Zimbabwe: New Notes Flickers Hope, but Stability Is a Long Way Off

Harare.
12 November 2019

The introduction of the new coins and notes has come as great relief for most Zimbabweans who have been made to "buy" cash from street traders due to its scarcity.

Since 2015, cash in the market has dwindled yet authorities have been cautious about printing more cash and instead they have been encouraging citizens to embrace plastic money since then.

While the triumphant story of how this country quickly shifted focus towards the use of electronic money will outshine most African countries still struggling to step into this terrain, we somehow forgot that cash is sacrosanct to any economy just as how much of it should be allowed to circulate in it.

As of 2017, Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) indicated that 96 percent of total transactions had been carried out through electronic forms of payments thus in plastic, internet and mobile money -but this was by default, simply because there was no cash anyway.

And in 2019, cash supply has worryingly depleted to just around 4 percent of broad money supply in the economy against a best practice threshold of between 10-15 percent to ensure adequate liquidity.

Such low levels of cash supply have made cash such a valuable commodity now being traded at a premium as high as 50 percent against electronic money.

Positively, the Central Bank has assured there won't be creation of new money with the coming in of the new coins and notes but it has simply exchanged electronic balances of banks with hard cash equivalent.

Once the ZWL$ 30 million worth of new money is exhausted into the market, an improvement in cash availability should be expected.

Already, cash premiums on mobile money started falling to around 22 percent and 30 percent for coins and notes respectively in Mbare last week following the announcement of an imminent introduction of new notes and coins.

Once the dip-feed of new notes and coins is complete and presumable reaches 15-20 percent of broads money supply this could then converge the mismatch between cash and electronic money thus bring to an end the three tier pricing system currently prevailing.

But deep underlying issues remain unresolved and will still threaten macro-economic stability going forward.

Firstly, Zimbabwe is a highly informal economy with little confidence in its banking sector.

The cash withdrawals currently improving will not be complemented by the same deposits into the banks. There are high chances the cash will still be trapped in the informal channels and the cash cartels might as well hoard it again for resell.

Secondly, inflationary pressures continue unabated and will still humble the value of the new coins and notes very soon.

More still needs to be done to ensure stability in the economy in the areas of bringing an end to street cash cartels, managing inflation to sustainable levels, bringing confidence back into the banking sector and sustaining the Zimbabwe currency against major currencies through meaningful production across all sectors of the economy.

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