UPDATE 2-Syrian pound hits new record low-Damascus dealers
* Pound has lost almost half its value since start of unrest
* Fears of military intervention push Syrians to hoard dollars-dealers
* Absence of central bank intervention adds pressure on currency (Adds details, banker quotes, latest rates)
By Suleiman Al-Khalidi
AMMAN, March 8 (Reuters) - The Syrian currency's fall accelerated on the black market as tighter Western-led sanctions have pushed consumers and companies hoard dollars in a market increasingly sensitive to possible military intervention, dealers and bankers said on Thursday.
Dealers speaking on the phone from the Syrian capital said it cost as much as 100 Syrian pounds to buy one U.S. dollar on the street compared to around 47 a year ago, when the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began.
On the black market, the pound slid as much as 13 percent in the last 24 hours in the capital, Damascus, and Aleppo, the country's economic hub. It also marks the currency's steepest two-day fall since the unrest.
The pound, which initially stabilized at around 92 pounds per U.S. dollar compared to 80 on Tuesday, later in the day was traded in a lower range of 88 to 90 against the dollar, dealers said.
"People are scared and this is driving demand for dollars in a market where demand far exceeds supply," said one leading Damascus-based licensed exchange dealer.
Dealers said the pressure on the pound has intensified since last week with tightening Western sanctions on Syria that has included new European Union moves that add names to a list of people it sanctions with travel bans and asset freezes.
The bloc last week imposed new sanctions on the Syrian central bank while Canada also announced a new round of sweeping financial sanctions.
A Damascus-based banker said the recent fall meant the Syrian pound has lost as much in the last in the last ten days as it did in the first eleven months of the crisis.
"The market is becoming very sensitive to any signs of growing foreign intervention in Syria. I believe this is driving the latest wave of demand for dollars," said one banker in a majority Gulf-owned bank who requested anonymity.
The central bank's failure to intervene in the market in recent months has increased pressure on the currency, dealers said.
Bankers say the central bank is reluctant to continue the kind of large-scale intervention it is believed to have carried out during the first eight months of the unrest, as it seeks to reduce depletion of its foreign reserves, which were estimated at $17 billion before the protests began.
In a move to ease speculation on the currency, however, the authorities have sought to narrow the differential between the black market and official exchange rates.
They now allow licensed dealers to offer the currency at ranges closer to black market levels than the official rate that stands at 59.5 pounds per dollar, compared to 54 in December.
Several exchange dealers said their offers to sell dollars at a higher indicative price of 79.5 pounds were approved by monetary authorities on Wednesday. On Tuesday, they were offering to sell dollars for around 70 pounds.
But licensed exchange dealers said the central bank did not offer an indicative price on Thursday, in a move that further undermined the pound's value after previous statements that it would not allow the local currency to slip to such levels.
Traders also questioned the authorities' ability to intervene after Central Bank Governor Adib Mayaleh's warnings earlier this year that currency speculators would pay a heavy price never materialized, bankers said.
"The market has lost faith in the central bank's ability to do anything after comments that it would penalize currency dealers and make them incur losses, but did nothing," said one senior banker in a Lebanese bank subsidiary. (Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi; editing by Patrick Graham, Gary Crosse)
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