(Corrects 2012 Q3 growth figure to 5.5 pct in paragraph 17)
By Brian Ellsworth
CARACAS Nov 28 Venezuela's central bank
president denied on Thursday that the institution is carrying
out any transactions with Wall Street banks, a day after a
senior government source said it was evaluating a swap agreement
involving its gold reserves.
Opposition leaders and local media have reported that
Venezuela is seeking to boost availability of hard currency
through transactions with Goldman Sachs and Bank of
"With respect to the institutions you've mentioned, the
central bank ... is not carrying out any operations with these
institutions," Central Bank President Eudomar Tovar said at a
press conference in response to a question about the reports.
"There are some considerations out there which have come
out, but these are unofficial positions, if you will."
Asked again by a reporter, he said: "There has been no
activity done by the central bank with Goldman Sachs or any
Tovar's comments did not appear explicitly to rule out the
possibility that such a transaction was being negotiated or
could be carried out in the future. He declined to elaborate.
Talk of possible deals with foreign banks started when the
opposition said last week that the Venezuelan government was
negotiating a swap operation with Goldman Sachs involving
1.45 million ounces of gold worth around $1.86 billion.
Opposition leader Henrique Capriles also described an
operation in which Bank of America would help Venezuela pay off
debts to foreign suppliers that have built up due to delays in
the nation's currency controls.
A senior government source said on Wednesday that nothing
was finalized on the gold swap "but if there's an opportunity to
do something, it could be done."
Critics say discussion of the operations signals a cash
crunch created by the state-driven economic model of price
controls and nationalizations ordered by late socialist leader
Hugo Chavez, who died of cancer in March.
Less than two weeks before Dec. 8 local elections, the
government of Chavez's successor, President Nicolas Maduro,
faces chronic product shortages and annual inflation of close to
Maduro says the country is the victim of an "economic war"
led by opposition leaders with the backing of Washington.
The country's principal business group called on Thursday
for greater transparency in the currency control system that, by
the government's own admission, lost as much as $20 billion to
fraud and over-billing.
"We say to the government: We need measures that are not
improvised, we need measures that put Venezuelan goods first, we
need measures that are not based only on short-term needs," said
Fedecamaras President Jorge Roig.
He said a range of industries, including pharmaceuticals,
autos and airlines, are waiting for the currency control agency
to disburse $7.4 billion in hard currency.
GROWTH TARGET SLASHED
Tovar said the government's 6 percent economic growth target
for this year would not be met, insisting there would be growth
but without offering a new figure.
Data published this week showed Venezuela's economic growth
slowing in the third quarter to 1.1 percent, compared with 5.5
percent in the same period of last year.
The same data showed the economy grew only 1.4 percent in
the first nine months of the year, which Tovar acknowledged puts
the current target out of the question.
"Undoubtedly, we are not going to grow by 6 percent this
year. I can't utter falsehoods ... But we will grow," he said.
He denied the country was in a situation of stagflation,
which is defined as a period of accelerating inflation with
Analysts from BNP Paribas and Credit Suisse said in reports
this week that based on their calculations, Venezuela's economy
was effectively unchanged from the previous quarter - implying
stagflation might already be underway.
Asked about the quarter-on-quarter growth figures, which the
central bank does not publish, Tovar declined to comment.
(Additional reporting by Daniel Wallis; Editing by Andrew
Cawthorne and Dan Grebler)