We’ve all been eagerly waiting to see them: Venezuela’s crisp,brand new yet soon to be hyperinflated with many more zeros banknotes, and finally, after various failed attempts to deliver the new bills to Caracas (which according to Maduro were at least partially aborted due to pesky CIA meddling) they have arrived. And they are vertical.
A new bank note of 500 Bolivars held outside a bank in Caracas. Jan. 16, 2017.
A new bank note of 5,000 Bolivars outside a bank in Caracas. Jan. 16, 2017.
Eager to get their hands on the new currency, AP writes that Venezuelans stood in long ATM lines Monday to take out new, larger-denominated bills “that President Nicolas Maduro hopes will help stabilize the crisis-wracked economy.” Of course, they will do no such thing as the pieces of paper in circulation have absolutely no bearing on the underlying economy, or its hyperinflation, but it will take at least several more shipments of new banknotes before the Maduro figures this out.
As a reminder, in taking a page out of the Indian demonetization playbook, Maduro last month said he was scrapping circulation of the most used bill, the 100-bolivar note, and replacing it with new bills ranging from 500 to 20,000 bolivars.
The local were appalled. Residents in Caracas expressed shock at seeing bills with so many zeros — a sign of how worthless the bolivar has become amid triple-digit inflation and a collapse in foreign exchange reserves that has led to severe food shortages.
Our advice: get used to it – the fun is only just starting. Ask Zimbabwe.
“I never thought I’d have such a big bill in my hands,” Milena Molina, a 35-year-old sales clerk, said as she inspected crisp, new 500-bolivar notes she had just withdrawn. “But with the inflation we’re suffering, the notes we had weren’t worth anything and you always had to go around with huge packages of bills.”
The Weimar Republic agrees.
Monday’s rollout of the first batch of imported notes came weeks later than the government had originally promised. Maduro last month ordered the 100-bolivar note to be withdrawn from use well before the replacement bills were ready, leading to widespread chaos as Venezuelans rushed to spend the bills before they were taken out of circulation. With cash running out, looting and protests were widespread – although they were widespread before the currency exchange too, so there wasn’t much of a difference – and Maduro had to backtrack. On Sunday, he extended for the third time, until Feb. 20, the deadline for the 100-bolivar note to remain legal tender.
While the new denominations should make cash transactions easier the relief may be short-lived: since the largest, 20,000-bolivar note is worth less than $6 on the widely used black market, Maduro already has to order a fresh batch with at least one more zero. With inflation forecast by the International Monetary Fund to hit four digits this year, few economists expect the currency to rebound any time soon.
Seeking to combat the black market, the government on Monday inaugurated four currency exchange houses near the border with Colombia where Venezuelans will be able to purchase Colombian pesos at a favorable exchange rate of 4 pesos per bolivar. The bolivar currently is worth just a quarter of that amount at exchange houses over the border in Colombia.
And while on the surface this risk-free arbitrage guaranteeing 400% returns would be a slam-dunk trade, there are two problems.
First, while Gov. Jose Vielma Mora of Tachira state said the Venezuelan central bank has at its disposal a large amount of pesos to meet what is expected to be strong demand for hard currency, purchases would be capped at between $200 and $300. A second, and bigger proble, is that it was hard to find anyone Monday who had managed to buy pesos.
Opponents of Maduro said that in trying to set an exchange rate for pesos, authorities are paving the way for corruption, saying only certain individuals and companies close to the government will be able to purchase them at the official rate. They are, of course, right.