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Inflation-wracked Venezuela orders bank notes by the planeload

Section: Daily Dispatches

By Kejal Vyas
Dow Jones News Service
via Morningstar, Chicago, Illinois
Wednesday, February 3, 2016

CARACAS, Venezuela -- Millions of pounds of provisions, stuffed into three-dozen 747 cargo planes, arrived here from countries around the world in recent months to service Venezuela's crippled economy.

But instead of food and medicine, the planes carried another resource that often runs scarce here: bills of Venezuela's currency, the bolivar.

The shipments were part of a massive import of at least five billion bank notes that President Nicolas Maduro's administration authorized over the latter half of 2015 as the government boosts the supply of the country's increasingly worthless currency, according to seven people familiar with the deals.

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And the Venezuelan government isn't finished. In December the central bank began secret negotiations to order 10 billion more bills, five of these people said, which would effectively double the amount of cash in circulation. That order alone is well above the eight billion notes the U.S. Federal Reserve and the European Central Bank each print annually -- dollars and euros that unlike bolivars are used worldwide.

Four spokesmen from Venezuela's central bank didn't respond to calls and emails seeking comment.

Economists say the purchases could exacerbate Venezuela's economic meltdown: injecting large numbers of freshly printed notes is likely to stoke inflation, which the International Monetary Fund estimates will this year hit 720 percent, the world's highest rate.

Central-bank data show Venezuela in 2015 more than doubled monetary liquidity, a measure used to gauge all money in the economy, including bank deposits.

Printing more bolivars is weakening the currency further. This week, the bolivar broke the psychologically important level of 1,000 per dollar for the first time on the country's thriving black market. The country has several official exchange rates, including 6.3 bolivars to the dollar.

Venezuela's 30 million people can't seem to get cash fast enough, said Steve H. Hanke, an expert on troubled currencies at Johns Hopkins University. "People want cash because they want to get rid of it as fast as they can," he said. ...

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