miamiherald | A recent International Monetary Fund report that Venezuela will reach a 720 percent inflation rate this year — the highest in the world — has drawn a lot of media attention, but what I heard from a senior IMF economist this week was even more dramatic.
Robert K. Rennhack, deputy director of the IMF’s Western Hemisphere department, told me in an interview that Venezuela is on a path to hyperinflation — the stage where the economy reaches total chaos — and could reach a “total collapse of the economic system” in 12 to 18 months if there are no changes in economic policies.
“Inflation in Venezuela probably entered on a hyperinflationary path in 2015,” Rennhack says. He told me that he expects Venezuela’s inflation to reach 2.200 percent in 2017, and could balloon very fast to 13,000 a year, the stage that most academics define as full-blown hyper-inflation.
Although he didn’t get into that, no Latin American government in recent memory has been able to survive a hyper-inflationary crisis. When you reach five-digit inflation rates, governments either make a dramatic political u-turn, or they fall.
“Hyper-inflation means that the currency has lost its value, people have to go to the stores with bags full of money, and prices rise almost by the hour,” Rennhack said. “What we saw in previous cases of hyperinflation in Latin America is that there was a political consensus that policies had to change.”
Asked how he reached his 12-18 month projection for hyper-inflation in Venezuela, Rennhack said his team of economists looked at previous episodes of hyper-inflation in Bolivia (1982-1984,) Argentina (1989-1990) and Brazil (1989-1990.) From those experiences, they concluded that Venezuela is on a similar path as these countries were between 12 and 18 months before their hyper-inflationary crises.
President Nicolas Maduro’s term ends in 2019, although the opposition MUD coalition is considering launching a referendum to demand early elections.
Many Venezuelans believe the country will explode much sooner than in 12 to 18 months. Prices go up daily, supermarket shelves are near empty, there are growing electricity shortages — Maduro has declared every Friday in April and May a non-working holiday in order to save energy — and crime statistics are skyrocketing.