In Defense Of Bachaqueros

August 30, 2015

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In the beginning, there were arbitrageurs, those that perform a risk free operation, whereby you take advantage of differences in prices, to buy a good cheaper that you can sell it somewhere else and make a profit. These types of arbitrage opportunities may arise because of geographical differences, or due to the presence of borders or even long distances. Arbitrage is as old as markets have existed, people are always looking for profit opportunities and if they involve no risk, they become very attractive. In general, arbitrage reduces the difference in price between the two items, making markets more efficient. If prices are more expensive in Caracas for say lettuce, those that produce lettuce will take their product to Caracas, as long as transportation costs are less than the difference and local prices will drop.

Arbitrage is at least as old as Rome, one of the first few markets that had some level of organization. Since then, arbitrage became common in finance, when numerous ways to arbitrage markets were implemented. Of course, the more these arbitrage opportunities, the smaller the differences become, but sometimes arbitrage is possible only if you have capital, a technological advantage or some legal advantage. As examples, people do arbitrage in minute and temporary differences in currencies, but they do with such large capitals that the profit is significant. Others arbitrage, for example, the price of shares that trade in local exchanges and those that trade abroad; local brokers have the advantage of direct access to local trading, while having accounts abroad to sell or buy the shares they buy or sell locally. There are costs involved, but sometimes those opportunities arise. As another example, organizations arbitrage the price of the stocks that are part of a stock index, against the purchase (or sale) of the individual stocks, whenever this is possible.

And then, there are bachaqueros…

Bachaqueo is an activity that, until recently, was nothing more than the geographical arbitrage of gasoline. Over the years, Colombia has always had higher gasoline prices, not only because its price has always been at international levels, but also because it imposed higher taxes than Venezuela on it. Meanwhile, on this side of the border, gasoline has always been cheaper at the wholesale level, because Venezuelan politicians have always set the price below international prices. There has always been a feeling that this was some form of “birth right”.

While many people think that the origin of the term bachaquero is somehow due to the town of Bachaquero in Zulia State, the truth is that the term arises from the large ants near the border, called “bachacos”, which cut leaves from plants and bring the pieces back to their nests, mostly at night, forming a long caravan. These bachacos can carry more than their weight, are very strong and can remove  all leaves from a plant in one night.

And the origin of the term bachaqueo and bachaquero for gasoline smuggling arose because when price differences were small, bachaqueros, mostly in the border between Zulia State and Venezuela, would cross the border at night, each person carrying a drum of gasoline on their back, heavier than each of them, all in a single caravan, either to bypass the authorities, or to go precisely using the path where the authorities had been bribed.

Of course, as the difference in price between the two sides became wider, the business became more organized. As chips were introduced to control traffic even more, the bachaquero caravan was replaced with long lines of drums, long lines of 350 trucks and more modernly, long lines of gasoline trucks, controlled by Mafias on both sides of the border. I posted this picture a year ago:

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However, as shortages became more prevalent and the Bolivar depreciated even further, the term bachaquero and bachaqueo was extended. It became a fully conjugated verb, as more and more people at all levels of society saw the opportunity for arbitrage, not only between Venezuela and Colombia, but also within Venezuela with those items that are hard to get.

Venezuelans at all levels, have become the ultimate arbitrageurs, finding that arbitrage is very profitable in the presence of widespread distortions and shortages, with gasoline, food, pharmaceuticals, you name it.

And as the Government began demonizing bachaqueros and bachaqueo, very successfully I must say, people have started buying the story of how bachaqueo is the source of our problems.

But not only has the Government created the distortions that gave rise to these arbitrage opportunities, whether legal or illegal, but it has been doing it ever since it began controls in 2003:

-It was arbitrage (Bachaqueo?) when the Government began selling bonds in US dollars in order to relieve the pressure  in the parallel market in 2004. People would sometimes buy these bonds, turn around and sell them and immediately sell the dollars in the then legal permuta market, making a profit. There was some risk, but it was minimal. And the Government did it over and over again.

-It was arbitrage (Bachaqueo?) when people asked for their CADIVI dollars and immediately turned around and sold part of their dollars in the parallel market in order to pay for their trip or part of it. And this certainly was not legal.

-And it was arbitrage (Bachaqueo?) when people asked for foreign currency to study abroad and as they received the money, immediately turning around, sell the dollars and with a fraction of them, pay for the whole education.

-And my imaginary friend Oligarco Burguesito was a bachaquero, as were raspa-cupos (credit card scratchers), importers who over billed, my “Buhonero del Aire” (Airborne street vendor) friend who would go to Miami, come back with a suitcase full of veterinary pharmaceuticals, which he would sell at exorbitant prices because of shortages.

-And, of course, the ultimate crooked arbitrageours and bachaqueros, were those “insiders” that in 2012 alone requested dollars for imports that never arrived and made US$ 22 billion in profit, importing nothing, according to former Minister Giordani.

And I could go on…

But you get the point, few Venezuelans have not participated in some form of bachaquerismo and now is not the time to get outraged over it. The Government is now demonizing them and carefully chose the Barrio “La Invasión” in the border between Tachira State and Colombia to make the point and blame these poor Colombians for the shortages created by the Government’s stupid economic policies. Promoting hate and xenophobia in the process, all in the name of obtaining votes.

And it wants to make believe that closing the border between ten Tachira municipalities and Colombia will solve the problem, as if the organized bachaqueros used the Simon Bolivar bridge or formal roads to take their stuff to Colombia.

Or for that matter, to Guyana, Brazil or the Caribbean islands. (Take a Peñero full of rice sacks which cost Bs. 400 in Venezuela to Aruba and sell them each at Bs. 8,000 and you make more than the salary of a high Executive in bank in Venezuela, in just one trip)

In fact, it is well known that the large volume traffic, where millions (or billions) of dollars are made, goes through dozens of dirt roads mostly between the Venezuelan and Colombia’s Guajiras, through Zulia, not Tachira State. And those roads, or well developed “trochas” are controlled by the Venezuelan military, the Colombian military, the indians, the paramilitary, etc, but if you pay a bribe at each stop, you can get your trucks through.

It takes a few trucks to take the estimated 70,000 to 80,000 barrels of gasoline through the Colombian border.

And individual bachaqueros move only a fraction of that.

And I have yet to hear the Government jail or charge a single military officer for allowing these large scale bachaqueo to go through the border. And Maduro totally avoided this question in his “press conference” with the international press last week.

In the end bachaqueros are economic agents. If economics is about the allocation of scarce resources to satisfy the unlimited needs of the people, bachaqueros have become the ultimate agents of arbitrage, allocation and distribution of goods in Venezuela.

In one of the few finance courses I ever took, the first slide said: “When Governments create or change rules there is an opportunity for arbitrage or profit”. Bachaqueo and Bachaqueros are just the result of an absurd and infinite number of rules and controls imposed by Chavismo on the Venezuelan economy since 2002.

Blame Chavismo, not them.

And certainly don’t blame the poor Colombians from La Invasion, who have been cheated, abused, denied due process and pushed into rivers like animals, like the picture above, forced to leave what they called home for the last ten years. All under the supervision of the “Bolivarian” Armed Forces and Police. Símón Bolivar would be ashamed of the both the name and the actions.

And so am I.


The Devil Meets Forces Beyond His Control

August 28, 2015

A couple of days ago, I wanted to do a post about the current crisis in the Venezuela-Colombia border and when I tried to go to the Editor, this is what I found:

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You can imagine my surprise. Over the years I have encountered threats and suits, but I had never had trouble posting over such a vague “concern” and obviously worried about what it was that WordPress had concerns about.

I wrote back and I got a message that said something like:

After the receipt of a valid report regarding the publication of private/personal information forbidden by our Terms of Service, posting access to your WordPress.com site has been disabled. If you would like to delete the information in question from the above posts or pages, the site may be returned to normal. If you feel otherwise, you are free to export your content and move it to a more appropriate WordPress host

Thus, it was move or die…

The post in question was a 2009 post containing information that is widely available on the web, so it seemed more important for me to continue posting and I offered to remove the material, thinking they would do it. I also noted that the material is widely available, inclusively in other wordpress blogs. I also told them that I disagreed with the procedure of stopping me from posting first and later asking me to remove the material. They were basically blocking me from posting without me having any alternative.

At this point I got this response:
I have temporarily lifted the suspension, but will have to suspend the site indefinitely if you are unable to comply with the request.”

Of course, the problem is that I still did not know what the “request” was, since the precise “information” that was forbidden in the Terms of Service was never specified. Since I did not know the specific material, I went ahead and deleted the post, which was from 2009.

I am, of course, deeply disturbed by all this. I have simply met forces beyond my control. Someone can go to WordPress and complain and without any context, my site can be blocked if I don’t agree to remove the material. It seems I have few rights, unless I want to get into  a long-winded fight, while I am unable to post, at a time that it seems very important to post about what is going on in Venezuela.

And being able to post seems to be what is important at this time…

Even more ominous, it seems as if bloggers have little power to fight this, as blog sites are more concerned with not incurring in costs associated with defending the right to say things, than allowing for the truth to be told.

The case involved, as I said, is irrelevant to current Venezuela, but this leaves a very bitter taste in my mouth. because there are forces out there that are more powerful than those that speak and defend the truth, and it is difficult for us to defend ourselves.

And wordpress is just taking the easy way out, which makes me mad and certainly will push me into considering an alternative. If my blog could simply be suspended overnight without me having even the possibility of defending myself, I certainly don’t want to live in this neighborhood ans feel defrauded by the “wonderful” WordPress platform that was supposed to “grow” with me…


Maduro Declares State of Emergency In Parts of Tachira State

August 23, 2015

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I can only worry about the decision by Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro to declare a State of Emergency in five municipalities of Tachira State, a state that borders with Colombia.

To begin with, the action that originated it, the non-deadly shooting of some military personnel carrying out an anti-smuggling operation in that State, is certainly not the most serious incident either near the border, nor in Venezuela, to justify decreeing a State of Emergency.

But the extent of the terms of the State of Emergency, seems a little exaggerated and certainly prone to abuse. While we do not know the terms of the decree, which has yet to be published, according to the Governor of Aragua State (Why him?) who made the announcement in the name of the Government, Articles 47, 48, 50, 53, 68 and 112 of the Constitution have been suspended in those municipalities. So that you don’t have to go read the Constitution if you don’t want to, these articles deal with:

-Neither home nor your private communications can be intervened without a judicial order to do so.

-You can move freely and with your property around the country and leave the country as you wish.

-You can gather publicly and privately for legal purposes.

-You have the right to protest peacefully.

-You have the freedom to devote yourself to the private economic activity of your choice.

Now, while Governor El Aissami said that Human Rights would be preserved, suspending all of these article of the Constitution constitutes a violation of democratic principles and it is hard to imagine how these articles can be suspended and any action taken without the violation of Human Rights. If your home is invaded, if your communications are violated, if you can not gather with others or protest and if you are not allowed to carry out your daily business, your human rights are being abused and violated. No democracy can afford to suspend all or any of these rights guaranteed by the Venezuelan Constitution.

But even more importantly, how is it that an incident like the one that caused this leads the Government to suspend all of these guarantees, but, for example, the death of 30-40 people, including cops in clashes in Caracas’ Cota 905 do not require the same reaction?

The answer is simple: Maduro could care less about the incident, he was just looking for an excuse to create an incident with Colombia, given that the clash with Guyana did little or nothing to increase his popularity. In fact, Maduro made some very incendiary statements about the Colombians that are coming to Venezuela, at a time that such a flow is minimal, given that economic conditions on this side of the border are so unattractive. In fact, as I described in my previous post, the reverse is true, for the first time in a long time, the flow is in the opposite direction, as Colombians with Venezuelan papers are flooding the border area as they flee scarcity and hyperinflation.

And as you an see in the following video, even if the border is closed, it is not closed for expelling Colombians that live in Venezuela (Nobody knows if legally or not, nobody asked), as they were not only bused out of the country, but badly treated:

In the video you can even see kids being expelled without due process and one of the guys, who lives in Venezuela states they were treated like dogs and denied food for two days. And there are reports of the National Guard searching homes in these counties, painting a very fascist R in red or blue on each house to signify that the house has been checked (Registrada) (More here)

And the worry is why Maduro has decided to create this artificial crisis at this time. It is obvious that he is doing it for electoral purposes, Chávez did it in his time. But how far is he willing to take the conflict with his former new best friend Santos?

And even more worrisome, if Maduro is willing to do this 100 days before the parliamentary election, does he have a plan to extend this State of emergency as he wishes in order to gain popularity or limit the ability of the opposition to mobilize?

The Government’s popularity is down, they can probably limit the number of Deputies of the opposition to a simple majority, but with inflation accelerating, Maduro may be ready to step over the line if his popularity falls further. Chávez used to say that it was only in the Fourth Republic that rights were suspended, but here is his anointed successor doing precisely that, a clear sign that all bets are off going forward.

Meanwhile the opposition is incredibly quiet, as if Tachira was a far away place, rather than an opposition stronghold. Why aren’t opposition leaders present in Tachira provoking the Government or helping to protect Venezuelans and Colombians and Colombian/Venezuelans whose rights are being abused? Is the MUD going to limit itself to issuing bland statements that no media broadcasts? Is anybody going to question what it is that provoked the State of Emergency which state media justifies rather easily as paramilitary attacks on Venezuela’s Armed Forces?

I have no answers for the MUD’s passivity. This is a golden opportunity to show the country and the world the fascism and abuses of the Maduro Government. If nothing is done to slow down the Government in its attempt to escalate the conflict with Colombia, the Maduro administration may create a conflict that would give it an excuse to postpone the election if they deem it necessary.

And as usual its equally undemocratic friends around Latin America will blame the opposition and/or Colombia for it.


Venezuela And Colombia: A Joint Future

August 17, 2015

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I was in Colombia last week. As the price of oil hit its lower level in five years, the Colombian peso was reaching a five year bottom, Bogota’s real state prices were dropping, the economy was slowing, but most people in Bogota seemed to be thinking, real state can not get lower than this and the price for the US$ is simply speculation, so why should I pay more for it?

Few seemed to see what I saw, that the peso will keep devaluing as oil drops and that the twenty year boom in real state prices is over. But sometimes changes are hard to see if you are a local.

Which made me think about the impact of what is going on in both Venezuela and Colombia in the future. And it is simply very bleak…

Think about it, at a time that Colombia is having a hard time with its finances and the peso devaluing, more than one million Colombian/Venezuelans or Venezuelan/Colombians are thinking of going back to Colombia, as jobs are ever more scarce in that country. And the Santos administration  is not even looking at the problem: What are these people going to do? Where will they work? Who will employ them?

Because Colombians are more concerned with other problems, like increasing taxes to cover the deficit, or the FARC negotiations. Meanwhile, the economy seems to be running away from them.

But, without being a doomsday predictor, imagine some likely scenarios: Oil keeps dropping, the deficit keeps widening in Colombia, which only exacerbates the problem. What happens at $ 30 per barrel, how about $20, and don’t even think about $10.

But that is precisely the scenario we should be thinking about. At US$ 30 per barrel, which technically seems to be quite feasible, things would get so bad in Venezuela, which not only it would drive many Colombians out of Venezuela, but may force the Government of Venezuela, current or future, to equilibrate prices. And in such an equilibrium, not only will there be another million of Colombians be driven out of Venezuela, but there will be the destruction of thousands of jobs for Colombians, currently involved in the arbitrage of prices between the two countries.

To begin, he elimination or reduction of the arbitrage will be a severe blow to the Colombian economy. Not only will 25% of the oil sold in Colombia (local estimates of what is extracted from Venezuela) go back up to international prices, but thousands of items from food, to medicines, to every day items will no longer be available at much lower prices. And even worse, those currently employed in Colombia in the bachaquero/arbitrage industries, will lose their jobs. Just like that…

And we are talking of thousands of jobs, as evidenced by a friend of mine who went to the Guajira region and found that after a certain point, “formal” gas stations disappear, as “bachaqueros” take over from them, selling gasoline in containers and sophisticated pumping systems at a 30%-40% discount to Colombian prices.

Which implies that the humanitarian crisis will not be exclusive to Venezuela, but a joint problem. A problem that makes Venezuela’s future closely linked to Colombia’s. We face a joint future, which politician’s seem to be ignoring. But if oil truly goes down to the low 30’s as many expect it, it is a joint future for the two countries.

And is not a pretty one.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


The Uncertain Outcome Of The Venezuelan Parliamentary Election

August 10, 2015

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On Dec, 6th. Venezuela will elect its new National Assembly. Clearly, the opposition will get the most votes, likely by a large margin. But will the opposition “win”. That I am not so sure. Yes, the odds are in its favor and Chavismo seems to be screwing up the economy sufficiently that there is no way Chavismo can win.

But I worry.

I worry, because Chavismo will pull out the 1001 tricks, from gerrymandering, to banning candidates, to cheating. And it is clear that today, Chavismo thinks that it will win. But I think they should be worried too. The trend is so bad for them, that they may need twice as many dirty tricks to win by the time December comes around. As I noted in my last post, the acceleration of inflation, discontent, protests and scarcity is such, that in four months, very few of the hard core Chavistas will give Maduro the benefit of the doubt.

But this does not mean they will vote for the opposition. And the opposition will need all the votes it can get. In fact, the opposition le by the MUD called for a march last weekend. And so few people went, that there were no marches. Some political parties did not even show up. In the end, the “leaders” addressed the militants, but most people that went, left early, disappointed at the non-event.

So, let me show you why I worry.

First, let’s try to remember the last Parliamentary elections. In the last Parliamentary election, Chavismo got 48.1% of the vote and the opposition got 50.2% of the vote. But Chavismo got 59.4% of the Deputies (98 of them) and the opposition only got 40.6% of them (67 Deputies).

Now, most people think that this was mostly due to gerrymandering, the effect of redistricting to favor Chavismo. However, estimates are that the opposition should have obtained 84 Deputies if the system was exactly proportional or a difference of only 17 Deputies (84 for the opposition and 81 for Chavismo). But only 5 of them would be explained by gerrymandering.

The second origin of the difference is that the “opposition” that got 50.2% of the votes, was composed of two parties: The MUD, which got 47.1% and PPT which got 3.2%. Thus, even in the strict sense of the word, Chavismo would have had a majority, as that division between MUD and PPT implied in a “proportional system” that Chavismo would get 84 Deputies and the MUD 76, while PPT would have obtained 4. Add three Deputies that were simply due to this “division”.  Remember this factor later in the post.

A more important factor is the over representation of less populated states. When the Constitution was changed and the Senate was eliminated, each State got three Deputies first then however many their population  would imply. Thus, humble Delta Amacuro with 100,000 voters has 4 Deputies, one for its population and 3 for being a State. Zulia, in contrast, has 15 Deputies, only five times more than Delta Amacuro, despite having a population that is twenty times more.

Similarly, up to 1997, each circuit could not vary by more than a certain amount. This was eliminated and the CNE can decide how few or how many people elect one Deputy in each district. The CNE has wrecked havoc with this.

Other effects, for example, is that PPT got 28% of the vote in Lara State and got no Deputies.

My whole point here is that Chavismo will do anything to manipulate and obtain an edge in the upcoming election.

So, when I hear that Ramos Allup is a candidate in Caracas and Marquina in Lara, I have to worry, because by choosing people arbitrarily and not by primaries, the MUD may be playing into unintended consequences.

And I worry even more when I hear that Claudio Fermín (Yes, he is alive) has decided to run candidates in 16 States, which will run against both the opposition candidates and Chavista candidates. Now, I have no reasons to question Mr. Fermín’s allegiances, integrity and/or beliefs, but after being a no-show in Venezuelan politics for so long, all of a sudden Mr. Fermín has found the resources (read: money) and the people (where?) to run candidacies in 16 States?

Really? Who is paying for this? Pardon me if I am being cynical.

And these candidates will run as “opposition candidates”, against Chavista candidates, managing to do exactly what we don’t want: divide opposition votes. They would help more if they ran like Chavistas. But that is not what they are being paid for.

But the MUD set up itself for a maneuver like this (No doubt promoted and financed by Chavismo) by not holding primaries, by cornering power within the MUD by people that have no constituency and believing that their manipulation will not impact the final number of Deputies.

In one sentence: For being stupid and arrogant.

So, now go back to the thought that PPT subtracted Deputies from the opposition’s total in the 2010 election just by running separately and you will know where I am coming from.  I would not be surprised if Fermín’s candidates are sprinkled selectively in precisely the districts where the opposition may be running into competition.

A carefully placed (and well funded) candidate in ten or fifteen districts, could switch the election to the other side.

Add to that banning people like Maria Corina, cheating, electoral centers with no opposition witnesses, good organizers like Ledezma and Leopoldo being in jail, and it all adds up. You could turn the election on a dime.

And thus, I am worried. Non-marches like last Saturday’s worry me. Movements to have people not vote worry me. The after effect of a loss on Dec. 6th. worries me. Marquina being a candidate in Lara worries me  and the fact that Ramus Allup could get another four years in Venezuelan’s political life, gives me nightmares.

Which is not to say that Chavismo should not be worried. Given the trends, people may be so mad by the time election time comes around that there is no amount of tricks that can help Chavismo. In fact, Chavistas may just stay home and the opposition may surprise the tricksters.

But it is not a predictable outcome and the MUD has not done, in my opinion, the required “smart” job to insure victory. In fact, I think it has done the opposite: It has created the possibility that Chavismo could win, by being so narcissistic and selfish. Legislative elections are won on regional factors, not on playing favorites on parties that have little popularity and constituencies.

You’ve been warned…


A Not So Subtle Change In Venezuela

August 4, 2015

I just came back to Caracas and my conclusion is simple: Things changed so much in five weeks, that everything seems to be happening at a faster pace, prices going up, scarcity at all-time high levels, people fed up, conflicts growing within the Government, violence increasing and Maduro focused on his war on the “Economic War” which all it does is make him the most popular Chavista, but not necessarily very popular.

But the two most significant factors are the rate at which prices are moving up (previous post) and the ease with which angry mobs  (above) have decided to loot and riot at the smallest excuse. Yes, the problem is the Government controls the media and few people see what is going on, but the looting is taking place in traditional Chavista strongholds. And they don’t occur because people are fed up of lining up to get something, they take place because people are fed up of standing in line and getting nothing: Neither bread, nor Harina Pan, nor diapers, nor contraceptives. It used to be a moment of triumph to find something, now the moments of victory are few and far between.

And every day, there is a new item that can´t be found, last week, as I came back it was bread and toothpaste. Great for my diet, no sandwiches for the Devil! Nor Cachitos, nor bombas, nor palmeras.

We are talking serious scarcity here!

Like there are also no Bills to pay things for. Despite an 80% increase in monetary liquidity (M2), the largest Bill is still Bs. 100, US$ 15.9 at the official rate, 50 cents at the Simadi official rate, but a scant 14 cents at the parallel rate.

To say nothing of the fact that when you call abroad you have to choose your carrier, as most have stopped carrying calls to less “popular”countries, in order to make it less noticeable that they are not paying their counterparts. That is why with a carrier I use, Switzerland is unreachable, while Spain and the US are still connected.

And people know who to blame, from Barinas to Apure. Oh yes, Maduro is popular among the 17% of the population that thinks of itself as Chavista. But the rest? They are looking for a leader and the prize is there to be taken.

Because inflation is not going to subside at a time that M2 and scarcity are accelerating. So, for the first time, I think the probability of “something” happening this year is not small. In fact it is quite significant. (30%?)

And what I mean by “something” is some form of Chavista cabal deciding to ask Maduro to step aside, get sick, move away and let someone save Chavismo. The “Patria” is another matter, for  now, it is only Chavismo that requires to be saved.

In fact, doing something like that may be exactly what Chavismo needs to spice up the Parliamentary elections. Otherwise, they act, but the elections  get postponed in the name of stability and peace.

What evidence do I have for this? The fact that a General was removed for killing some leaders of the “Colectivos”a few months ago, but these days the Government regularly carries out “Peace campaigns” in which 20 or 30 members of the Colectivos are simply killed by police or military.

Or the fact that military officers resent some of the recent promotions to Generals for the new (BoliGenerals 2.0) even richer Government officials, which have stepped down to enjoy their riches while controlling the purses of their former positions.

And you may ask: Why hasn’t something happened yet? Easy, no single group within the military feels they have control or they will be backed in their actions…yet. So, they wait in the shadows ready to save the revolutionaries, if not the revolution.

And perhaps the biggest signal of how bad things are, is that that the payroll in many companies is a couple of thousand dollars a month for many small and medium sized companies. Why close then if you are losing money? Wait it out, keep your employees fed and hope for the best. It is only ten grand a year and the reward could be big.

And that is why on the thirteenth anniversary of this blog I can stick my head out and suggest that there is some light at the end of the tunnel before the end of 2015, even if that light is still looks very red to me. The pace of change is just too fast. And if I am allowed to extrapolate even further after thirteen years, those that may force the change may find out that their own actions  may accelerate change in a direction different than the one where they want to go. You see, if people think there is going to be change, they will probably ask for more than those forcing the change may be thinking of.

A not so subtle change is taking place and things are sure to accelerate in the months ahead…

 

 


Hypeinflated Arepa Index (HAI) Part VII: Inflation Accelerates

July 26, 2015

ArepaJulyI arrived to Caracas thinking that after the big jump in the price of my favorite arepa, the arepa de queso de mano (hand cheese, a uniquely Venezuelan cheese) in the last two months, there would be a lull and the pace of increase would slow down.

But it was not to be, the price actually jumped 46.7% since five weeks ago, a jump actually quite similar to that of the April to May change. At this pace (average so far in seven plus months), we would be at Bs. 675 by November 17, the first year anniversary of the index, which would be a 337% increase in the HAI (Hyperinflated Arepa Index) for 12 months, but since it is clearly accelerating (46.7% in 35 days is close to 5,000% per year!), we should see a higher number.

Since some people have asked, I eat this arepa, which is delicious and my favorite, at the same arepera close to where I stay in Caracas, in order to be consistent in the measurements.I will not say which one, to protect my source of these delicious arepas.

That prices are accelerating is very clear to anyone coming here. I always keep a few Bills  to buy stuff on Sundays at the Mercado Libre where I like to shop. I only buy three or four identical things. Well, lately, I have begun paying with credit cards, so as not to run out of cash.

A second observation is that I went to buy bread and there was none in my usual bakery, due to the lack of flour. And at a drugstore, full of empty shelves, I was told the “sought out” item of the moment is toothpaste, either because there are shortages, or because there are rumors that the price is going to jump up. I was also told that when this particular drugstore receives locally made toothpaste, a swarm of “bachaqueros” (the name given these days to anyone that lives off the arbitrage of regulated or scarce products) shows up, mostly in motorcycles, soon afterwards and buys the whole inventory.


Exponential Growth Of The Unmentionable Parallel Exchange Rate

July 10, 2015

Since people are so scandalized by the recent surge in the unmentionable parallel rate, I decided to look at it on a logarithmic scale to see if the recent movement was out of the ordinary. Thus, I simply plotted that rate of how many Bolivars you need to buy a dollar if you can find one for sale and I must say I was truly surprised at what I found: Bs$2 The first thing that is surprising is how from August 2012 to February 2014 the process was simply exponential: It took about 16-17 months for the rate to change by one order of magnitude and I could draw the straight red dashed line quite easily through the rate for that period. Then, it turns out that the rate of growth slowed down for a period and then from about August 2014 to a month ago, the rate became, once again, exponential, you can see the green dashed line (which is also hand drawn) has roughly (even if it is less regular) the same slope as the red line. Then, recently, there was this increase, which is really small in the scale of things, and which simply wold be catching up to where it should be if there had not been a pause last year (Which was caused by expectations that the Government was ready to “do something” about the multiple exchange rate system)

What does it mean that it grows exponentially? Nothing profound, simply that the rate of growth (in this case 177%) is a constant. That is, for example, if you have $1000 and you get 7% interest, your money will more or less double in ten years, then double again in ten more and so on. Which implies that in ten years you have $2000, in twenty $4000 and in thirty $8000, grow exponentially, if you plot it logarithmically it will give you a straight line.  Thus the rate of growth above just says that the rate is a constant when the line has the same slope. Since so many factors drive this, it’s hard to say what is the main driver. If one looks at the growth in M2 in a linear scale for the same period as the graph above: sg2015071051314 you can see that the growth of M2 is like 65% per year in 2013 and 2014, with jumps in November every year (which gives you a one year rate of about 71% for M2). However, as you can see the slope has actually increased lately, but not above 100%, so that you would have to factor other things like scarcity of goods and foreign currency to explain the 177% “natural” rate of growth of the parallel rate.

What all of this does mean, is that if nothing changes in the way the economy is run, any absurd number someone may throw at you for the end of the year, may actually be quite “natural” and that recent changes are nothing out of the ordinary, even if scary.


Santero Economics Will Not End In Venezuela With The Upcoming Elections

July 5, 2015

santero

The Venezuelan Economy has been run in the last few years with a limited, random and incoherent set of principles, that reminds me a lot of Santería, which is composed of a set of beliefs taken from various religions, which are some times incoherent and even contradictory and which are based on hope, spiritual beliefs and ideas with little fundamentals. Thus, we can characterize the current policies as Santero Economics, as the policies are equally incoherent, based on hope and many times go against each other, with no relation to known economic principles and fundamentals.

By the end of last year, the typical narrative (including mine) was that in January Santero Economics would be set aside, as inflation and scarcity would force Maduro to do so, but as we know, nothing happened. By February, I was convinced nothing would change this year.

The current narrative in most analysis abut Venezuela is very similar: Maduro is afraid that adjusting the exchange rate, increasing prices and the like would create a backlash and he is simply waiting for the upcoming Parliamentary elections before making any changes in his Government’s policies.

Well, I now believe that this is simply wrong, as Santero Economics is here to stay, as long as Nicolas Maduro is President of Venezuela, as he has been convinced by by both local and foreign advisers that the problems of the Venezuelan economy are caused by the oligarchy and the opposition and economic indicators such as inflation have little to do with the Government’s policies.

The ideas of these pseudo-gurus, who are close to Maduro, have now taken over, overcoming the opinions of those in charge of the economy, whose proposals get rejected time and time again.

At the core of Santero Economics beliefs is that deficit spending, salary increases and increases in the monetary supply have little to do with inflation, which is a political phenomenon. Thus, at the core of the problem is the economic war being waged by the oligarchs. The solution is simply to import more stuff, control more of the economy and try to bypass the current private sector. It makes no sense to change the Bs. 6.3 per US$ exchange rate, because all of those imported products would have increased prices.

According to the Santero Economics Mythology, it makes no sense to continue giving foreign currency to a private sector that has half a trillion (??) dollars abroad . If they want to produce, let them bring the dollars back and invest them in Venezuela.

Similarly, the Santero lore states that the bachaqueo of Venezuelan products into neighboring countries is an essential part of the Economic War, set up by the oligarchy, which uses the proceeds from this activity (As if the Venezuelan military did not exist) to bring back the money and continue its attack against the Venezuelan currency. Thus, the only rationale for increasing the price of gasoline, for example, is to remove a weapon from the arsenal of the enemy in the economic war. substituting that subsidy by a direct subsidy to the people.

The final part of the plan is to use the communal power to supervise, oversee and denounce unfair prices as a way of controlling inflation.

Everything else is apparently perfect in the world of Santero Economics. There is no answer to the question as to why if deficit spending does not matter why not n-tuple spending without limit. And if the monetary supply is irrelevant, why not increase the money supply without limit and make everyone really wealthy.

Maybe they could visit Greece and solve their problems too.

Meanwhile, Maduro is happy, everything is going well and he can devote his time to other things:

tumblr_mls9arjbFi1rv2mnno4_250 tumblr_mls9arjbFi1rv2mnno3_250 tumblr_mls9arjbFi1rv2mnno1_250tumblr_mls9arjbFi1rv2mnno2_250


Hyperinflated Arepa Index V

June 30, 2015

I was in Caracas a week ago and went to eat an arepa. It was not research, it was gluttony, as I did not expect any change from the sharp increase I had observed in May. But lo and behold, my arepa de queso de mano had gone up another Bs. 45 in that time to close at Bs. 320, almost tripling the price of an arepa in the six months since I started the index.

Here is the chart now:

arepa1

As has been reported elsewhere, inflation does indeed seem to be accelerating.

At least the size of the arepa is the same…

 


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