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Spain sees sharpest consumer price drop in past five years

MADRID, Spain--Spain reported Tuesday the steepest slide in consumer prices in nearly five years, a potentially worrying development as the eurozone fends off the threat of a deflationary spiral.

With Spaniards cautious about spending in an economy suffering a 24-percent unemployment rate, consumer prices dropped a sharper-than-expected 0.4 percent in the year to July, Spain's National Statistics Institute said.

The fall in prices in July was the sharpest since October 2009, the institute said, after revising its initial estimate of a 0.3-percent decline. In the previous month, Spain's economy, the fourth-largest in the eurozone, had reported an annual inflation rate of zero.

Prices were kept down by the lower cost of entertainment, electricity, tobacco, food and soft drinks, the official statistician said.

When compared to June, consumer prices slumped 1.5 percent, it said, using figures that are measured in the same way across the European Union.

The Spanish inflation report is likely to be of concern to policymakers trying to safeguard a gradual recovery in activity since the economy emerged in in mid-2013 from a double-dip recession.

Broad, sustained falls in consumer prices can lead people to postpone purchases in the hope of future price declines, a reaction that brakes economic activity. The phenomenon can quickly degenerate into a vicious downward spiral that is notoriously difficult to reverse.

The European Central Bank has taken unprecedented measures to head off deflation, including the introduction of negative interest rates for banks that want to deposit excess reserves with the central bank.

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