A cashier counts bolivars at money exchange in Caracas

Venezuela’s unofficial exchange rate weakens to 300 bolivars per dollar

CARACAS (Reuters) – Venezuela’s unofficial exchange rate fell below 300 bolivars per U.S. dollar on Wednesday, according to a widely used website, as rigid currency controls fail to satiate demand for greenbacks in the crisis-hit economy.

The bolivar has weakened roughly 43 percent since the start of the year to reach 300.72 per dollar, according to DolarToday, a website which says it publishes the so-called black market rate, based mostly on currency trades along the Colombian border.

The government’s three-month-old Simadi currency system, which was intended to ease consumer shortages of everything from toilet paper to home appliances, is suffering from a limited supply of dollars, driving up the black market rate it was meant to stem.

“As long as the government doesn’t make corrections (to the exchange system), the black market rate will keep going up,” said Asdrubal Oliveros of Caracas-based consultancy Ecoanalitica.

“The biggest consequence of this will be for inflation,” he added.

The central bank has not published figures for inflation this year, though opposition leader Henrique Capriles reported that it accelerated to 50 percent in the first four months.

President Nicolas Maduro blames Venezuela’s recession and shortages on an “economic war” waged by elite businessmen and opposition politicians seeking to bring down his socialist government.

Critics largely point to the Byzantine currency controls implemented in 2003 by late president Hugo Chavez as well as slumping output at nationalized companies and a turgid business climate.

The Venezuelan minimum wage is now equivalent to around $24 on the black market, but $1,160 on the strongest of the three official rates. Though many basic goods and services continue to be heavily subsidized, Venezuelans are feeling to pinch to their purchasing power as the black market bolivar tanks.

“The dollar breaks through 300 … We’re poorer by the day,” one Venezuelan said on Twitter.

The recent tumble in global crude prices has aggravated the crisis in an economy where roughly 96 percent of hard currency comes from oil exports. International reserves on Tuesday fell to a 12-year low of $18.065 billion.

(Reporting by Alexandra Ulmer, editing by G Crosse)


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