Zimbabwe inflation almost doubles, stirring memories of economic chaos

Prices of cooking oil and other basics soared in Zimbabwe as inflation nearly doubled in June, data showed on Monday, piling pressure on a population struggling with shortages and stirring memories of economic chaos a decade ago.

Annual inflation hit 175.66 percent, up from 97.85 percent in May, statistics agency ZIMSTATS said – the highest rate since runaway money-printing and associated hyperinflation forced the country to abandon its currency in 2009.

The figures cast a shadow over President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s bid to revitalise an economy that suffered decades of decline and bouts of financial chaos under veteran leader Robert Mugabe’s near four-decade rule.

Abrupt changes in monetary policy and dire economic readings, some dating back to before Mnangagwa took over in 2017, have spooked locals and investors alike.

“The economy is in bad shape and conditions continue to worsen,” said Jee-A van der Linde, economist at NKC African Economics. “There is no doubt that the economy is going to suffer a contraction this year.”

On a month-on-month basis, the consumer price index rose 39.26 percent in June compared to 12.54 percent in May, ZIMSTATS said – nearing the monthly 50 percent figure that would mark the start of hyperinflation.

Prices of basic goods from sugar to cooking oil to building materials soared during the month as much as 200 percent, the agency added, as the local currency fell.

Zimbabwe abandoned its currency after inflation peaking at 500 billion percent in 2008 wiped out pensions, savings and any vestiges of confidence in the unit.

The southern African state then experimented with a few forms of tenders from quasi currency bond notes to electronic iterations, though foreign currencies such as the U.S. dollars and South African rand dominated local transactions.

But in June, Mnangagwa’s government surprised the market when it brought back a national currency – making the interim unit the sole legal tender, renaming it the Zimbabwe dollar and banning the use of foreign currencies for local transactions.