If you thought your money was about to become worthless what would you do?
Whatever central bank governor John Mangudya says about the new bank notes he’s about to introduce, cash-strapped Zimbabweans are still panicking.
It doesn’t help that Zimbabwe’s Treasury acknowledged two days ago that inflation would rise “slightly” this year.
The rise will be due to the “anticipated increase in energy prices”, according to the official Chronicle newspaper..
It made no reference to the dizzying hyperinflation induced by the last Zimbabwean bank notes or bearer cheques, which were used up to 2009 and which no-one in the country has forgotten.
So what are canny Zimbabweans doing to protect themselves from bond notes?
: This is already making Mangudya “emotional”, the bank chief said this week. He said dealers were setting up companies to “burn” cash, just as they did in the last economic crisis. Black market cash-burning usually involves selling hard cash in return for an online transfer: you might for example have to pay $1 100 or more via RTGS to a dealer to get $1 000 cash in hand. “The dealership mentality does not build a country,” NewsDay quoted Mangudya as saying. High-sounding words, no doubt – but you get the sense the man is fighting a losing battle.
Zimbabwe’s last banknote crisis was characterised by fuel shortages and long fuel queues. Already on Friday there were claims of fuel queues outside some garages in Harare. Fuel smuggling from neighbouring Mozambique has been going on for some time. Diesel in Mozambique cost 57 cents per litre earlier this week. Compare that with Zimbabwe’s $1.40-something charge. Tankers with undeclared fuel are alleged to be slipping across from Mozambique: locals have seen a burnt out shell of one on the Burma Valley Road after a recent police chase ended in tragedy. You can bet the smuggled fuel is coming in in much smaller quantities too.
Why are the world’s best-performing stocks currently in Zimbabwe, despite the crisis? Local investors have been piling into equities in the last few weeks as they try to protect their cash. Financial news agency The Source quoted an analyst saying there were no fundamentals to support the rush for equities “but bond notes are being viewed with suspicion by the investing and wider public.”
While it still works, Zimbabweans are using mobile money transfer system Ecocash to move their money around. You might only be able to get out $15 from a single Ecocash agent but at least you can try another vendor (and another and another) until you get your cash in hand and you don’t have to brave the bank queue. Sex workers are now accepting Ecocash too, says the private NewsDay. Some demand the transaction is carried out “before I offer my services”, the paper said on Saturday. The client pays the transaction fee, of course.
Only 4% of current transactions in Zimbabwe’s banks are bank deposits, RBZ chief Mangudya said this week. If they can, Zimbabweans are keeping their hard cash out of banks. This may not work if you’re employed in the formal sector. The reason why you can’t get money out of ATMs these days? Banks only seem to have stocks of small (and very tattered) US notes in denominations of 2 and 5, which can’t be stuffed into modern dispensing machines. Much of Zimbabwe’s money has not been banked for some time: according to RBZ figures last year, $3 bn was circulating in the informal economy. Zimbabweans are determined to get their hands on hard cash – and keep it, which can make them targets for crime.
Meantime, prices at some flea markets are dipping (two T-shirts for $1, anyone?).
Presumably that’s because a dollar in hand is worth more, much more than two in a Zimbabwean bank.