UPDATE 6-Venezuela forex system sells dollars at 8 times official price

lunes 24 de marzo de 2014 19:37 GYT

(Adds bank saying rate of 51.8 bolivars, paragraph 2)

By Andrew Cawthorne and Deisy Buitrago

CARACAS, March 24 (Reuters) - Venezuela launched a new free-floating foreign exchange system on Monday that offered dollars for eight times the official price in a move the government says will tame the black market but which critics see as a massive devaluation.

The central bank said the price for dollars on the inaugural day of the Sicad 2 system was 51.8 bolivars. Private bank operators who took part said demand was high but offers thin.

The new platform added a third state-sanctioned exchange rate to the South American OPEC member's 11-year-old currency controls, with dollars selling at 6.3 bolivars for preferential goods and around 11 bolivars for other items.

On the black market, greenbacks currently fetch around 57-58 bolivars. That price has fallen from 85 bolivars a couple of weeks ago on expectations of greater dollar flows via Sicad 2.

Though overseen by the central bank, the new system works on a supply-and-demand system, with individuals and companies allowed to participate in daily trading.

"Without doubt, it's the biggest monetary adjustment in Venezuela's history," said Henkel Garcia, of private think tank Econometrica, referring to the unexpectedly high price for dollars fetched on the first day of Sicad 2 trading.

President Nicolas Maduro denies that, saying the new market will account for only about 7-8 percent of dollar sales in Venezuela, with the 6.3 rate still applying for 80 percent of goods considered priority imports.   Continuación...