Devaluing from Afar
Hugo Chavez hasn't been heard from for a while. To be precise, he hasn't been heard from since December 11, when he underwent surgery in Cuba. However, he apparently still directs economic policy from his sickbed.
His most recent action was to make Venezuela the latest entrant in the 'currency war' by devaluing the official exchange rate of the Bolivar by 32%. Venezuela's inflation rate is at about 22%, and the new Bolivar exchange rate of 6.3 to the US dollar still has a long way to go until it reaches the black market rate of 19.53.
The main reason for the – quite unpopular – official devaluation appears to be the country's growing budget deficit. Venezuela's government mostly lives off the country's oil revenues. Ever since Chavez replaced the former management of the state-owned oil company with his cronies and confiscated the oil assets owned by foreign companies, oil production has been in free-fall, but oil sales still provide the biggest chunk of government revenue even so. By devaluing the Bolivar by 32%, the dollar revenue from crude oil sales will increase commensurately in Bolivar terms. Presto, budget deficit problem solved.
Chavez uses the budget to distribute various goodies to voters, a very successful strategy so far. The last election seems to have strained the budget quite a bit though. Devaluations are unpopular because they mean that things consumers like to buy (such as TVs) will cost a lot more henceforth.
On the other hand, there was actually a shortage of such goods anyway, as the government had begun to ration foreign exchange. Moreover, since both the old and the new exchange rate are unrealistic, more devaluations are likely to follow later this year.
“Venezuela devalued its currency for the fifth time in nine years, a move that may undermine support for ailing President Hugo Chavez and his allies ahead of possible elections later this year.
South America’s biggest oil producer may have to call elections if Chavez, who hasn’t been seen for two months after undergoing cancer surgery in Cuba, dies or steps down. He ordered his government to weaken the exchange rate by 32 percent to 6.3 bolivars per dollar starting Feb. 13, Finance Minister Jorge Giordani told reporters yesterday in Caracas.
A spending spree that almost tripled the fiscal deficit last year helped Chavez, 58, win a third six-year term. The devaluation can help narrow the budget deficit by increasing the amount of bolivars the government receives from oil exports. Yet the move also threatens to accelerate annual inflation that reached 22 percent in January.
“While a weaker currency may stoke inflation, it may also ease shortages of goods ranging from toilet paper to cars because the government was restraining the supply of dollars it allocated to the private sector as it waited for a more favorable rate”, said Francisco Rodriguez, a Latin America economist at Bank of America Corp. in New York.
“Any tackling of the massive economic distortions, even if far more is required, is positively viewed by markets,” Kathryn Rooney Vera, a strategist at Bulltick Capital Markets, said in an interview from Miami. “We expected more, and more is indeed needed to correct fiscal imbalances and adjust economic distortions, but this is something and there may be more to come.”
The weaker exchange rate will give the central government an additional 84.5 billion bolivars ($13.4 billion) in revenue, mostly from oil sales done in dollars, according to Caracas- based research company Ecoanalitica.
Chavez last devalued in December 2010 when he weakened an exchange rate on so-called essential goods by 40 percent, unifying the two fixed foreign exchange rates it had at the time. In January 2010, he had created a multi-tier exchange system in an attempt to spur non-oil exports and curb the consumption of luxury imports. The move prompted Venezuelan consumers to rush to buy appliances including flat-screen televisions before prices were adjusted.
While Bank of America’s Rodriguez estimates that devaluing the currency will reduce the government’s budget deficit by half, he said the government will have to take further measures within the next year.
“It gets them through their most urgent problem which is to generate more bolivars to finance the current spending flow,” Rodriguez said. “This is a move that will turn out to be temporary. They will have to devalue again by the end of the year.”
An inflation rate of 22% p.a. usually doesn't just drop from the sky. It sounds as though the Bolivar printing press has been kept quite busy. Quite possibly the budget deficit was in part financed by the central bank.
Let's consider those shortages for a moment though. “Ranging from toilet paper to cars”? Does Venezuela not even produce toilet paper? We somehow doubt it. However, there have been scattered reports about shortages of food and many other non-durable staple items of daily consumption in Caracas over a number of years.
The main reason for these shortages is simply that the economic policies imposed by Venezuela's government don't work. For instance, similar to what Argentina has recently done, Venezuela has tried to stymie inflation by imposing price controls on food and other items. This has driven many small businessmen to the wall – small butchers, bakers and the like had to close up shop, as the government-imposed maximum prices no longer covered their costs. Shortages of the items concerned are the inevitable result. No doubt the distorted exchange rate and the rationing of dollars also play a role – see for instance .
However, such reports already made the rounds in 2007, and , well before the recent rationing of dollars began. Here is for instance an excerpt from a 2007 article (this was when oil prices had just rallied to all time highs, mind). It correctly blames the price controls for the shortages:
“Welcome to Venezuela, a booming economy with a difference. Food shortages are plaguing the country at the same time that oil revenues are driving a spending splurge on imported luxury goods, prompting criticism of President Hugo Chávez's socialist policies.
Milk has all but vanished from shops. Distraught mothers ask how they are supposed to feed their infants. Many cafes and restaurants serve only black coffee.
Families say eggs and sugar are also a memory. "The last time I had them was September," said Marisol Perez, 51, a housewife in Petare, a sprawling barrio in eastern Caracas.
When supplies do arrive long queues form instantly. Purchases are rationed and hands are stamped to prevent cheating. The sight of a milk truck reportedly prompted a near-riot last week.
Up to a quarter of staple food supplies have been disrupted, according to Datanalisis, a public opinion and economic research group. To Chávez's detractors the scarcity is evidence that his revolutionary "21st century socialism" is driving South America's oil power towards ruin.
Government price controls on staple foods are so low that producers cannot make a profit, they say, and farms and businesses hesitate to invest in crops or machinery, or stockpile inventories, for fear of expropriations.
"We've warned about this from the beginning – all of these price controls in the long run end up producing shortages," Ismael Perez, of the industry group Conindustria, told Reuters.”
Clearly, shortages of basic food items are nothing new for Venezuela. The devaluation from one unrealistic exchange rate to another, only slightly less unrealistic one, won't alter the fundamental problem. One wonders whether the looming ascendance to the throne of vice president Nicolas Maduro – Chavez' designated heir – will change anything. Probably not, considering that his slogan is “I am Chavez”.
Hugo Chavez and his heir designate, Nicolas Maduro: the two seem to have merged, as Maduro lately asserts: “I am Chavez”.
(Photo credit: Matilde Campodonico / AP)
You may have noticed that our so-called “semiannual” funding drive, which started sometime in the summer if memory serves, has seamlessly segued into the winter. In fact, the year is almost over! We assure you this is not merely evidence of our chutzpa; rather, it is indicative of the fact that ad income still needs to be supplemented in order to support upkeep of the site. Naturally, the traditional benefits that can be spontaneously triggered by donations to this site remain operative regardless of the season - ranging from a boost to general well-being/happiness (inter alia featuring improved sleep & appetite), children including you in their songs, up to the likely allotment of privileges in the afterlife, etc., etc., but the Christmas season is probably an especially propitious time to cross our palms with silver. A special thank you to all readers who have already chipped in, your generosity is greatly appreciated. Regardless of that, we are honored by everybody's readership and hope we have managed to add a little value to your life.
Bitcoin address: 1DRkVzUmkGaz9xAP81us86zzxh5VMEhNke
5 Responses to “Boli-Splat”
Most read in the last 20 days:
- Gold – An Overview of Macroeconomic Price Drivers
Fundamental Analysis of Gold As we often point out in these pages, even though gold is currently not the generally used medium of exchange, its monetary characteristics continue to be the main basis for its valuation. Thus, analysis of the gold market requires a different approach from that employed in the analysis of industrial commodities (or more generally, goods that are primarily bought and sold for their use value). Gold's extremely high stock-to-flow ratio and the main source of...
- India – Is Kashmir Gone?
Everything Gets Worse (Part XII) - Pakistan vs. India After 70 years of so-called independence, one has to be a professional victim not to look within oneself for the reasons for starvation, unnatural deaths, utter backwardness, drudgery, disease, and misery in India. Intellectual capital accumulated in the West over the last 2,500 years — available for free in real-time via the internet — can be downloaded by a passionate learner. In the age of modern technology, another mostly...
- Cracks in Ponzi-Finance Land
Retail Debt Debacles The retail sector has replaced the oil sector in a sense, and not in a good way. It is the sector that is most likely to see a large surge in bankruptcies this year. Junk bonds issued by retailers are performing dismally, and within the group the bonds of companies that were subject to leveraged buyouts by private equity firms seem to be doing the worst (a function of their outsized debt loads). Here is a chart showing the y-t-d performance of a number of these...
- Pulling Levers to Steer the Machine
Ticks on a Dog A brief comment on Fed chief Janet Yellen’s revealing speech at the University of Michigan. Bloomberg: “Before, we had to press down on the gas pedal trying to give the economy all of the oomph that we possibly could,” Yellen said Monday in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The Fed is now trying to “give it some gas, but not so much that we’re pushing down hard on the accelerator.” […] “The appropriate stance of policy now is closer to, let me call it...
- French Election – Bad Dream Intrusion
The “Nightmare Option” The French presidential election was temporarily relegated to the back-pages following the US strike on Syria, but a few days ago, the Economist Magazine returned to the topic, noting that a potential “nightmare option” has suddenly come into view. In recent months certainty had increased that once the election moved into its second round, it would be plain sailing for whichever establishment candidate Ms. Le Pen was going to face. That certainty has been...
- Mea Culpa – Precious Metals Supply and Demand
Input Data Errors Dear Readers, I owe you an apology. I made a mistake. I am writing this letter in the first person, because I made the mistake. Let me explain what happened. The wrong stuff went into the funnel in the upper left-hand corner... I wrote software to calculate the gold basis and co-basis (and of course silver too). The app does not just calculate the near contract. It calculates the basis for many contracts out in the distance, so I can see the...
- The Cost of a Trump Presidency
Opportunity Cost Rears its Head Last Thursday’s wanton attack on a Syrian air field by the US and its bellicose actions toward North Korea have brought the real cost of candidate Trump’s landslide victory last November to the forefront. It didn't take long for Donald Trump to drop his non-interventionist mask. The decision was likely driven by Machiavellian considerations with respect to domestic conditions, but that doesn't make it any better. Unlike...
- Heavily Armed Swamp Critters
Worst Mistake GUALFIN, ARGENTINA – By our calculation, it took just 76 days for President Trump to get on board with the Clinton-Bush-Obama agenda. Now there can be no doubt where he’s headed. He’s gone Full Empire. Not that it was unexpected. But the speed with which the president abandoned his supporters and went over to the Deep State is breathtaking. Once there was only a Trump fragrance called Empire... now he has gone full empire himself Among the noise...
- Hell To Pay
Behind the Curve Economic nonsense comes a dime a dozen. For example, Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen “think(s) we have a healthy economy now.” She even told the University of Michigan’s Ford School of Public Policy so earlier this week. Does she know what she’s talking about? Somehow, this cartoon never gets old... If you go by a partial subset of the ‘official’ government statistics, perhaps, it appears she does. The unemployment...
- Central Banks Have a $13 Trillion Problem
Paycheck to Paycheck GUALFIN, ARGENTINA – The Dow was down 118 points on Wednesday. It should have been down a lot more. Of course, markets know more than we do. And maybe this market knows something that makes sense of these high prices. What we see are reasons to sell, not reasons to buy. DJIA daily (incl. Thursday)... it was just taking a rest - click to enlarge. Nearly half of all American families live “paycheck to paycheck,” say researchers. Without...
- French Selection Ritual, Round Two
Slightly Premature Victory Laps The nightmare of nightmares of the globalist elites and France's political establishment has been avoided: as the polls had indicated, Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen are moving on to the run-off election; Jean-Luc Mélenchon's late surge in popularity did not suffice to make him a contender – it did however push the established Socialist Party deeper into the dustbin of history. That was very Trotskyist of him (we can already picture a future Weekly...
- Trump Is An Insider Now
Conspiracy of the Few GUALFIN, ARGENTINA – “U.S. stocks fall on Trump talk…” began a headline at Bloomberg. Or it may be Trump action. We had already counted six major campaign promises – including no O’care repeal and no “America First” foreign policy – already buried (some for the better). A bunch of campaign promises get the MOAB treatment... A great many theories have been proposed to explain Trump's recent series of u-turns: 1. he is in thrall to...