If you have studied any economics course you will no doubt have come across the functions of money. One of the four functions of money is the store of value.
Store of value
Once a commodity becomes universally acceptable in exchange for goods and services, it is possible to store wealth by holding a stock of this commodity. It is a great convenience to hold wealth in the form of money. Consider the problems holding wealth in the form of wheat. It may deteriorate, it is costly to store, must be insured, and there will be significant handling costs in accumulating and distributing it.
However in a country which is being ravaged by hyperinflation money as a store value is rather inadvisable due to the fact that the return for putting in the bank will not be greater than the inflation which reduces its value. So what do people do to preserve their savings from hyperinflation? The importance of the function of money is dramatically illustrated by the experience of Germany just after World War II, when paper money was rendered largely useless because, despite inflationary conditions, price controls were effectively enforced by the American, French, and British armies of occupation. People had to resort to barter or to inefficient money substitutes – cigarettes and cognac – as these became stores of real wealth.
Venezuela is a current example of a country which has this problem. Some of the examples of wealth preservation can be seen on the Caracas skyline with the building boom that is taking place. This would usually be indicative of a growing economy but businesses are so worried about preserving their earnings that they are prepared to build white elephants as they see it as a better alternative that all their income being whipped out by inflation. On a smaller scale, eggs seem to be holding their value and are also a useful medium of exchange – it is easier to pay people in eggs as it has value and is much more portable (a characteristic of money) remember post-war Germany with wheel barrows of bank notes. In fact people are more likely to be accepting of eggs than banknotes.
Causes of hyperinflation
As with hyperinflation in Bolivia in the 1980’s, the weaknesses in public finances is the main cause of Venezuela’s hyperinflation. The reliance on a single source of income – oil export revenue – as well as increased social welfare spending left the government short of cash. Their solution was to go to the printers and print more money to pay its bills. This feeds inflation which in turn means that the government has to print more money as tax receipts are eroded by hyperinflation. Therefore more money is created to fill the gap in revenue = inflation increasing.
In the 1980’s and 90’s a lot of the middle class in Venezuela kept their money offshore in US dollar accounts. But with capital controls making it hard to transfer large amounts of cash, property seemed to be a viable hedging option. However property was too valuable as an inflation hedge. Car ownership became a store of value in that as well as getting you from A to B it was possible to sell the car for more than it was bought for. Some bought shares so as to deposit money and then sell them for larger amounts of cash. For the low incomes the options are limited but they also lack financial acumen as they tend not to act quickly enough to invest in a broader range of assets and refinance debt when interest rates are low. With hyperinflation the long term becomes the next week.
Source: The Economist – A trunkful of bolivares – July 21st 2018