Venezuela's inflation rate tops 40,000 per cent for first time ever

Rise in global oil prices adding to the pain

Gina Heeb
Sunday 01 July 2018 12:03 BST
Violent protests erupt in Venezuela against President Maduro

Venezuela's inflation rate has hit a new high with consumer prices in the crisis-ridden country rising by more than 40,000 per cent annually for the first time on record, according a top economist.

Steve Hanke, an applied economics professor at Johns Hopkins University, told Business Insider on Friday that annual inflation in the country has risen as high as 41,838 percent.

Professor Hanke, who calculated the inflation figure, has tracked prices in the country for more than two decades.

Venezuela's government has largely stopped reporting economic data, including internal measures of inflation. The Central Bank of Venezuela, which did not immediately respond to request for comment, has not independently released inflation figures in at least a year.

Venezuelan president, Nicolas Maduro, has passed blame for the roiled economy onto others, including opposition activists and officials in Washington. At a campaign rally in May, he blamed hyperinflation on "criminal mafias."

But economists point out that Mr Maduro runs the unorthodox policies they say have pushed the country into economic crisis. The socialist leader has repeatedly refused international aid to Venezuela.

Man suffers violent beating from police in Venezuela

"It's internal," Professor Hanke said. "Government spending continues to accelerate and the sources of revenue start drying up."

The government has defaulted on a majority of their outstanding bonds, which economists estimate add up to about $60 billion (£45 million). Foreign exchange reserves have fallen by about $2.5 billion ($1.9 million) in the last three months, according to analysis by Capital Economics.

As state-run oil industry PDVSA falls apart, economists say a rise in global oil prices is adding to the pain. Brent crude oil is up more than 64 percent this year. And as President Donald Trump cracks down on Iran via zero-tolerance oil sanctions, the international benchmark has rallied more than 8 percent this week.

Production at PDVSA - which accounts for 95 percent of export earnings in the country and a quarter of gross domestic product - was cut in half from January 2016 to January 2018, according to the US Energy Information Administration. And as the crisis deepens, operations are continuing to wane.

Those conditions, Professor Hanke said, have all but killed investor sentiment.

"There's an expectation part of it, too," Professor Hanke added. "Everyone who has a bolivar wants to get rid of it like a hot potato because they expect it's not going to be worth anything tomorrow."

The International Monetary Fund estimated in January that Venezuela's inflation rate could rise as high as 13,000 percent for all of 2018. Professor Hanke was unsurprised by the discrepancy, saying no one can "accurately forecast the course or the duration of a hyperinflation."

But economists and activists say hyperinflation's presence now is clear. A recent university study found that about 90 percent of civilians were living in poverty last year and most of those surveyed had lost an average of 25 pounds in body weight.

"The hyperinflation is devastating the economy," said Andres Abadia, a senior economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics. He expects the economy to contract in 2018, for a fifth consecutive year, and sees no turnaround in the near-term.

Mr Abadia said Venezuela is a "disaster area" and that as long as Mr Maduro is in power, the economy will "continue to collapse." But Mr Maduro reaffirmed his tight grip on power last month, easily winning another six-year term in what was widely condemned as a fraudulent election.

Mr Maduro tripled wages earlier in June to 3 million bolivars per month, which Reuters reported at the time was equal to just more than a dollar at the black-market exchange rate.

When asked if the wage increase might improve living conditions in Venezuela, Professor Hanke replied: "No, it's a joke. Hardly a drop in the bucket."

Business Insider

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