Zimbabwe To Print Its Own US Dollars Amid Severe Cash Shortage

When Jim Chanos said earlier this week that days ago that sub-Saharan Africa is facing a severe cash shortage (mostly as a result of their collapsing oil export revenue) he probably did not have the economic basket case of Zimbabwe in mind, and yet this is the country which, after years of monetary and economic collapse "problems", including the occasional bout of hyperinflation, finds itself in the most dire situation.

As News24 reports, just this past week, Zimbabweans formed long queues outside banks on Thursday as a cash shortage prompted the government to announce plans to print a local version of the US dollar and limit withdrawals.

Indeed, it appears that Zimbabwe is about to unveil yet another monetary experiment in which it will print its own version of the US dollar, as an ailing economy fuels a severe cash shortage.

John Mangudya, Zimbabwe’s central bank governor, said Thursday the so-called bond notes will be backed by $200 million in support from the Africa Export-Import Bank, according to the Herald, a local government-owned newspaper. He also announced restrictions on cash and ATM withdrawals, as well as limits on how much cash people can take outside the country.

In its statement, the central bank explained the cash shortage as follows:

The shortage of USD cash in the country as evidenced by queues at some banks and automated teller machines (ATMs) is attributable to a number of intertwined factors that include:

  • The dysfunctional multi-currency system as a result of the strong USD. In the case of Zimbabwe, the USD has become to be more of a commodity, a safe haven currency or asset than a medium of exchange.
  • Low levels of use of plastic money and the real time gross settlement (RTGS) platforms. Zimbabwe is predominantly a cash economy.
  • Low levels of local production to meet consumer demand, leading to higher demand for foreign exchange to import consumer goods.
  • Low consumer and business confidence as reflected by high appetite by both consumers and business to keep cash outside the banking system.
  • Inefficient distribution and utilization of scarce foreign exchange resources.

“It is not an overnight process,” Mangudya told the Herald when asked what date the bond notes will be issued. “We are still working on a design which will be sent for printing outside the country. The notes will not be introduced immediately but probably within the next two months.”

We wonder if Zimbabwe will use the same money printer as Venezuela, and if so, whether payment upfront will be demanded.

According to IBT, the specially designed dollar notes will come in denominations of two, five, 10 and 20. They will also have the same value as their U.S. dollar equivalents. The bond notes are an extension of so-called bond coins of one, five, 10 and 25 cents which the central bank introduced in 2014 and are pegged to the value of the U.S. dollar.

Humorously, the central bank governor stressed the introduction of the bond notes does not signal the return of the defunct Zimbabwean dollar, which the country ditched in 2009 amid sustained hyperinflation. Residents have since been using the U.S. dollar as well as several other foreign currencies, including the South African rand and the Chinese yuan. To curb the U.S. dollar shortage, Mangudya also set a $1,000 limit on how much cash can be taken out of the country and encouraged residents to use the rand since South Africa is Zimbabwe’s top trading partner, BBC News reported.

Iornically, lately the rand itself has been having major problems, as the South African currency has suffered from the brunt of a general sell-off in riskier assets amid fears of a global economic slowdown at a time when South Africa’s own economy is also struggling to grow. Ratings agencies have threatened possible downgrades should the South African government show a lack of commitment to cutting its budget deficit. 

The situation has made Zimbabweans - long without their own rapidly devaluing or otherwise currency - reluctant to hold on to rand notes because they are worried the currency won’t maintain its value against the U.S. dollar. As Zimbabwe faces deepening economic woes after drought weakened vital agricultural production and disrupted hydro power generation, cash-strapped residents are lining up outside banks in the capital to get dollars to pay for everything from groceries to school fees.

This week even the IMF chimed in, warning Zimbabwe things will get much worse unless the African nations takes aggressive steps: "Unless the country takes bold reforms, the economic difficulties will continue in [the] medium term,” the International Monetary Fund said in a report Wednesday, after the most recent consultation with Zimbabwean officials. “Given the outlook for the global economy, growth is projected to remain below levels needed to ensure sustainable development and poverty reduction."

As a result, Zimbabwe is indeed taking "bold reform", and it is doing precisely what put it on the global map in the first place: it is about to print money, which initially will be backed by the paltry sum of $200 million, and shortly thereafter... it won't. Which means the countdown to Zimbabwe's next hyperinflation is on.

Full statement from the often times quite comic RBZ: