Finally giving way to months of pressure, the Central Bank halved the official value of the Iranian currency on Saturday.
Despite tensions over revenues, production, and the open-market decline of the Rial, the regime has maintained it at 12260:1 vs. the US dollar since last autumn. On Saturday, the rate was moved to 24779:1.
The open-market rate for the Rial is currently between 33000:1 and 34000:1.
The Central Bank was likely facing strain over how to continue providing foreign exchange at the official rate. The Islamic Republic’s reserves were estimated about $80 billion at the end of 2011. Figures have been unavailable since then.
President Ahmadinejad declared on Thursday, ““Our (foreign currency) reserves are over $100 billion, of course if we include gold reserves,” but the reserves are likely to have diminished significantly amid a halving of Iran’s oil exports since the start of 2012. Last September, one leading politician said the reserves had fallen to about $40 billion.
The Central Bank had taken steps to limit the decline, restricting the imports eligible for the official rate and setting up an “exchange center” for some transactions at about 25000:1 vs. the US dollar. The step — despite repeated proclamations that Iran is increasing non-oil exports — has not resolved issues over the trade imbalance and the state of the economy.
The new rate will give the artificial impression that the Government budget — which is based on a dollar-based oil price — is more easily financed, since the revenues in Rials will appear to have doubled overnight.
The Central Bank’s step also has significant political overtones. For months, stories have circulated of tension between the Ahmadinejad Government and the Bank, including the issue of who controls currency policy.
The Bank’s step indicates that Ahmadinejad, on his way out, has finally lost that battle. Perhaps more importantly, it may signal the immediate attempt of President-elect Hassan Rouhani, who is inaugurated in less than a month, to take on long-standing economic difficulties, bringing in his own team of advisors.