March 10, 2015 / 9:26 PM / 5 years ago

Venezuela discussing gold swap with Wall Street banks: sources

Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro holds up a book of the country's constitution as he speaks during a national TV broadcast in Caracas in this March 9, 2015 picture provided by Miraflores Palace. REUTERS/Miraflores Palace/Handout via Reuters

CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuela’s central bank is in talks with Wall Street banks to create a gold swap that would allow it to monetize some $1.5 billion of the metal held as international reserves, according to government sources familiar with the operation.

The move would help the government of President Nicolas Maduro boost its hard currency position as the OPEC nation struggles with soaring consumer prices, chronic product shortages and a shrinking economy caused by low oil prices.

Under the swap, the central bank would provide 1.4 million troy ounces in exchange for cash, said a central bank source. After four years, it would have right of first refusal to buy the gold back, added the source, who asked not to be identified.

The ongoing talks involve at least two institutions, Bank of America and Credit Suisse, the source told Reuters.

The banks and Venezuela’s central bank did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

“Work is being done to complete this operation toward the end of April,” said another source, linked to Venezuela’s finance ministry.

Venezuela would have to pay interest on the funds but the central bank would most likely be able to maintain the gold as part of its foreign currency reserves.

Most of Venezuela’s reserves are held in gold after late socialist leader Hugo Chavez began moving central bank assets away from the dollar in the wake of the 2008 global financial crisis.The central bank in late 2013 received proposals to carry out a similar operation, the bank’s chief said at the time, but denied any agreements had been completed.

The Maduro administration faces a cash crunch due to a combination of low oil prices and hefty debt payments including the maturity of a 1 billion euro bond this month and coupon payments of nearly $700 million in April.

Writing by Brian Ellsworth; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne and Tom Brown

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