CARACAS, Venezuela – Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s move to expand price controls this week sparked panic purchases by consumers, leading to shortages of everything from coffee to toilet paper.

People are buying more than they need to stock their homes and resell the products at a profit in the black market, Food Minister Carlos Osorio said this week on state television. The authorities are visiting stores to ensure the availability of regulated products, he said.

“I’m buying everything that’s on the price control list that’s going to be regulated,” retired schoolteacher Elena Ramirez, 56, said in an interview at a Dulcinea supermarket in Caracas where she bought 12 packages of toilet paper, each with four rolls. “Everyone is in the same game. It’s madness.”

Under regulations that took effect on Nov. 22, the government can fix the price of 15,000 goods in an attempt to slow inflation that reached 26.9 percent in October, the highest in the Western Hemisphere. Chavez immediately ordered a freeze on the price of 18 personal care items ranging from toothpaste to deodorant until mid-January to prevent monopolies from “ransacking the people.”

The price freeze affects U.S. consumer companies, including Colgate-Palmolive, Procter & Gamble and Johnson & Johnson, Ali Dibadj, a consumer analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. said in a Nov. 23 report.

Colgate, Avon and Clorox depend on Venezuela for 5.2 percent, 4.1 percent and 2.1 percent of total sales, respectively, according to Dibadj.

Procter & Gamble is evaluating the price controls and will continue to serve Venezuelan customers “to the best of our abilities,” Paul Fox, a spokesman for the company, said in an e-mailed response to questions.

Cars at the Dulcinea market, located in the Los Chaguaramos neighborhood of Caracas near two universities, were parked two rows deep and spilled onto the sidewalk in front of the store.

Shelves normally stacked with toothpaste, soap and toilet paper were being depleted by customers too quickly to restock.

“We heard rumors that there’d be shortages of toilet paper and toothpaste and all basic hygiene products,” said Jonathan Maestracci, a 24-year-old accounting student, while shopping at Dulcinea. “Finding coffee now is practically impossible. It’s better to buy in big quantities thinking about what could happen. If nothing happens, you just keep it.”

Under guidelines published in the Official Gazette Nov. 18, companies must register with the national price regulator and disclose information about production, distribution and commercialization costs as well as details of local and international suppliers and sources for raw materials. The regulator will then fix prices.

“The law of supply and demand is a lie,” Karlin Granadillo, the head of a price control agency set up to enforce the new regulations, said on state television. “These are not arbitrary measures. They are necessary.”

Venezuela’s government will have a difficult task to monitor and regulate the price of the 15,000 products sold in the country, said Armando Leon, a director at the central bank.

“It’s a very complicated, complex law,” Leon said in a Nov. 22 interview on state television. “It needs to be evaluated very well or it could have a boomerang effect because an economy can’t be subject to a mechanism of price laws.”

While fixing prices, Chavez’s government is printing money and raising fiscal spending.

The central bank has more than doubled the amount of money circulating in the Venezuelan economy since November 2007, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Fiscal spending leaped 22 percent this year after subtracting inflation, according to an e-mailed report by Bank of America Corp. economist Francisco Rodriguez.

Regulated prices may have the unintended consequence of most affecting the poorest Venezuelans, said Elsy Valladares, a 50-year-old publicist.

“There’s still going to be speculation and shortages, and who will suffer the most? He who has the least,” Valladares said while shopping at the Dulcinea supermarket. “If you have money, you can buy a little more. But what about those people who live on minimum wage or work by the day, do you think they can come and load up on stuff?”