March 25, 2014 / 1:27 PM / 4 years ago

Venezuela bonds up again as investors welcome new forex system

CARACAS, March 25 (Reuters) - Venezuelan bonds rose again on Tuesday in a continued positive market reaction to a new free-floating foreign exchange system that offered dollars for eight times the official price at its opening session.

Traders said they expected the price for dollars to stay roughly in the 50-55 bolivars range on the Sicad 2 mechanism’s second day, given the high demand and still uncertain offer.

President Nicolas Maduro’s government launched the system on Monday in an effort to tame the black market for greenbacks while also giving businesses easier access to foreign currency.

Based on supply and demand, the new platform added a third state-sanctioned exchange rate to 11-year-old currency controls, where dollars also sell at 6.3 bolivars for preferential goods and around 11 bolivars for other items.

The average price at Sicad 2 on Monday was 51.8 bolivars.

That was close to the black market price of around 57-59 bolivars, according to illegal web sites that track it.

Though Maduro’s opponents decried the new currency system as devaluation by stealth, Wall Street was delighted.

“There is euphoria on the first signs of pragmatism from the Maduro administration to confront macro imbalances,” said Siobhan Morden, Jefferies’ head of Latin America strategy.

Most Venezuelan bonds rose strongly on Monday as a result of Sicad 2, and the gains continued on Tuesday.

The JPMorgan EMBI+ index showed returns of sovereigns up 0.49 percent overall in early trading. The benchmark 2027 bond rose 1.04 percent to bid at 76.599.

Venezuela’s most senior economic official, Rafael Ramirez, hailed the new system as a success.

“It’s a complement to our exchange system. It will end speculation and the parallel dollar,” he tweeted, adding that all Monday’s offers were from private entities.


Government entities including state oil company PDVSA are expected to enter the market soon offering dollars. The government says Sicad 2 will account for about 8 percent of dollar sales in the South American OPEC member nation.

Despite criticizing Venezuela’s long-standing currency controls for years, opposition politicians reacted angrily to Sicad 2, calling it a “mega-devaluation” that would fuel an inflation rate already the highest in the Americas.

“It’s Nicolas’ ‘black Monday’,” opposition leader Henrique Capriles tweeted, saying the government had taken advantage of unrest on the streets to quietly introduce the measure.

Most private economists, though, said the move was a much-needed market-friendly policy that should help government coffers once PDVSA starts selling its oil revenues there for a higher price than it was getting previously.

The extent of the impact on inflation and state finances will, however, depend, on the volume traded.

Barclays’ analyst Alejandro Grisanti said he had expected annual trade of about $11.6 billion, or around $63 million per day on Sicad 2, but weekend comments by Maduro implied offer would be about half that.

“We see that as a concern,” he said.

“Lower FX sales in SICAD II would imply a smaller average devaluation, smaller fiscal improvement, a more limited capacity of this new market to stabilize the exchange rate.”

Grisanti estimated, however, that Sicad 2 had the potential to give the government additional revenues equivalent to 12 percent of GDP.

Maduro’s predecessor, the late Hugo Chavez, set up currency controls in 2003 as part of a socialist-style overhaul of the economy that he said would channel more wealth to workers rather than to wealthy people with bank accounts abroad.

Critics say the controls spawned corruption, curtailed business and gave birth to the black market for dollars.

Foreign companies have long complained of difficulties in getting profits out of Venezuela in hard currency. Sicad 2 gives them a clear legal alternative, reducing the temptation to turn to the illegal market.

Sicad 2 trading takes place daily until 1 p.m. (1730 GMT), with the bank announcing the average price afterward. (Editing by Stephen Powell)

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