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Why NOT to invest in Iraqi Dinars!

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Why NOT to invest in Iraqi Dinars!
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A number of people have begun touting so-called "investment" opportunities in the Iraq Dinar as a "sure way" to make a lot of money with little or no risk.Is "investing" in the Iraq Dinar a sure way to profit? I don't think so. In my opinion, buying the Iraq Dinar is a high risk investment with a poor outlook.

  A Little History

The official rate of the old Iraq Dinar, $3.22 USD (U.S. Dollars), was set in 1982 by Saddam Hussein. The old Iraq Dinar could not be freely traded, so this rate was never tested or upheld on the world market.

The current Iraq Dinar (IQD) was introduced between October 2003 and January 2004 by the Coalition Provisional Authority in close consultation with financial experts from Iraq and the international community. The IQD is currently valued at (1 USD = 1,153 IQD). The old "Saddam" Dinar has no current value and is worth only what a collector is willing to pay for it.

  What's Happening Now?

The IQD is not freely traded, and is not being used in any significant international transactions. It is very doubtful that any official bank or foreign exchange office outside of the middle east will exchange the IQD.

The IQD trades on a very small, tightly controlled exchange. The total volume of IQD traded by the Central Bank of Iraq is in the thousands of dollars, compared to the $1,900 billion dollars traded on the Foreign exchange market every day. This small number of trades makes the IQD's value effectively immaterial.

The Central Bank of Iraq's stated objective is not to promote the free trade of IQD, as is the case in a true free market economy, but rather to keep the value of the IQD stable. The only way the Bank can ensure the semblance of stability is by tightly controlling the exchange of IQD on the market, and by ensuring that the currency cannot freely trade on the open market. They evidently fear that open trading of the IQD would lead to a rout in which the value of the IQD would sink to practically nothing.

Consider the situation. Why tightly control the trading of the IQD if it is likely to appreciate in value? If the value of the IQD were to surge, this could be held out as evidence of a surge of confidence in Iraq's economy. So why not open the IQD to free trading? Why would this be done unless the Iraqi Central Bank itself feels that the IQD would decline in value in a free market?

  A Snapshot of Iraq Today

The current situation in Iraq is pretty grim:

Over a decade of international economic sanctions and a devastating war has left the infrastructure in tatters
$125 billion of external debt
Millions of dollars in post-war debt
No stable government
Insurgency steadily on the rise
Oil facilities and pipelines are sabotaged regularly
Many (including the former Prime Minister of Iraq) predict out-and-out civil war
These aren't the kind of conditions typically conducive to the creation of booming economies. More to the point -- a 450,000% increase in the value of the IQD (as predicted by some of its promoters) seems ridiculous in the face of these challenges.

  But Surely There's Oil Under Those Dunes?

A lot of the hype over the IQD centers around Iraq's vast oil reserves and their supposed economic value. The oil market is extremely unpredictable. An economy based on oil alone (oil makes up 95% of Iraq's foreign exchange earnings), will mirror that unpredictability. Let's look at a real-world example: Venezuela.

Oil accounts for 80% of Venezuela's national exports and 50% of its government revenues. The country is one of the world's top five oil producers. In the last four years, Venezuela has experienced intense political instability, including an oil strike and an attempted coup d'état. The resulting economic chaos has led to the extreme devaluation of the Venezuelan Bolivar -- today, it is worth only about a third of its US Dollar value from January 2000, and only about a quarter of its Euro value from January 2000.

Investing in a country's currency is tantamount to investing in that country's economy as a whole, not in any single commodity. Investing in the Iraq Dinar is not the same as investing in Iraq's oil.

  But What About Kuwait?

Promoters of the IQD like to compare Iraq now to post-Gulf War Kuwait -- but this is comparing apples to oranges.

Before the Gulf War, Kuwait had a stable government and its foreign investments generated more income for its economy than its oil did. After the war, despite losing a third of its pre-war investment portfolio (over $100 billion USD), Kuwait still had a solvent economy, a stable government, and an intact infrastructure. Of course its currency increased.

In comparison, Iraq entered the war with a $125 billion USD debt, has almost no infrastructure, no stable government, and no other foreign income except its oil -- the vulnerability and unpredictability of which we have already pointed out. The outlook for its economy and the IQD is grim for the foreseeable future.

In late 2004, the US was successful in convincing some foreign creditors to "forgive" some of Iraq's debt. However, debt forgiveness is seldom a blessing, and generally comes at a very heavy price. Other countries whose foreign debts have been "forgiven" have found it nearly impossible to generate any foreign investment afterwards. Think about it: how would you feel about investing in Iraq again if you lost your entire investment (i.e. you "forgave" it) last time?

  If it Sounds Too Good to be True...

Ask yourself one question: if the Iraq Dinar is such a hot commodity, why would anyone in the know be willing to sell it to you? If you thought that the IQD was going to multiply in worth by hundreds of thousands of percent, would you sell it? Of course not -- you'd be too busy buying as much of it as you could.

But if you thought that the IQD was going to go down in value over time, well, then you might start trying to convince people that it was a "great deal" so that you could get rid of all of yours before it nose dives.

Remember the old saying: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Be careful!

update 2-6-2010

 The Iraqi Central Bank is planning to redenominate the national currency in an effort to ease transactions and allow people to carry less paper money, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) reports.

Mudhhir Muhammad Salih, a member of a Central Bank advisory panel, told RFI that a plan has been made to remove three zeros from the currency and phase out the current banknotes late this year.

Salih said by the end of 2010 the new banknotes will be fully introduced while the old banknotes will be gradually removed from circulation. He did not specify when the new notes would be issued.

Both will be legal tender in Iraq until the old notes are completely withdrawn.

Iraqi officials have had a long-running plan to redenominate the Iraqi dinar. In 2006, the Finance Ministry recommended to the Central Bank that it carry out such a plan.

Salih pointed out that banks are having a hard time accepting cash savings and deposits, but by dropping the zeros it will make it easier for both the banks to deal with their customers and for the general public to carry money. He said some 80 percent of Iraq's money supply is cash in circulation.

Salih added that in 1990 the value of banknotes in circulation was about 25 billion Iraqi dinars but is currently some 25 trillion dinars.

Economic analyst Hilal al-Tahhan told RFI that the bank's move is overdue. He said he expects the currency change to go smoothly because of the decision to allow both the old and new banknotes to coexist, leading to less turbulence in the economy.

The current exchange rate is 1,163 Iraqi dinars to the U.S. dollar. 

update 06-2013

In 2010, the Central Bank of Iraq announced their plans to redenominate the Iraqi Dinar to ease cash transactions. The intention would be to drop three zeros from the nominal value of bank notes; but the actual value of the dinar would remain unchanged. Although the announcement stated that the change would take place by the end of 2010, no redenomination took place. As stated by the Central Bank of Iraq, their mandate is to "ensure domestic price stability and foster a stable competitive market based financial system."


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