By Eyanir Chinea
CARACAS, July 17 Venezuela's central bank said
on Wednesday it sold $215.3 million at an auction of its
revamped currency exchange system that closed this week, and
Finance Minister Nelson Merentes separately said auctions will
be held every 15 days as the country seeks to boost the flow of
Merentes said he expects Venezuela's high inflation rate to
ease by August, adding that economic growth for the second
quarter of this year would be higher than the 0.7 percent rate
seen in the first quarter.
The government revamped the currency exchange system, known
locally as Sicad, because it wants to boost the flow of dollars
to importers and address public complaints about nagging product
In a statement, the central bank said $180.5 million was
allocated to local businesses and $34.8 million to individuals.
Merentes said that at each future auction it was possible
that more than the planned amount, $200 million, could be sold.
"There were some problems with the banks, but they have been
resolved. ... The important thing is that a lot of people are
taking part," he told reporters in Caracas.
Merentes said more than $200 million was sold because an
unnamed participant decided to sell greenbacks at the auction.
"We want more companies to sell dollars," he said.
The auction began on Friday and ended on Tuesday; the
dollars are due to be paid out this Friday.
The sale was restricted to companies registered in two
Venezuelan states and to firms in the automotive and health
sectors. Businesses could place orders of up to $1.02 million,
while individuals traveling abroad could ask for up to $2,500.
Officials say other sectors and states will be addressed in
future auctions. Sicad, which operates in parallel with a
decade-long currency control mechanism, will provide dollars at
a higher rate than the official exchange rate of 6.3 bolivars.
Businesses have complained for months that lack of access to
hard currency has stopped them from importing consumer staples
ranging from wheat flour to toilet paper.
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, who won an election in
April after the death of longtime leader Hugo Chavez, faces a
raft of economic challenges, including slowing growth, rising
consumer prices and nagging shortages of consumer goods.
The 0.7 percent growth rate in the first quarter marked a
sharp slowdown from the 5.9 percent expansion posted in the same
period in 2012. Monthly inflation slowed to 4.7 percent last
month, down from 6.1 percent in May, but the annual rate rose to
almost 40 percent.
Merentes offered an optimistic view on the economy, saying
that inflation "is decelerating."
"We are going to see better results." he added. "Given this
panorama, one cannot say we are facing stagflation."
He declined to give an estimate for the annual inflation
"Inflation is trending downward ... we hope July will be
better, and that in August we will have normal levels," Merentes