Another 1-minute search, another Venezuela scandal

You folks love these, so don’t mind me if I keep throwing them out there. A pal in Venezuela points out that you need a lot of 50-bolivar notes, now worth about US$1.50, just to get by, and that the 100-bolivar note remains the largest in circulation, five years after the disappearance of three zeroes from the currency so as to “strengthen it.” That’s all old hat, but it drives me to this monthly table from Venezuela’s central bank. Click it, you love Excel tables.

Then, with the miracle of subtraction, I take the number of coins or bills in circulation in June, from the second sheet of that document, and I subtract the number in June 2012, and that way I can see how many new coins and bills have been put into circulation in that 12-month period.

The money shot, if you know what I mean: (Click it if you can’t quite make it out)
Screen Shot 2013-08-13 at 7.45.35 PM

Well that’s good, they’ve printed 250 million new 100-bolivar notes. And some other notes, all fine and dandy. But what’s totally fucking insane is everything less than the 1 bolivar coin. Well, including the 1-bolivar coin, which almost certainly now costs more to mint than it’s worth. But the rest? Not only do they probably cost more than they are worth, they are also not in common circulation. When was the last time you saw a .01-bolivar coin? Someone has seen them: 9.9 million were minted last year. Not just that, but they’ve minted 63.2 million 10-cent pieces and 56.7-million 25-cent pieces, plus 7.8-million of these mysterious lochas! A total of 139.4 million coins worth less than .25 bolivars, well less than 1 US cent. Now, Venezuela’s not alone in this; I know Chile still mints 1-peso (.002 dollars) coins. But here in Chile you see these coins — supermarkets frequently give them as change. In Venezuela, I haven’t been back in a year but even the last time I was there I almost never saw a coin smaller than .5 bolivars (about 6 cents at the time).

So where are these 139.4 million coins? My guess is that someone bought them all for face value, sold them for scrap, and made a nice chunk of change. Out of change. (Alchemy, turn aluminio, zinc and cobre into plata.) But who the hell knows? I guess you could go ask the head of the central bank, if you can figure out who that is these days.

UPDATE: Venezuela doesn’t publish specs for its coins, as far as I can tell, but Chile does, and the 5-peso coin is very similar to the 1-céntimo coin in Venezuela. Based on that spec, it’s about 2 grams of basically copper. So, multiply that by 10 million coins, that’s 20 million grams, or 20 metric tons of copper. The face value of 10 million céntimos is currently about US$3,000 (at 33 bolivars to the dollar). A metric ton of copper currently goes for a little more than US$7,000 in London. So, for US$3,000, you can get yourself about $150,000 worth of copper. Get me a job at the Central Bank of Venezuela!!

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3 thoughts on “Another 1-minute search, another Venezuela scandal

  1. Francisco Toro

    Here’s my guess: the coins never actually got minted. BCV appropriated the money for Casa de la Moneda to procure the copper to mint them, and the money itself got stolen. Since it’d been appropriated, it had to have a counterpart in reported new coins minted…but why go through the whole rigamarole of actually procuring the copper, minting the coin, melting down the coins and selling the copper when you can just steal the same sum via paper and electrons?

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