Friday, 8 January 2010

Parallel rate

The parallel rate is an unofficial or black market rate of exchange between the US Dollar and the local currency in a high inflationary or hyperinflationary economy. It is also called the street rate because unlicensed dealers trade US Dollars in the busy market streets for the local currency. This parallel rate is established for all the relatively stable or hard currencies used in that hyperinflationary economy. In Zimbabwe they used the US Dollar, the British Pound, the SA Rand and the Botswana Pula. As an economy starts moving into a hyperinflationary mode the central bank generally sets a fixed rate of exchange for the US Dollar and changes it not on a daily basis in concordance with what is happening in the foreign exchange market, but only as and when the central bank decides.

Credit sales and purchases are done at prices that allow for the expected loss of purchasing power in the local currency during the credit period, even if the period is very short. People start to state the real values (prices) of items in terms of the US Dollar, but, they do not use the official government rate of exchange for the local currency updated now and then. They start using their own generally accepted rate to protect their own real value in the products or services: the parallel rate.

The parallel rate is problematic in the real world. In the case of Zimbabwe the government did not recognize the parallel rate for most of the period of hyperinflation. They only recognized it right at the end when no-one wanted to accept the ZimDollar as payment for anything. Companies in hyperinflationary economies would save themselves when they start applying the parallel rate to all their non-monetary items as soon as it appears – if they could: they are often not allowed to do that by government. Company directors and owners are often arrested for increasing prices in hyperinflationary economies in terms of the parallel rate.

It happened in Angola too. There was a price freeze in Luanda while I was away in Portugal. The MD of our company phoned me and asked what we should do. I told him to tell my staff to carry on applying the current daily parallel rate to our selling prices and to our trade debtors. We could not start making losses not updating our prices and debtors daily with the parallel rate. I was not arrested when I arrived back in Luanda. I assumed it was because we most probably were the only company in Angola updating our workers´ salaries monthly at the parallel rate. Everybody knew what was going on in other companies. I am sure the government knew what we were doing at Auto-Sueco (Angola). We were the official agents for Volvo in Angola, but, we were controlled from our parent company in Portugal.

I did, however, order a halt to using the new daily parallel rate when I saw that the Angolan government was very serious about that price freeze. As usual it only lasted about a week. Then everybody started using the current parallel rate again. So did we.

Using the parallel rate would not be compliant with current IFRS, but, managers and owners would save their companies from going under. When all entities in a hyperinflationary economy apply the parallel rate on a daily basis to all non-monetary items (constant and variable items) they would save their country’s real economy – in a hyperinflationary economy. They would do nothing to hyperinflation in their currency. That problem has to be solved by the monetary authorities and the government. See How Brazil beat hyperinflation: Gustavo Franco.

But, they will not destroy their real economy at all. The problem is to determine one single official parallel rate because there are normally a number of rates that apply in different parts of the country. When the hyperinflation is created by the government as in the case of Zimbabwe and the government does not recognize the parallel rate companies would have to run their businesses at the parallel rate to save their companies as well as the real economy and do their official accounts in terms of meaningless IAS 29 using the year end CPI to comply with IFRS. The government obviously would collect proper and sufficient taxes and secure economic stability in the real economy if they would allow continuous financial capital maintenance in units of constant purchasing power by allowing the application of the daily parallel rate based on the basic principles in IAS 29 excluding applying the CPI.

Kindest regards,

Nicolaas Smith

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