Tag Archives: Currency Reform

PRECISANDO CONCEPTOS Y DEBATIENDO REALIDADES. A PROPÓSITO DE LA DEVALUACIÓN DEL PESO CUBANO.

Mauricio de Miranda, 31  de Octubre de 2020

Articulo Original: A propósito de la devaluación del peso cubano

Acabo de ver la intervención de Marino Murillo en la Asamblea Nacional de Cuba, a través de la Mesa Redonda en la TV cubana. Me llaman la atención varias cosas, algunas de las cuáles considero que requieren precisión:

  1. Afirma que “se han tomado decisiones en la economía, todas correctas en su momento, pero la principal fuente de ingresos de las personas, no es precisamente el trabajo”. Entonces, ¿cuál es? Yo pienso que la principal fuente de ingresos de la mayor parte de la población sí es el trabajo, pero que los ingresos de los trabajadores no son suficientes para asegurar la satisfacción de sus necesidades y eso es otra cosa. Una parte de la población ha estado recibiendo remesas a través de sus familiares residentes en el exterior y éstas solo le permiten a esa parte de la población sobrevivir en mejores condiciones que las que tiene la inmensa mayoría de la población cubana y al mismo tiempo esas remesas se inyectan en la circulación monetaria del país y generan una determinada demanda efectiva.
  2. Menciona que se han producido distorsiones en la economía, como resultado de la circulación de dos monedas nacionales, con diversos tipos de cambio y que la mayor de esas distorsiones es la sobrevaloración del peso cubano, que ha mantenido en el circuito empresarial un tipo de cambio inamovible de 1 USD = 1 CUP por más de 60 años. No estoy de acuerdo en que fueran “medidas necesarias en su momento”. En mi opinión, fue un error del gobierno cubano mantener un tipo de cambio fijo del peso cubano que no guardaba relación con las realidades económicas, conduciendo a que el tipo de cambio dejara de cumplir su papel como el precio relativo de la moneda nacional respecto a las monedas extranjeras, al punto de desconectar la realidad económica nacional de la realidad económica internacional. Y también creo que fue un error crear semejante desorden en la economía nacional al dolarizar un segmento de la economía nacional que desde los años 90’s del siglo XX se desvinculó, en la práctica, del segmento que funcionaba en la moneda cubana. Como también fue un error crear una segunda moneda nacional cubana, supuestamente convertible, que rápidamente perdió convertibilidad y también se sobrevaloró al emitirse sin cumplir con las obligaciones de la “caja de conversión” que, supuestamente, aseguraba su convertibilidad.
  3. Refiriéndose a las preocupaciones del público sobre la forma como se producirá la unificación monetaria y cambiaria (en la que ciertamente se elimina el CUC pero no el USD o las demás monedas libremente convertibles en las que operan ciertas tiendas que venden, de forma exclusiva, productos que son parte de las necesidades cotidianas de la mayor parte de la población en países normales), mencionó que “nadie quiere perder un pedacito, nadie quiere ir para atrás”, para luego advertir que “la devaluación llevará a la necesidad de ajustes”. Por supuesto que nadie quiere ir para atrás. Históricamente, la humanidad ha tratado de buscar la prosperidad como aspiración racional en la única vida conocida. Sin embargo, ir hacia atrás es una triste realidad que vive Cuba desde hace muchos años. Se avanza en muchas cosas, esto es innegable, pero en muchas otras, que tienen que ver con la cotidianidad, se retrocede. Desde hace treinta años el balance de la vida cotidiana en Cuba está marcado por el estancamiento o el retroceso de las condiciones económicas y, por tanto, por el aumento de la brecha de necesidades insatisfechas por la población. No cabe dudas de que el endurecimiento de las sanciones impuestas por el gobierno de los Estados Unidos contribuye significativamente a las dificultades de la vida cotidiana de la población cubana, pero desde hace muchos años el gobierno cubano ha debido y ha podido adoptar medidas conducentes a una reforma profunda de la economía cubana, que habrían evitado el actual estado de cosas, sobre todo si tenemos en cuenta otras experiencias internacionales que, al menos en el desempeño económico, han tenido resultados positivos.

Continuar: https://mauriciodemiranda.wordpress.com/2020/10/31/precisando-conceptos-a-proposito-de-la-devaluacion-del-peso-cubano/

 

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CUBA URGES CALM AS OVERHAUL OF MONETARY SYSTEM LOOMS

Reuters, October 12, 2020

By Marc Frank

HAVANA (Reuters) – Cuba’s economy minister on Monday urged calm as the government prepares to unify its dual currency system and multiple exchange rates in hopes of improving economic performance.

The Caribbean island nation is undergoing a crisis caused by an onslaught of new U.S. sanctions on top of a decades-old embargo, the pandemic and its inefficient Soviet-style command economy.

Alejandro Gil, speaking during a prime-time broadcast on state-run television, said the country could not overcome the crisis without unification which he said included wage, pension and other measures to protect the population.

“It is a profound transformation that the economy needs that will impact companies and practically everyone,” Gil said.  “It is for the good of the economy and good of our people because it creates favorable economic conditions that will reverberate through more production, services and jobs,” he added.

The monetary reform, expected before the end of the year, will eliminate the convertible peso while leaving a devalued peso, officially exchanged since the 1959 Revolution at one peso to the dollar.  The soon to be removed convertible peso is also officially set at one to 10 pesos to the dollar for state companies and 24 pesos sell and 25 pesos buy with the population.

The government has stated numerous times that residents will be given ample time to exchange convertible pesos at the current rate once it is taken out of circulation and banks will automatically do the same with convertible peso accounts.  President Miguel Diaz-Canel said last week the country would end up with a single currency and exchange rate with the dollar but did not say what that rate might be or the date devaluation would happen.

Foreign and domestic economists forecast the move will cause triple digit inflation and bankruptcies while at the same time stimulating domestic economic efficiency and exports over imports.

The state controls the lion’s share of the economy and sets most wages and prices. Neither domestic currency is tradable outside Cuba.

“There will be no shock therapy here, the vulnerable will be protected. At the same time, it will favor motivation to work and the need to work to live,” Gil said.

Diaz-Canel announced in July that market-oriented reforms approved by the Communist party a decade ago and never implemented, including monetary measures, would be quickly put in place in response to the crisis. He said last week that monetary reform had now been approved by the all-powerful politburo.

Cuba, dependent on food, fuel and other imports has been caught short of cash as sanctions hit its foreign exchange revenues and the pandemic demolishes tourism and undermines remittances, creating food, medicine and other shortages.  Last year, the government began opening better stocked foreign exchange stores for people with access to dollars or a basket of other international currencies from remittances and other sources. However, all transactions must be electronic, for example through debit cards.

Foreign and local economists forecast economic activity will decline at least 8% this year, with trade down by around a third.

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Welcome to Queueba: WITH SHOP SHELVES BARE, CUBA MULLS ECONOMIC REFORMS

The government hints it may scrap its dotty dual-currency system

The Economist, Oct 10th 2020

Original Article: Cuba Mulls Economic Reforms

LONG QUEUES and empty shelves are old news in Cuba. Recently, though, the queues have become longer and the shelves emptier. Food is scarcer than it has been since the collapse in 1991 of the Soviet Union, which supported the island’s communist regime. Now shoppers queue twice: once for a number that gives them a time slot (often on the next day). They line up again to enter the store.

Once inside, they may find little worth buying. Basic goods are rationed (for sardines, the limit is four tins per customer). Shops use Portero (Doorman), an app created by the government, to scan customers’ identity cards. This ensures that they do not shop in one outlet too often. Eileen Sosin recently tried but failed to buy shampoo and hot dogs at a grocery store near her home in Havana. She was told that she could not return for a week.

Queues at grocery stores are short compared with those outside banks. They are a sign that, under pressure from food shortages and the pandemic, the government is moving closer towards enacting a reform that it has been contemplating for nearly two decades: the abolition of one of its two currencies. In July state media began telling Cubans that change was imminent. Cubans are eager to convert CUC, a convertible currency pegged to the American dollar, into pesos, which are expected to be the surviving currency. If they do not make the switch now, Cubans fear, they will get far fewer than 24 pesos per CUC, the official exchange rate for households and the self employed.

Cuba introduced the CUC in 1994, when it was reeling from the abrupt end of Soviet subsidies. The government hoped that it would curb a flight into dollars from pesos, whose worth plunged as prices rose.

The system created distortions that have become deeply entrenched. The two currencies are linked by a bewildering variety of exchange rates. Importers of essential goods, which are all state-owned, benefit from a rate of one peso per CUC. That lets them mask their own inefficiencies and obtain scarce dollars on favourable terms. This keeps imports cheap, when they are available at all. But it also discourages the production of domestic alternatives. Foreign-owned earners of hard currency, such as hotels, do not profit from the artificial gap between revenues and costs. That is because instead of paying workers directly they must give the money to a state employment agency, which in turn pays the employees one peso for every CUC (or dollar). The rule is, in effect, a massive tax on labour and on exports.

The dual-currency regime is an obstacle to local production of food, which already faces many. Farmers must sell the bulk of their output to the Acopio (purchasing agency) at prices set by the state. It gives them seeds, fertiliser and tools, but generally not enough to produce as much as their land will yield.

A farmer from Matanzas, east of Havana, recently complained on social media that the Acopio, which required him to provide 15,000lbs (6,800kg) of pineapples, neither transported them all the way to its processing facility nor paid him. Instead, they were left to rot. When the Acopio does manage to provide lorries, it often fails to deliver boxes in which to pack farmers’ produce. They can sell their surplus to the market, but it is rarely enough to provide a decent income. No wonder Cuba imports two-thirds of its food.

It is becoming more urgent to free the economy from such burdens. Although Cuba has done a good job of controlling covid-19, the pandemic has crushed tourism, a vital source of foreign exchange. The Trump administration, which imposes sanctions on Cuba in the hope that they will force the Communist Party out of power (and, perhaps more important, that they will please Cuban-American voters in Florida), recently tightened them. In September the State Department published a “Cuba prohibited accommodations list”, which blacklists 433 hotels controlled by the regime or “well-connected insiders”. Venezuela, Cuba’s ally, has cut back shipments of subsidised oil. The economy is expected to shrink by around 8% this year.

As it often does when times are tough, Cuba is improvising. To hoover up dollars from its citizens, since last year the government has opened many more convertible-currency shops. As these usually have the best selection of goods, demand for dollars has rocketed. Banks have none left. Cubans either get them from remittances, sent by relatives abroad, or on the black market, where the price can be double the official rate of one per CUC.

The government is now sending signals that it wants to scrap the economy-warping dual-currency regime. “We have to learn to live with fewer imports and more exports, promoting national production,” said the president, Miguel Díaz-Canel, in July.

But it has signalled before that such a reform was imminent only to decide against it. That is because the change, when it comes, will be painful. Importers with artificial profits may lay off workers en masse. If they have to pay more for their dollars, imports will become more expensive, sparking a rise in inflation. Pavel Vidal, a Cuban economist at the Pontifical Xavierian University in Cali, Colombia, expects the value of Cubans’ savings to drop by 40%. The government has said that it will raise salaries and pensions after a currency reform, but it has little cash to spare. This year’s budget deficit is expected to be close to 10% of GDP. That could rise when the government is forced to recognise costs now hidden by the twin-currency system.

The government may yet wait until it has built up bigger reserves of foreign exchange to help it cushion the shock. It may hope that Joe Biden will win the White House and reverse some of the sanctions imposed by the Trump administration. That would boost foreign earnings.

The economic crisis makes other reforms more necessary. Under Raúl Castro, who stepped down as president in 2018 (but still heads the Communist Party), a vibrant private sector started up. It has gained more freedoms, but at a slow pace.

The government has recently promised faster action. It said it would replace lists of the activities open to cuentapropistas, as Cuba’s entrepreneurs are called, with negative lists, which specify in which sectors they cannot operate. The new rules have yet to be published. The government recently let cuentapropistas import supplies through state agencies, but prices are prohibitive. In July it opened a wholesale market, where payment is in hard currencies. Firms that use it no longer have to buy from the same bare shops as ordinary citizens.

Cuentapropistas have been lobbying since 2017 for the right to incorporate, which would enable them to sign contracts and deal normally with banks, and to import inputs directly rather than through state agencies. The government has yet to allow this. Until it frees up enterprise, Cubans will go on forming long queues outside shops with empty shelves. ■

 

Street Vendor , 2015

State Food Distributer, 2015

State Vendor, ANAP (Asociacion Nacional de Agricultores Pequenos)

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CUBA ON EDGE AS GOVERNMENT READIES LANDMARK CURRENCY DEVALUATION

Government is forced to act as it faces a dire shortage of dollars and collapse of tourism


Marc Frank
in Havana. Financial Times, September 30, 2020.

Original Article: Landmark Currency Devaluation

Cuba is stepping up plans to devalue the peso for the first time since the 1959 revolution, as a dire shortage of tradable currency sparks the gravest crisis in the communist-ruled island since the fall of the Soviet Union.

Two Cubans and a foreign businessman, all with knowledge of government plans, said the move to devalue the peso had been approved at the highest level. They said the devastating effect of the coronavirus pandemic on tourism, a fall in foreign earnings from the export of doctors and tougher US sanctions had created the worst cash crunch since the early 1990s, forcing the government to move forward with monetary and other reforms. The sources said preparations for the devaluation were well under way at state-run companies and they expected the measure before the end of the year. They asked not to be identified owing to the sensitivity of the subject.

The government declined to comment. Scarcity of basic goods and long queues at shops have been a feature of life in Cuba since the Trump administration pushed for tighter sanctions against the country in 2019. The shortages have been exacerbated by the pandemic because Cuba imports about 60 per cent of its food, fuel and inputs for sectors such as pharmaceuticals and agriculture.

The Cuban government has yet to provide any economic data this year but the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean predicts the economy will contract 8 per cent after a sluggish performance over the past four years. Most other foreign analysts say trade is down by at least a third. People queue to exchange money at a bank in Havana.

Cuba operates two currencies: the peso and the convertible peso. The government claims both are of equal value to the US dollar, but neither currency has any tradable value abroad and imported goods, when available, are priced with huge mark-ups when they are purchased in the domestic currencies. The Cuban public can buy the convertible peso for 24 pesos and sell it for 25 pesos, although the government sets different domestic exchange rates between the two currencies in some sectors, ranging from one peso to 10 pesos. For example, in the special economic zone at Mariel near Havana, one convertible peso is exchangeable for 10 pesos.

According to the sources and recent government statements, the peso will be devalued significantly from its current level on paper of one per dollar and the convertible peso will be eliminated. Economists have long argued that Cuba’s currency system is so unwieldy that it stymies the country’s exports, encourages imports and makes it difficult to analyse corporate profits. Cuba’s government has said it will respect the peso’s current rate for an unspecified period to allow people to exchange convertible pesos into pesos. It will convert bank accounts priced in convertible pesos. As monetary reform becomes a reality Cubans face a shortage of hard currency and will once again be allowed to make purchases in US dollars, though only with a bank card. This was last permitted in 2004.

It is legal in Cuba to own US dollars and other internationally tradable currencies, but until recently they were not deemed legal tender even when paying by card. There is a large black market in US dollars beyond the government’s reach in which the American currency has this year appreciated by more than 30 per cent when valued in the local currencies. According to the government there are now more than 120 official outlets which price goods in dollars, selling everything from food and hygiene products to domestic appliances, hardware and car parts, and the government plans to open more.

Many Cubans queue for hours outside dollar shops to obtain the products they sell. To do so, Cubans first need to open an account in which they can deposit cash or wire transfers in dollars or other hard currencies; they can then use a debit card to pay for goods in dollars. There are already more than a million dollar-denominated cards in circulation, according to local reports.

“Now, on top of everything else, I have to also worry about the value of my money and how to buy dollars on the informal market for the card because the state has none to exchange at the moment,” said Jenifer Torres in Havana, who said she had a good job but was supporting dependent parents at home.

Bert Hoffmann, a Latin America expert at the German Institute of Global and Area Studies, said: “Instead of monetary unification — for many years the government promise — Cuba is moving into an economy with two different monetary circuits.” These were “the dollarised debit card shops and the normal domestic economy, in which the Cuban peso will be under strong inflationary pressures”.

The Cuban economy is largely owned and run by the state, which sets exchange rates and many prices. As the cost of inputs increases due to the currency devaluation, state-run companies are likely to increase their prices — fuelling inflation. Alejandro Gil, economy and planning minister, said in July that the crisis was “exceptional” and announced the government would move towards market-orientated reforms and loosening of the Soviet-style central planning system.

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President Diaz-Canel

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SEIS LECCIONES DE LA POLÍTICA MONETARIA CUBANA

El Sep 01, 2020 11:47 pm

August 31, 2020

Pavel Vidal

Profesor de la Universidad Javeriana Cali

En Cuba, como en la casi totalidad de las economías este año, la Covid-19 es la principal amenaza para la producción de bienes y servicios, el empleo y el bienestar social. Para mitigar sus impactos, ha sido necesario expandir el gasto y el endeudamiento público, lo cual genera otros desafíos en materia de estabilidad macroeconómica a mediano plazo.

Medir los equilibrios macroeconómicos en Cuba siempre ha sido embarazoso debido a las múltiples monedas y tasas de cambio, y a los rezagos y naturaleza incompleta de los datos oficiales sobre la balanza de pagos, la deuda externa y la inflación.

En el gráfico de este artículo se muestra la trayectoria de dos índices que intentan buscarle alguna solución a esta problemática. En vez de enfocarnos en el valor puntual de una variable, los índices examinan la tendencia común de un grupo de indicadores relevantes para aproximar la posición expansiva o contractiva de las políticas macroeconómicas.

Sin entrar en detalles técnicos, la metodología de los índices sirve para capturar el co-movimiento entre las variables asociadas a cada política en una perspectiva de largo plazo (desde 1985 hasta 2019). El índice de política fiscal incluye el gasto público total, el valor de los subsidios del gobierno a las empresas estatales y el déficit fiscal (los tres se toman del presupuesto del Estado y se calculan como proporción del PIB) y el salario promedio real en el sector estatal.

Elíndice de política monetaria incluye el dinero circulante y las cuentas de ahorro en pesos cubanos (como proporción del PIB), el índice de precios al consumidor en pesos cubanos (CUP) y la tasa de cambio del peso cubano en relación con el dólar estadounidense para la población.

En el gráfico se aprecia que los índices tienden a moverse juntos en el largo plazo, reflejando la dependencia de la política monetaria a la política fiscal debido al mecanismo de financiamiento de los déficits fiscales mediante emisión de dinero por parte del Banco Central (solo desde 2015 comienza a usarse la emisión de bonos públicos). Ambos índices tienen un pico expansivo a principios de los años 90, cuando los déficits fiscales superaron el 30% del PIB, la inflación se disparó a tres dígitos y en los mercados informales el peso cubano se depreció hasta 150 por dólar. Después llegó el ajuste macroeconómico de los años 1994 y 1995 a partir de las entonces llamadas “medidas de saneamiento financiero”. Luego se distingue un período de relativa estabilidad fiscal y monetaria, hasta 2005.

En el esquema de política monetaria diseñado tras la desdolarización, los beneficios de los acuerdos con Venezuela y la llamada Batalla de Ideas (incremento significativo del gasto público en programas sociales) se combinaron para conducir la política fiscal hacia una nueva senda expansiva desde 2005, que terminó con la crisis financiera doméstica en 2008 y 2009. Le siguió el reajuste macroeconómico impulsado por Raúl Castro durante sus primeros años en la presidencia. Sin embargo, desde 2015 tanto la política fiscal como la monetaria otra vez derivan hacia posturas notablemente expansivas.

Es normal y beneficioso para cualquier economía que las políticas macroeconómicas transiten por ciclos expansivos y contractivos siempre y cuando se respeten determinados límites que garantizan la estabilidad macroeconómica. En el caso cubano, seis principales lecciones pueden extraerse de la trayectoria de los índices de política fiscal y política monetaria:

  1. Antes de la llegada de la Covid-19 las políticas fiscales y monetarias venían expandiéndose para suavizar los impactos de los choques previos (crisis venezolana y escalamiento de las sanciones del gobierno estadounidense). Por tanto, son muy estrechos los espacios que en 2020 tienen las políticas macroeconómicas para acomodarse a las necesidades de la compleja situación económica sin provocar una aceleración de la inflación. Desde el presupuesto del Estado es poco lo que puede hacerse para incrementar los subsidios a empresas y familias y fomentar la inversión sin que ello añada riesgos a la estabilidad monetaria. Que se hayan agotado las municiones macroeconómicas para hacerle frente a este nuevo choque de enormes proporciones, es más alarmante en una economía sin un acceso fácil a los mercados internacionales de capitales y que no es miembro de las principales instituciones financieras multilaterales.
  1. Sin bien la tendencia expansiva de las políticas macroeconómicas es para preocuparse, en 2019 todavía los desbalances monetarios y fiscales no llegaban a los niveles más altos de los años 90. Pero falta ver qué sucede en 2020. En marzo se hizo una corrección del plan de la economía y del presupuesto del Estado para el año en curso, y muy probablemente el déficit fiscal vuelva a aumentar. Las informaciones anecdóticas revelan para este año significativos aumentos de precios y una depreciación del peso convertible (CUC) en los mercados informales. Las largas colas en las tiendas constituyen un síntoma de inflación reprimida.
  1. Debido a la caída que se debe producir en los ingresos al presupuesto del Estado, en medio de la actual recesión, es una prioridad ampliar el mercado de los bonos públicos. Para sostener un alto déficit fiscal sin añadir más presión a la inflación, una opción es emitir más bonos públicos. El Banco Central y el Ministerio de Finanzas y Precios (MFP) ya anunciaron que buscarán que no solo los bancos estatales compren los bonos, sino también las empresas y las personas. Pero un mercado de bonos no se crea de la noche a la mañana y varias cosas tendrían que cambiar en el MFP para que estos bonos sean atractivos y confiables. Deberían instrumentar una regla fiscal y trabajar con un marco fiscal de mediano plazo, por ejemplo.
  1. Las dos veces que el Banco Central decidió dolarizar parcialmente la economía (1993 y 2019) ha sido después de notables choques en la balanza de pagos, pero también después de que se acumularan sustanciales desbalances fiscales y monetarios tras excesivas posturas expansivas en las políticas macroeconómicas. Esos desbalances terminaron afectando la credibilidad y la convertibilidad de la(s) moneda(s) nacional(es). En estas circunstancias, las familias comienzan a preferir ahorrar y operar en monedas extranjeras. En el sistema empresarial, cuando las monedas nacionales pierden su convertibilidad, estas no permiten pagar deudas en divisas e importar insumos y se entorpece el funcionamiento del comercio exterior y de todo el aparato productivo. En respuesta, el gobierno autoriza el empleo del dólar para aislar algunos subsectores y mercados de estas distorsiones, buscando generar recursos externos en el corto plazo. Se acude a un sistema dual en el que unas empresas florecen, mientras otras languidecen sin garantizarse un crecimiento económico inclusivo y sostenible en el largo plazo. Si en el futuro el gobierno cubano quiere transitar de forma permanente a un sistema monetario regido por una moneda nacional tendrá que aprender a manejar las políticas macroeconómicas y los choques en la balanza de pago de una forma muy diferente.
  1. Hay factores en el manejo de la política monetaria que desde hace ya un rato vienen actuando contra la convertibilidad y estabilidad del CUC. En 2004 fue un error la decisión de romper la caja de conversión que respaldaba al CUC (por cada CUC en circulación había un dólar de reserva en el Banco Central) sin reemplazarse por otra regla regulando su emisión. La poca transparencia y la total discrecionalidad con que se manejó la impresión de CUC le dio vía libre al gobierno para financiar gasto público en esta moneda sin siquiera tener el control de la Asamblea Nacional. La necesidad de redolarizar en 2019 se explica, en el fondo, por todas estas fallas en el diseño del esquema de política monetaria tras la desdolarización en 2004. Lo que ocurre es que en las economías centralmente reguladas, con mercados segmentados y controles cambiarios y de precios los errores en las políticas económicas, toman más tiempo en manifestarse y reconocerse. Puede superar una década, como con el CUC.
  1. En 2004 el Banco Central consiguió desdolarizar la economía después de sostenerse la estabilidad fiscal y monetaria durante diez años. Por tanto, si el dólar acaba de reinstaurarse en la economía cubana tocará esperar tal vez otros diez años durante los cuales se corrijan los actuales desequilibrios y la confianza en la moneda nacional, antes de que al Banco Central se le ocurra proponer una nueva desdolarización. La unificación monetaria está descartada en el corto y mediano plazo. Se podrá sacar el CUC y hacer alguna corrección en las tasas de cambio, pero se mantendrá la dualidad CUP/USD.

PVA Política Monetaria (ed) + Access.pdf

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DOLLAR BACK IN CUBA AS PANDEMIC AND US SANCTIONS HAMMER ECONOMY

The communist government has been forced to allow citizens to spend US currency at special shops, formalising a split between haves and have-nots

Ed Augustin in Havana

The Guardian, Tuesday 18 Aug 2020 10.00 BST

Original Article: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/aug/18/cuba-dollar-stores-coronavirus?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other

 

On Paseo del Prado, a boulevard in Havana’s colonial district, dozens of people waited expectantly as the staff raised the shutters to open a tatty but revamped shop.

Soon after, Alejandro Domínguez, 23, emerged, brandishing meatballs and a giant tin of chopped tomatoes he had just bought with US currency left as tourist tips at his family’s restaurant. “This is a way to get products you can’t find elsewhere,” he said.

The dollar is back in communist Cuba.

For the first time since the fall of the Soviet Union, Cubans with access to greenbacks are able to buy higher-quality products in exclusive hard currency stores.  In the last two years, Cuba has been increasingly boxed in by declining deliveries of cheap oil from its main ally, Venezuela, and hardened sanctions imposed by a Trump administration eyeing the Cuban-American vote in Florida.

But the island’s cash crisis was brought to a head by the coronavirus pandemic, which has left Cuba without revenue from tourism for four months.

“We’re at a crossroads where there’s practically no other way out,” said Oscar Fernández, professor of economics at the University of Havana. “The state is looking for alternatives so it can keep buying food and medicine.”

So on 20 July, the cash-strapped island opened 72 new “dollar stores”, selling everything from cheese to power drills.

Cuba last opened dollar stores in 1993 as an emergency stopgap when its economy was tanking during the so-called Special Period. The dollar was taken out of circulation and replaced by the CUC in 2004.

The government’s rationale for reopening hard currency stores – to increase supply and to rake in foreign currency – is broadly accepted but the mordant irony of the measure escapes few.  The new policy is an implicit admission that the CUC – officially valued at 1:1 with the US dollar – is not worth as much as claimed. Photograph: Yamil Lage/AFP via Getty Images

Recognising the dollar – possession of which was once a criminal offence – as legal tender is a reluctant nod to the financial power of the United States. But it’s also an implicit admission that the CUC, which is officially pegged at 1:1 with the dollar, is not worth as much as the government claims.

The measure draws a line between the haves and the have-nots.  On a recent morning, Elio Núñez, 45, a welder who receives dollars from abroad, was queueing outside one of them, hoping to buy soap, coffee, ham or “whatever’s in stock”. Achieving absolute equality, he said, is a chimera. “Some people can afford things, others can’t. It’s like that the world over.”

Perhaps with optics in mind, the new supermarkets do not allow customers to pay in cash. Rather, Cubans must deposit greenbacks in a dollar-denominated account and pay by debit card in store.

In a stormy speech last month, President Miguel Diáz-Canel said “the enemy” would cast the measure as “economic apartheid”. But dollar stores were necessary, he said, to generate the foreign exchange needed to keep the regular shops Cubans use better supplied.

Cuba’s domestic response to Covid-19 has largely been successful, but the fallout has brought longstanding problems with the island’s listless, centrally planned economy to the fore.

Agriculture, a perennial achilles heel, has been clobbered: state media recently announced that the country is on track to produce just 160,000 tonnes of rice this year – less than a quarter of what it consumes. Figures like these leave Cuba even more dependent on food imports at a time where there is less cash to make purchases.

This dearth of supply brings stark consequences. While there are no queues at bodegas (which guarantee bare-essential food and hygiene products at heavily subsidised prices), queues outside local-currency supermarkets are mammoth.

In Regla, one of Havana’s better-supplied municipalities, the state has intensified rationing: people must now take their ID cards to make purchases, and can only buy chicken once a fortnight. Crowds gather before dawn, and by 9am, hundreds are waiting outside the main supermarket. People are sweaty and perturbed. The occasional scrap breaks out.  In the east of the island, citizens have set up action groups to stop people cutting in line.

Dayana Blázquez, a 35-year-old social worker who was queueing outside a dollar store to buy meat, said that although the effects of US sanctions on the island are “palpable”, decades of economic mismanagement mean the state shares the blame. “Right now things are worse than normal, but we’ve had shortages for years,” she said. “Old and new generations have lived this.”

For Blázquez, the inequity of selling some products in dollars runs deep. “It’s not fair for those who work their whole lives and have to depend on others to get by when they retire. It’s not fair for graduates and professionals. It’s not fair for anyone.”

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CUBA OPENS FOREIGN CURRENCY-ONLY SHOPS, ENDS TAX ON DOLLAR

Andrea Rodriguez | AP

Washington Post, July 20, 2020 at 7:04 p.m. EDT

HAVANA — Cuba opened shops Monday that accept only foreign currencies and eliminated a special tax on the U.S. dollar, deepening a process of collecting stronger currencies to face the country’s economic crisis. By morning, long queues had formed in a half-dozen such shops in Havana dedicated to the sale of food and toiletries. Under the new system, people buy merchandise using national or foreign cards backed by hard currencies, especially dollars, including Visa or Mastercards. Cash is not accepted.

The shelves of a large foreign-currency warehouse store visited by Associated Press journalists contained products currently missing from peso-sale stores, including detergent, minced chicken, beef and canned goods.  “It looks to me like at this critical time, when the country is going without food, there is everything” in the market, said Lenon Fernández, a 32-year-old entrepreneur who went shopping at a supermarket known as 70.

The shortages have worsened since the middle of last year when the Trump administration tightened sanctions to pressure for a change in the island’s political model. Now, on top of sanctions, a cut in remittances from abroad and internal inefficiencies, Cuba is losing tourist revenues because of the coronavirus pandemic and its GDP growth is close to 0%. The result has been long lines and exasperation due to the lack of food.

The new stores in the capital and other Cuban cities add to a dollarization process of retail trade that began in late 2019, when shops were opened under the modality of foreign currency sales for household appliances. The effect was an increase in the value of the dollar on the black market.

Before then, any transactions in currencies other than those issued by Cuba was prohibited since 2004, when the dollar was withdrawn.

This new form of sale in foreign currencies for food and cleaning goods was announced last week by President Miguel Díaz-Canel as a way of obtaining income and providing goods to the population.  The measure reflects the reality on the communist-run island of social sectors with money and dollars to spend – such as entrepreneurs, relatives who receive remittances, employees of foreign companies, etc. – and those who do not.

The government said it will keep stores in convertible pesos or CUC – almost equal to the dollar – and in Cuban pesos (24 for a CUC), which are the other two currencies circulating on the island.  It will also continue to support monthly quotas of basic foods such as rice, beans, some chicken or meat, milk, coffee and sugar.

“In the midst of an economic crisis of very uncertain scope and duration, the Diaz-Canel administration is using the political credit of its successful management of the pandemic to implement economic reforms postponed for more than a decade,” said Cuban economist Arturo López-Levy, professor at Holy Names University in California.

Cuba has managed to control the spread of the new coronavirus. In four months, authorities say it infected 2,446 people. But they reported no new confirmed cases on Monday.

In general, Cuban authorities have resisted changes – despite a timid process initiated by former President Raúl Castro in 2010 – claiming they want to limit the negative effects of inequality and not hurt vulnerable sectors.

The elimination of a 10% tax on the use of the U.S. dollar, in force since 2004, went into effect Monday. When anyone exchanged 10 dollars for CUC in the local market, they only received nine CUC.

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EL REGRESO DEL DÓLAR A CUBA DEBILITA EL CUC

En el mercado negro, donde se realizan las transacciones entre particulares, el dólar cotiza ahora en 1,13 CUC en lugar de 0,95

14YMEDIO / MARIO J. PENTÓN, La Habana/ Miami | Octubre 23, 2019

El simple anuncio por parte del Gobierno cubano de que el dólar y otras divisas tendrán curso legal en la Isla dentro de unos días ha provocado un desplome del valor del peso convertible (CUC).

En el mercado negro, donde se realizan las transacciones entre particulares, el valor del dólar se cotiza ahora en 1,13 CUC en lugar de 0,95, según la plataforma online Revolico y varias fuentes consultadas en La Habana. Últimamente, a raíz de una mayor demanda provocada por los aumentos salariales, los cambistas pedían entre 1 y 1,05 CUC por dólar.

En las casas de cambio oficiales, las Cadeca, la cotización no se ha movido de 0,87 dólar por 1 CUC porque se trata de un mercado controlado por el Estado, a diferencia del mercado paralelo. donde rige la ley de la oferta y de la demanda. El Estado castiga la divisa estadounidense con un impuesto del 10% y una comisión del 3%, Además, las Cadeca no venden dólares, solo los compran.

“La gente está buscando la seguridad del dólar porque no ve claros los pasos del Gobierno con la economía”, dice vía telefónica Mongui, un cambista que trabaja en las cercanías del hotel San Carlos, en Cienfuegos.

Mongui pide 1,13 CUC por dólar, pero cuando el cliente compra más de 1.000 dólares le hace una rebaja y se lo vende por 1,08. “Ya tengo mi clientela fija, gente que va de mula a Panamá, Cancún y otros lugares. Ahora hay mucho nerviosismo porque el Gobierno le quiere quitar el negocio a las mulas“, agrega.

María Luisa, de 69 años, recibe unos 100 dólares mensuales que le envía su hijo desde Florida y cree que el incremento del valor de esa moneda debió haberse producido hace mucho.

“¿En qué cabeza cabe que el CUC valga más que el dólar, la divisa más fuerte del mundo? Fidel quitó los dólares de la circulación y a cambio nos entregó papelitos. Ahora quieren quitarnos nuevamente los dólares y darnos un número en una tarjeta magnética. Ellos siempre se quedan con lo mejor”, protesta.

María Luisa ha pedido a su hijo que le envíe las remesas en dólares y que para ello deje de utilizar Western Union, que convierte automáticamente las remesas en CUC a un tasa de 0,95 por cada dólar. “Prefiero que me mande el dinero con gente que viene de Miami. Así me rinde más. Lo cambio por fuera de Cadeca. Para ellos puede que sea un peso, pero aquí son 25”, dice la jubilada, que cobra 310 pesos de pensión.

Los dólares no servirán para pagar en efectivo, sino con tarjetas de débito en las 77 tiendas estatales donde se comercializarán productos importados, sobre todo electrodomésticos, motos eléctricas o repuestos para automóviles.

El anuncio no ha sido bien recibido por los clientes que tenían una tarjeta asociada a cuentas en pesos convertibles o pesos cubanos. “Ahora tengo que sacarme otra tarjeta porque la que tengo es de mi cuenta en chavitos (CUC) no me sirve”, lamentaba este lunes Rogelio, un jubilado que recibe remesas de sus dos hijos emigrados.

Los bancos amanecieron este lunes con largas colas en La Habana de clientes interesados en contratar la nueva tarjeta magnética con saldo en divisas. Ahí estaba Rogelio, delante de la sucursal del Banco Metropolitano, en los bajos del Ministerio de Transporte, para comenzar el proceso de apertura de la cuenta y la solicitud de la tarjeta. “Lo bueno es que no se necesita saldo alguno para abrir la cuenta pero lo malo es que esto de pagar con tarjeta es muy complicado en las tiendas”, explica a 14ymedio.

Los constantes cuelgues del sistema de comunicación entre los mercados estatales y los bancos convierten la experiencia de pagar con tarjeta en un dolor de cabeza. Los terminales de pago, conocidos como POS, se quedan con frecuencia sin servicio y sin conexión y los empleados no pueden procesar el pago por esa vía.

“Cuando uno va a una tienda y va a pagar con tarjeta toda la cola te mira con mala cara, porque saben que te vas a demorar bastante, entre una prueba y otra para lograr comunicarse con el banco”, explica Yusimí, una habanera que este lunes también fue de las primeras en solicitar la nueva tarjeta bancaria.

“Hace unos pocos años se estaba hablando con mucha fuerza de que estaba al doblar de la esquina la unificación monetaria, pero ahora resulta que se agrega otra moneda. Esto no hay quien lo entienda”, se queja Nelson, contable en una empresa estatal donde ha tenido que lidiar con las distorsiones que provoca la dualidad financiera.

El economista Pavel Vidal, que fue funcionario del Banco Central de Cuba durante varios años, considera que el regreso del dólar a la economía nacional dará “algún alivio rápido a los crecientes desbalances financieros que se vienen acumulando desde 2015”.

En una columna publicada en OnCuba, Vidal considera que en el corto plazo se observarán “efectos positivos” por estas medidas, como una mayor liquidez en divisas en los bancos y “mayores opciones de compra en mercados formales”. Sin embargo, el ahora profesor de la Universidad Javeriana de Cali (Colombia) considera que el regreso del dólar implica la pérdida de la autonomía monetaria y retrasa la salida de la dualidad monetaria peso/CUC.

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RE-DOLLARIZATION OF THE CUBAN ECONOMY !! ??

“Autorizar operaciones con divisas en algunos mercados de consumo y en algunas industrias es abrir la caja de Pandora a una redolarización acelerada del resto de la economía”, sostiene el economista Pavel Vidal

Agencias, Madrid | 24/10/2019 9:20 am

Los cubanos pueden desde esta semana abrir cuentas en dólares en bancos locales para adquirir electrodomésticos, motos eléctricas, e incluso encargar equipos específicos, con cargo a su tarjeta de débito, informa la AFP.

El gobierno los comercializará y busca así recaudar divisas, tratando de sortear el embargo que le aplica Estados Unidos desde 1962. A continuación, algunas claves para entender las medidas:

¿En qué consisten?

Se habilitará a finales de mes una red de tiendas estatales para la venta en dólares y otras divisas extranjeras de productos de fuerte demanda de importación, como equipos eléctricos, electrodomésticos de alta gama, autopartes y ciclomotores.

El pago se realizará con tarjetas de débito que podrán recibir transferencias desde el exterior o de otras cuentas (en dólares y en otras divisas), libre de impuestos.

También podrán importar algunos bienes específicos a través de empresas estatales (bajo la misma modalidad de la cuenta bancaria), sin depender de la caja central estatal.

¿Qué se busca?

El gobierno busca captar divisas, en momentos en que el gobierno de Donald Trump arrecia el embargo, con medidas que afectan al turismo, las inversiones, el envío de remesas y la importación de combustible.

“El país necesita divisas para financiar” su “desarrollo económico y social” explicó el ministro de Economía, Alejandro Gil.

Cuba, gobernada por el Partido Comunista (PCC, único), busca evitar la fuga de cientos de millones de dólares, debido a las crecientes importaciones particulares.

Según la consultora privada Auge, solo en la Zona Libre de Colón (Panamá) los cubanos gastaron este año un promedio de “20 millones de dólares mensualmente”.

Con el dinero recaudado, el gobierno podría hacer frente a la falta de liquidez de su sistema económico, pagar a tiempo a sus proveedores y adquirir insumos que necesita el país.

¿Cómo se beneficia el gobierno y el ciudadano?

“Es previsible que en el corto plazo se observen efectos positivos”, pronostica el economista cubano Pavel Vidal, de la Universidad Javeriana de Cali.

Los bancos estatales podrán fortalecer su liquidez en dólares y otras monedas extranjeras, y el gobierno garantizar una oferta de productos deficitarios en la red minorista, sin tener que emplear las divisas que destina a gastos prioritarios.

Por su parte, los cubanos tendrán acceso a productos que hasta ahora sólo podían adquirir en mercados informales y a precios competitivos, mientras que el sector privado local (13 % de la economía), gastará menos en viajes para abastecerse de insumos.

¿Se dolarizará la economía?

Gil niega que la venta interna en divisas conduzca a la dolarización de Cuba, que ya apeló a la moneda estadounidense entre 1993 y 2004 para sortear la grave crisis económica de los años 90.

Según el ministro, las dos monedas nacionales: el peso cubano (CUP) y el peso convertible (CUC, equivalente a 24 pesos cubanos) siguen circulando, y el comercio en dólares se realizará solo por vía electrónica.

Pero los economistas destacan que el proceso de dolarización no depende del soporte empleado, sino de que el dólar suplante en algunas funciones a las monedas domésticas.

“Autorizar operaciones con divisas en algunos mercados de consumo y en algunas industrias es abrir la caja de Pandora a una redolarización acelerada del resto de la economía”, sostiene Vidal.

¿Y la unificación monetaria?

Gil subrayó que las medidas no detendrán el proceso de unificación de las dos monedas nacionales, previsto desde 2013, sino que pondrán al país en “mejores condiciones” para alcanzar esa meta, con una industria y un comercio minorista fortalecidos.

La doble moneda está acompañada de tasas preferenciales de cambio para el sector estatal, lo que distorsiona la economía.

Vidal advierte que, lejos de solucionar “el (actual) complejo y distorsionante sistema de múltiples tipos de cambio y dualidad monetaria”, las nuevas medidas ahora “llevan a la economía a operar no con dos, sino con tres monedas”.

“La redolarización anunciada cancela la unificación de las monedas”, considera.

 

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IS CUBA’S ECONOMY READY FOR THE 2018 LEADERSHIP TRANSITION?

Pavel Vidal Professor, Pontificia Universidad Javeriana Cali

CUBA STUDY GROUP, February 2018

Complete Article, English:  Pavel_Is Cuba’s Economy Ready English

Complete Article, Spanish:  Pavel En qué condicion llega la economia cubana a la transicion generacional

Introduction

Cuba has changed considerably in these last ten years of economic reforms, though not enough. Family income, tourist services, food production, restaurants, and transportation depend less on the state and much more on private initiative. The real estate market, sales of diverse consumer goods and services, and the supply of inputs for the private sector have all expanded, in formal and informal markets. Foreign investment stands out as a fundamental factor in Cuba’s development. The country has achieved important advances in the renegotiation of its external debts.

Nevertheless, many other announced changes were defeated by internal resistance, half-heartedly implemented, or put in place in ways that replicated mistakes of the past. The bureaucratic and inefficient state enterprise sector, tied down by low salaries and a strict central plan, impedes economic progress. Cuba’s advantages in education and human capital continue to be underexploited. Neither has the international environment provided much help. The U.S. trade embargo remains in place, the Trump administration has returned to the old and failed rhetoric of past U.S. policies, and Cuba continues to depend on a Venezuelan economy that does not yet seem to have hit rock bottom.

As a consequence, the growth of GDP and productivity has been disappointing, agricultural reform has produced few positive results, and Cuba is once again drowning in a financial crisis. The reforms implemented to date did not create sufficient quality jobs, and, all told, half a million formal positions were eliminated from the labor market.

The second half of 2017 proved especially challenging due to the impacts of Hurricane Irma and new restrictive measures announced by the U.S. government. To these difficulties one must add the decision of the Cuban government to freeze (temporarily) the issuance of licenses to the private sector.

Even so, the National Office of Statistics and Information (ONEI) reported that the economy has not fallen into recession. There are reasons to doubt these statistics, however. Such doubts only multiply when we take into consideration the decision to delay, or altogether avoid, the publication of reports on individual sectors of the economy and the state of the national accounts. For 2018, the government has proposed a rather optimistic economic growth plan (2% increase in GDP) that once again does not appear to appropriately evaluate the complexity of Cuba’s macro-financial environment.

Three highly significant events are anticipated this year: the generational transition within the government, new norms for the private sector, and the beginning of the currency reform process. These three issues have raised expectations on the island, but each may be tackled in a disappointing fashion.

…………………………………..

Conclusions:

Two Other Changes that Could Disappoint A generational transition in the Cuban government will take place on April 19, 2018. Beyond indications that Miguel Díaz-Canel will be the future president, there are no signals as to who will be vice president or who will direct principal ministries such as the Ministry of the Economy or the Ministry of Foreign Relations. Nor do we know where politicians of the “historic generation” will end up.

The new government will want to demonstrate continuity with the former in order to assure its position with various spheres of political power. It appears that the new government will not have its own economic agenda. We can expect that documents approved by recent Congresses of the Cuban Communist Party—which define the limits of reform, the desired development strategy, and the social and economic model to which Cuba aspires—will continue to serve as economic policy guides.

Whatever the composition of the incoming government, in the short term, Cuba’s new leaders will need to convince other state actors that they have the authority and will to, first, achieve the objectives laid out in the “Guidelines for Economic and Social Policy” (Lineamientos), and then deepen the process of reform, overcoming internal forces resistant to change. The new government will thus have to carefully assess the political costs and benefits of implementing reforms to different degrees and at varying speeds, but it will start with low initial political capital due to less popular recognition and a lack of historic legitimacy. Cuba’s new leaders, moreover, must confront these challenges at a time of renewed conflict with the U.S. government. The task is by no means easy, and we will have to wait to see how they handle it.

Another change we can expect this year is the publication of new rules governing the operations of the private sector, and thus unfreezing the issuance of licenses. A greater degree of control over tax payments, as well as efforts to more strongly “bank” the sector, appear to be two basic objectives of the forthcoming rules.

It is very important that the private sector contribute to the Treasury in proportion to its earnings. This is impossible to guarantee if private sector operations are not registered in banks. An effective and progressive tax system provides net dividends to all. The state budget would benefit, exorbitant gaps in income distribution could be avoided, and the societal image of the private sector would be improved. It will be much easier to defeat political and ideological resistance to expansion of the private sector when its income also serves to finance expenses in education and healthcare, and when individual contributions are in line with variable levels of income.

We still do not know if the new rules for the private sector will focus only on fiscal and banking control, or if new policies will address some of the many complaints that the private sector itself has made—high tax rates, the struggle to obtain inputs, and the difficulty of linking operations to foreign trade, for example. A draft of the rules that has circulated does not contain answers to these problems, but rather suggests a focus primarily on more control and penalization.6 If the rules that are ultimately implemented do not differ much from what appears in this draft, depleted prospects for the private sector will be the first disappointment Cubans face in 2018.

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