seen to be in triple digits, driven by an unraveling socialist system in which many people struggle to obtain meals and medicines.
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A money supply indicator known as M2 was up by nearly 180 percent in mid-February from a year earlier, according to the central bank before it halted the release of the weekly data without explanation last month.
In contrast, neighboring Colombia's M2 was up 7 percent in the same period and the United States' was up 6 percent.
"If they are not publishing, you know it must be skyrocketing," said Aurelio Concheso, director of the Caracas-based business consultancy Aspen Consulting.
The central bank and ministry of communications did not respond to a request for comment.
An increase in M2, the sum of cash together with checking, savings and other deposits, means more currency is circulating.
That can accelerate inflation when coupled with a decline in the output of goods and services - such as in Venezuela, which is in the fourth year of a recession.
The money supply indicator suddenly stopped appearing on the central bank's website on Feb. 24.
The government ceased the dissemination of gross domestic product data more than a year ago. Before that, it put an end to the release of balance of payments figures and its consumer product scarcity index.
For a graphic on Venezuela's money supply, click http://fingfx.thomsonreuters.com/gfx/rngs/VENEZUELA-ECONOMY/010040800HY/index.html
Venezuela's money supply, as measured by M2, has risen exponentially since Hugo Chavez, a leftist, came to power in 1999 and is a major factor behind what is thought to be the world's highest inflation.
While M2 may seem an obscure technical indicator, the figure was routinely published in Venezuelan newspapers.
In the absence of official data -- and highlighting Venezuela's conflict of powers -- the opposition-run National Assembly is publishing its own inflation figure, which it said reached 741 percent in the year to February.
Critics accuse the government of suppressing data in order to hide the magnitude of the economic mess and of stoking price rises by reckless money-printing and overspending.
Socialist Nicolas Maduro, elected president after Chavez's 2013 death, has long blamed Venezuela's difficulties on an "economic war" being waged on the government by the opposition and U.S. government.
With no money supply figures available, the closest alternative is "excess bank reserves" data. Still published by the central bank, it represents the total funds that banks have available to make commercial loans though is no substitute for M2, say economists.
The last year for which inflation data is available from the central bank is 2015, when consumer prices rose 181 percent.
(Additional reporting by Corina Pons; Editing by Brian Ellsworth and W Simon)