Iran’s Currency Craters Most On Record Amid Panicked Scramble Into US Dollars

Iran’s rial flashed lower on Sunday against the US Dollar, as panicked Iranians scrambled into USD amid deepening economic woes and the imminent return of full US sanctions. The unofficial “black market” rate stood at 102,000 Rials by mid-Sunday according to website Bonbast, and confirmed to AFP by a currency trader. 

Iran's Currency Craters Most On Record Amid Panicked Scramble Into US Dollars

The Rial has lost half its value against the US Dollar over the last four months – breaking through the 50,000:1 mark in March for the first time. In April, Tehran deployed a series of measures to try and stop the slide – including firing the governor of the central bank, fixing the Rial at 42,000 and threatening to crack down on black market traders. 

But the selling continued as Iranians have panicked about a prolonged economic downturn, turning to dollars as a safe way to store their savings, or as an investment in the hope the rial will continue to drop, according to France24.

With banks often refusing to sell their dollars at the artificially low rate, the government has been forced to soften its line in June, allowing more flexibility for certain groups of importers. The handling of the crisis was one of the reasons behind last week’s decision by President Hassan Rouhani to replace central bank chief, Valiollah Seif.

Alas for the Islamic Republic, none of it has worked. 

As Johns Hopkins economist and Senior Cato Institute Fellow Prof. Steve Hanke noted in late June, “The Islamic Republic of Iran remains in the ever-tightening grip of an economic death spiral. The economy is ever-vulnerable because of problems created by the last Shah, and added to massively by the incompetence and shenanigans of the theocratic regime. Indeed, the economy is more vulnerable to both internal and external shocks than ever. How fast the death spiral will spin is anyone’s guess.”

Three days ago, Hanke produced this chart: 

On Sunday, Hanke noted that Iran’s annual inflation rate stands at 203%, the highest it’s been since October 2013

Moreover, Hanke also described the “black-market premium” for US dollars in Iran – which describes the amount Iranians have been willing to pay over the official exchange rate to get their hands on USD. 

For a fuller picture of the black-market premium, I have plotted it while President Hassan Rouhani has been in office. As we can see, the recent spikes have been associated with President Trump’s attacks on and subsequent cancellation of the JCPOA nuclear deal, as well as increased rhetorical and real attacks on Iran via the U.S. Treasury Department’s sanctions war machine.

 Iran's Currency Craters Most On Record Amid Panicked Scramble Into US Dollars

Applying that to Sunday’s black market exchange rate of 102,000 vs. the official rate of 43,989 and we have a premium of 131%.

The currency collapse was exacerbated by President Trump’s May announcement that he was pulling out of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal which lifted certain sanctions in exchange for Tehran’s agreement that they would curb their nuclear program. Full sanctions are set to resume August 6 and November 4, which will force many foreign entities to cut off business ties with Iran, resulting in sliding oil exports and continued economic deterioration.

Suffice to say, things are getting heated…

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