Venezuela’s Black Market Bolivar Slides to Record Low

Venezuela’s bolivar fell to a record low against the U.S. dollar on the black market today as the government tightens currency rationing to pay maturing debt.

A dollar fetched 89 bolivars on the Colombian border today, compared with the official exchange rate of 6.3 bolivars, according to dolartoday.com, a rate-tracking website. Two black market traders in Caracas, who asked not to be named because the trading isn’t legal, confirmed the record-low rate.

Inflation reached 60.9 percent in May, the last month for which figures are available, while according to economists surveyed by Bloomberg gross domestic product shrank 2.1 percent in the second quarter. The economic decline is pushing people to seek out dollars to protect the value of their savings, at the same time that the government tightens supply, Henkel Garcia, director of Caracas-based consulting firm Econometrica, said by telephone.

“The government has reduced disbursements of dollars at the secondary markets in recent weeks,” said Garcia, citing non-public data from the Venezuelan Banking Association. “They are trying to save up as many dollars as possible to meet obligations to bondholders.”

Venezuela has $4.5 billion of bonds maturing in October, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The country’s foreign reserves reached an 11-year low of $20.1 billion on Aug. 21.

Currency Controls

Officials have tried jailing traders, shuttering brokerages and setting up four parallel exchange systems to stem the rise of the unofficial rate in the 11 years since former President Hugo Chavez began controlling the bolivar’s price. Currency controls have failed to slow the world’s fastest inflation, while leading to shortages of everything from razors to cars.

“We are going to defeat the parallel dollar,” Economy Vice President Rafael Ramirez said March 20 as he announced the latest government-run parallel currency market. The system, known as Sicad II, allows companies and individuals to buy dollars in restricted quantities for about 50 bolivars each, an 87 percent devaluation from the official exchange rate.

The bolivar has slumped 34 percent in the black market since Sicad II started.

“Unifying the exchange rate is the only way to eliminate the shortages of hard currency,” Joe Kogan, head of emerging markets strategy at Bank of Nova Scotia, said by telephone from New York. “But it would come at the cost of a lot of political support for the government, as people rely on the official rate for everything from savings to vacation planning.”

Venezuela’s benchmark dollar bonds due in 2027 fell 0.44 cent at 12:37 a.m. in New York to 79.01 cents on the dollar. Yields on the note rose 8 basis points to 12.56 percent.

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