While several years ago it was perhaps debatable in polite society that Venezuela’s socialist economy would collapse ultimately unleashing hyperinflation, any doubt was put to rest early this year when the IMF’s own inflationary forecast confirmed as much.
However, while the international community had long accepted the inevitable fate of Maduro’s socialist paradise, the local government sternly refused to admit reality and to avoid confirming what the local population already knew, it insisted on keeping the highest denomination bill in circulation at 100 bolivars, whose worth is approximately 8 cents on the black market, turning the most basic transactions into logistical nightmares and saddling banks with crippling money-handling costs. Economists and central bank employees say Mr. Maduro didn’t want to acknowledge the country’s inflation problem by printing bigger notes.
This has finally changed, and as the WSJ reports, Venezuela’s government, slammed by hyperinflation has finally thrown in the towel, and is planning to issue new bills in December with larger denominations—up to 200 times higher than the current biggest bill, according to people familiar with the plans. The move marks an implicit acknowledgment by the government that skyrocketing prices have slashed the value of the currency
The new coins and notes will go up to 20,000 bolivars, according to people close to the central bank, the finance ministry, the country’s banks and bill suppliers. This would make the biggest note worth $15 on the black market.
And since by doing so the government will tacitly admit that it has lost control over prices, It will also create a self-fulfilling prophecy of even higher prices, sending the country’s hyperinflation into overdrive.
As the WSJ adds, earlier this year, the government began informally allowing shops in the outer provinces to sell food at free market prices, reducing shortages at the cost of higher inflation, which the International Monetary Fund expects to rise above 1,600% next year. Further liberalization followed after the state oil company gradually rolled out higher-priced gasoline at gas stations in the border regions to reduce the cost of subsidizing the cheapest car fuel in the world, according to the company’s executives.
Venezuela’s loss, however, is a big gain for the companies contracted to print the money:
In recent weeks, several companies, including U.K.-based De La Rue, the world’s largest commercial printer, won contracts to print the new set of notes, which the government wants in time for the annual December spending spree, according to a person familiar with contract negotiations.
“It’s a very big deal. It’s a big package,” the person said.
Meanwhile, the central bank remains stuck in denial and hasn’t published price statistics for almost two years. Instead, Mr. Maduro has blamed the skyrocketing prices on the “economic war” waged against his government by shopkeepers and financiers. This has forced people to brave one of the world’s highest crime rates by shopping with backpacks full of cash and spend hours lining up outside ATMs, which give out less than $10 per withdrawal. Many provincial banks have reduced daily withdrawals to 30,000 bolivars, which would buy a Venezuelan couple a lunch at a mid-scale restaurant.
Amusingly, as we reported last year, the high demand for nearly worthless currency notes has also presented a financial burden for the cash-strapped government, which also lacks raw materials to print its own money. Since last year, Venezuela has had to pay hundreds of millions of dollars to printing companies to feed its economy with bolivar currency. The shipments arrived to Venezuela from private printing presses around the world on several dozen windowless Boeing 747 jets. Given the crime risks, the air shipments arrive at the Caracas airport at night before the notes are loaded onto armored trucks and transported to the central bank vaults in Caracas, protected on the 18-mile route by soldiers.
Indicatively, a fully stocked ATM is emptied in just three and a half hours on average now, according to the Venezuelan Banking Association.
The good news for the insolvent nation is that all local denominated debts are now just as worthless as the currency, which incidentally is what the BOJ’s Kuroda would call: mission accomplished.
Sadly, Venezuela is the canary in the coalmine for what will happen to all currencies in a world where there is now simply too much debt.