EghtesadOnline: Iran's foreign exchange and gold markets have witnessed historic rallies in the past few days as May 12 approaches, a date when US President Donald Trump is widely expected to deal a fresh blow to the country's landmark multilateral deal with world powers.
Since the greenback's exchange rates were unified by the government on April 9 at 42,000 rials to prevent the steep decline in the rial's value, no official sources quote what is now the "black market" rate of the American currency. However, reports indicate the US dollar is climbing to new heights of as much as 70,000 rials in Tehran, a rate that seemed inconceivable in the past.
Tehran Gold and Jewelry Union reports open market rates of other currencies and quoted the euro and pound as reaching highs of 74,640 rials and 84,760 rials respectively on Monday. Their official rates announced by the Central Bank of Iran stood at 50,295 rials and 56,958 respectively on the same day, indicating a stark contrast.
Since exchange shops were prohibited by CBI from trading hard currency in the wake of rate unification and are now only legally allowed to allocate foreign currencies required for imports and purchase repatriated export proceeds after gaining the approval of banks, gold and jewelry shops have emerged as the new unlikely sellers of foreign currencies at the extremely inflated rates, according to Financial Tribune.
Gold Belies Expectations
The gold market is also scaling new heights that have taken policymakers by surprise.
According to TGJU, each benchmark Bahar Azadi gold coin changed hands for about 20.1 million rials ($479), which actually registered a 2% decline compared to the past two days when the coin had gone up to an all-time high of about 22 million rials ($525).
The sharp rise in gold prices was the opposite of what CBI had expected, as it had announced repeatedly after rate unification that gold coins, which had reacted to the news by losing about 10% of its value and dropping to about 17.5 million rials ($417), would slide further.
The regulator had continued its gold coin presale scheme in earnest after the Norouz holidays in March and even expanded the scheme by adding several maturity periods to presale contracts.
But as gold coins refused to stop their gains in the past week, CBI first announced the discontinuation of its presales with one-month maturity.
Masoud Rahimi, the head of CBI's Office for Banknote Issuance, cited "maintaining high quality" and "minting limitations" as reasons behind the halt, but presales with maturity periods of three months and six months were also halted.
When it was announced late Sunday that the presale scheme has been discontinued until further notice, it became obvious that the regulator has reacted to the market's excessive demand.
"A total of seven million coins have been presold so far and our prediction is that with their injection into the market, prices will balance out," Rahimi said late Sunday.
The first of the one-month coins are to hit the market next week. According to the World Gold Council's latest report published days ago, Iranians' demand for gold coins and bars reached a three-year high in the first quarter of 2018.
Responses of Gov't, Parliament
In the latest government meeting to organize Iran's foreign exchange market, First Vice President Es'haq Jahangiri again sought to reassure people and businesses that the administration will meet all foreign exchange requirements and asked them to trust the Forex Deals Integrated System, the online regime recently launched by CB,I to make deals more transparent and manage supply and demand.
But he also denounced news of currency trade in "unofficial markets" as "incorrect news" that are reported without referring to credible sources.
Meanwhile, the head of Majlis Economic Commission said parliamentarians are to hold a meeting with Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani and push through their own currency agenda.
"After final conclusions during this meeting, the [MPs'] double-urgency plan will be put to the vote in an open session of the parliament in two days," Mohammad Reza Pour-Ebrahimi announced.
Private Sector Extremely Dissatisfied
Many businesses and private sector players have yet to receive foreign currencies at rates approved by the government, resulting in a complete halt of their operations.
Their exasperation was palpable when 150 of them gathered at the Iran Chamber of Commerce, Industries, Mines and Agriculture on Monday to discuss ways of resolving their problems and making their voices reach the government, but found out that the CBI representative slated to attend the meeting was absent.
They interpreted the absence as a clear slight, but Majid Reza Hariri, the deputy head of Iran-China Chamber of Commerce who helped organize the meeting, said "these decisions are made at higher levels and CBI has no choice but to follow them".
"The 70,000-rial dollar is the result of designating exchange of foreign currencies as smuggling," Pedram Soltani, the deputy head of ICCIMA, tweeted late Sunday. "Change this dangerous decision quickly; tomorrow will be late."