Confusion reigns as Venezuela braces for release of new banknotes

The new Venezuelan currency will be called the sovereign bolivar — to distinguish from the current, and ironically named strong bolivar, above. (AFP)
Updated 20 August 2018
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Confusion reigns as Venezuela braces for release of new banknotes

  • Caracas is issuing new banknotes after lopping five zeroes off the crippled bolivar
  • The new currency will be anchored to the country’s widely discredited cryptocurrency, the petro

CARACAS: Beleaguered Venezuelans braced Monday for the rollout of President Nicolas Maduro’s radical new plan to curb the spiraling hyperinflation that has thrown their oil-rich, cash-poor nation into turmoil.
Caracas is issuing new banknotes after lopping five zeroes off the crippled bolivar, casting a pall of uncertainty over businesses and consumers across the country.
“There will be a lot of confusion in the next few days, for consumers and the private sector,” said the director of the Ecoanalitica consultancy, Asdrubal Oliveros.
“It’s a chaotic scenario.”
Other measures — revealed by Maduro in a speech to the nation late Friday — include a massive minimum wage hike, the fifth so far this year.
As it stands, the monthly minimum wage — devastated by inflation and the aggressive devaluation of the bolivar — is still not enough to buy a kilogram (2.2 pounds) of meat.
The embattled Maduro, a former bus driver and union leader, said the country needed to show “fiscal discipline” and stop the excessive money printing of recent years.
But economists say the radical overhaul could only make matters worse.
In the capital Caracas, residents were skeptical about the new measures.
“Everything will stay the same, prices will continue to rise,” 39-year-old Bruno Choy, who runs a street food stand, said.
Angel Arias, a 67-year-old retiree, dubbed the new currency a “pure lie!”
Three of the country’s leading opposition groups — Primero Justicia, Voluntad Popular and Causa R — have rejected the reform plan and called for a day of protest on Tuesday.
The new currency, the sovereign bolivar — to distinguish from the current, and ironically named, strong bolivar — will be anchored to the country’s widely discredited cryptocurrency, the petro.
Each petro will be worth about $60, based on the price of a barrel of Venezuelan oil. In the new currency, that will be 3,600 sovereign bolivars — signaling a massive devaluation.
In turn, the minimum wage will be fixed at half a petro (1,800 sovereign bolivars). That is about $28 — more than 34 times the previous level of less than a dollar at the prevailing black market rate.
The socialist president also announced a curb on heavily subsidized fuel in a bid to prevent oil being smuggled to other countries.
Subsidies would only be available to citizens registering their vehicles for a “fatherland card,” which the opposition has decried as a mechanism to exert social control over opponents.
Fuel subsidies have cost Venezuela $10 billion since 2012, according to oil analyst Luis Oliveros, but without them, most people would not be able to buy fuel.
Oliveros also warned that the new bank notes will crumble “within a few months” if hyperinflation is not brought under control.
The International Monetary Fund predicts inflation will hit a staggering one million percent this year in Venezuela — now in a fourth year of recession, hamstrung by shortages of basic goods, and paralyzed public services.
“Don’t pay attention to naysayers,” Information Minister Jorge Rodriguez said, pushing back against criticism of the plan. “With oil income, with taxes and income from gasoline price hikes... we’ll be able to fund our program.”
Oil production accounts for 96 percent of Venezuela’s revenue — but that has slumped to a 30-year low of 1.4 million barrels a day, compared to its record high of 3.2 million 10 years ago.
Maduro’s predecessor Hugo Chavez stripped three zeroes off the bolivar in 2008, but that failed to prevent hyperinflation.


‘Get prices down’ Trump tells OPEC

Updated 20 September 2018
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‘Get prices down’ Trump tells OPEC

  • Trump highlights US security role in region
  • Comments come ahead of oil producers meeting in Algeria

LONDON: US president Donald Trump urged OPEC to lower crude prices on Thursday while reminding Mideast oil exporters of US security support.
He made his remarks on Twitter ahead of a keenly awaited meeting of OPEC countries and its allies in Algiers this weekend as pressure mounts on them to prevent a spike in prices caused by the reimposition of oil sanctions on Iran.
“We protect the countries of the Middle East, they would not be safe for very long without us, and yet they continue to push for higher and higher oil prices!” he tweeted.
“We will remember. The OPEC monopoly must get prices down now!”
Despite the threat, the group and its allies are unlikely to agree to an official increase in output, Reuters reported on Thursday, citing OPEC sources.
In June they agreed to increase production by about one million barrels per day (bpd). That decision was was spurred by a recovery in oil prices, in part caused by OPEC and its partners agreeing to lower production since 2017.
Known as OPEC+, the group of oil producers which includes Russia are due to meet on Sunday in Algiers to look at how to allocate the additional one million bpd within its quote a framework.
OPEC sources told Reuters that there was no immediate plan for any official action as such a move would require OPEC to hold what it calls an extraordinary meeting, which is not on the table.
Oil prices slipped after Trumps remarks, with Brent crude shedding 40 cents to $79 a barrel in early afternoon trade in London while US light crude was unchanged at about $71.12.
Brent had been trading at around $80 on expectations that global supplies would come under pressure from the introduction of US sanctions on Iranian crude exports on Nov. 4.
Some countries has already started to halt imports from Tehran ahead of that deadline, leading analysts to speculate about how much spare capacity there is in the Middle East to compensate for the loss of Iranian exports as well as how much of that spare capacity can be easily brought online after years of under-investment in the industry.
Analysts expect oil to trend higher and through the $80 barrier as the deadline for US sanctions approaches.
“Brent is definitely fighting the $80 line, wanting to break above,” said SEB Markets chief commodities analyst Bjarne Schieldrop, Reuters reported. “But this is likely going to break very soon.”