By Hernan Nessi
BUENOS AIRES, July 12 (Reuters) - Argentina's already sky-high inflation likely accelerated to 5.4% in June, pushed higher by fuel and food costs, according to a Reuters poll on Tuesday, underscoring the challenge faced by the government to rein in prices.
The median forecast of 19 local and foreign analysts showed the monthly rate ticking up from the 5.1% rise recorded in May, though it would remain below a peak in March of 6.7%.
The South American country's 12-month inflation rate is running at over 60%, which prompted the central bank to hike the benchmark interest rate by 300 basis points to 52% last month. Inflation could near 80% this year.
"In a month with less seasonality for inflation, the rise was explained by higher increases in the food category and particularly the impact of regulated items," like electricity, gas and healthcare, said Isaias Marini, economist at Econviews.
Analyst forecasts ranged from 5.0% to 6.0%.
Argentina, a major exporter of soy and corn, is grappling with huge pressure on its peso currency as spiking gas import costs drain weak foreign currency reserves. A central bank poll estimates annual inflation at 76% this year.
Higher electricity and gas prices, along with wage increases, fueled a rise in "housing" costs in June, said a report by consulting firm C&T Asesores Economicos. Those rising costs are hitting Argentines hard and sparking anger.
President Alberto Fernandez called for unity on Saturday as protesters marched in the capital to the gates of the presidential palace, lambasting his government over soaring inflation and crushing national debt.
Econviews' Marini warned that the situation continues to deteriorate and forecast annual inflation of 90% in 2022.
Argentina's INDEC statistics agency is scheduled to publish June inflation data on Thursday.
(Reporting by Hernan Nessi in Buenos Aires Writing by Anthony Esposito Editing by Matthew Lewis)