Cablegate: Devaluation of Fits and Spurts

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

310759Z Oct 03




E. O. 12958: N/A
SUBJECT: Devaluation of Fits and Spurts

1. Summary: The zimdollar has held steady since August
22, dropping a mere 1 percent. For a currency that has
depreciated from Z$18 to 5650:US$1 since 1998, this may
seem surprising. The zimdollar's 6-year record
indicates, however, that the next steep devaluation lurks
around the corner. End Summary.

Disappearing Value
2. The zimdollar has devalued against the U.S. dollar at
the following rates over the past 6 years:

1998 - 106 percent
1999 - 11
2000 - 71
2001 - 393
2002 - 274
2003 - 397 (to date)

3. Several ominous trends have accompanied the
zimdollar's tumble:

- Predictably enough, the devaluation has picked up steam
as inflation has spiraled upward. During 1990-2000,
inflation ranged from 47-57 percent; since 2001, it's
been 112-456 percent.

- Equity prices also reflect the snowballing devaluation.
Again, it's instructive to divide our sample in half.
During 1998-2000, the Zimbabwe Stock Exchange's
industrial average grew only 4-fold; since then, it's
gone up 25-fold (but still losing most of its value in
real terms).

- Consistent with mounting inflation, broad money
expansion (M3) has increased steadily from an annualized
14 percent in 1998 to perhaps 350 percent today. (The
Reserve Bank has yet to release M3 figures beyond March.)
Expanding domestic credit has been the primary cause,
even during the recent cash shortage.

- The zimdollar seems to devalue more rapidly during each
year's final months, a phenomenon sometimes causing local
commentators to ponder. None of the oft-cited
explanations stands up to careful scrutiny, however.
Given the small number of years in the sample, it may
simply be that random coincidence has triggered this

Inconsistent Devaluation
4. A broader trend has played itself out repeatedly. The
zimdollar generally firms for a number of months, then
devalues in a rapid spurt. Consider these seven well-
defined periods of exchange rate stability:

Period Initial US$ Rate Final US$ Rate Change
------ ---------------- -------------- ------
1/98- 8/98 Z$ 18 Z$ 18 0%
11/98- 5/00 36 45 - 25%
6/00-12/00 59 55 + 7%
12/01- 5/02 350 334 + 5%
7/02-10/02 650 705 - 9%
11/02- 5/03 1500 1451 + 3%
9/03-11/03 5600 5650 - 1%

In all, periods of exchange rate stability account for 50
of the past 70 months. During several stretches, the
zimdollar actually strengthened. (Note: The second
period carries a larger 25 percent devaluation.
Encompassing a full 19 months, however, the devaluation
barely exceeds one percent/month, which we regard as
relative stability.) On the other hand, the zimdollar
plummeted dramatically following each of these phases,
usually by at least 100 percent over two months.

5. Each time the zimdollar levels off, many here wonder
whether the devaluation has finally run its course. At
this time, such optimism is unwarranted. The GOZ has not
substantially adjusted its policies. Current accounts
continue to weaken, reflecting Zimbabwe's falling exports
and its diminished share of the global economy. GDP is
still shrinking by over 1 percent each month. For these
reasons, we believe the next hefty devaluation is
approaching - when and by how much, we don't know.

6. Nonetheless, the ramifications of a Z$10,000/US$1
exchange rate are very serious. Unless the GOZ alters
its export-unfriendly policies (or finds a new
benefactor), Zimbabweans will continue to lose buying
power. Inflation will head toward 4-digits. Nearly all
Zimbabweans will be priced out of an internationalized
market for goods and services. Parastatals (e.g.,
railway, telecom, electricity, grain) will be unable to
operate without accepting the zimdollar's market rate and
raising subsidized tariffs to levels that few can afford.
In its November 20 budget speech, the GOZ has an
opportunity to address these issues - and inoculate
itself against future depreciations - but we are not
holding our breath.


© Scoop Media

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