By Gevorg Stamboltsian
One U.S. dollar was worth 500 drams on the morning of 20 July, whereas in the evening it had slumped to 493 drams. According to employees of currency exchange bureaus, the dollar tends to lose against the dram in July every year. But they have never before witnessed such sharp fluctuation.
"Nothing like this has happened during the last 10 years. They say the dollar will fall against the dram to 450 per dollar," a woman working in an exchange bureau told RFE/RL.
The head of the Financial Markets department of Armenia's Central Bank, Gayane Matevosyan, mentioned three reasons for the strengthening of the Armenian dram. One reason is increased private inflows of cash from abroad.
"Private transfers from abroad compared to the same period last year have increased up to 46 percent," Matevosyan told RFE/RL.
A second reason, according to the Central Bank official, is an increase in exports. Compared to the first half of last year, exports have risen by 40 percent.
Officials attribute the trend to the traditional peak period in visits to Armenia by foreign tourists.
Some analysts do not agree with these arguments, however. Independent expert Eduard Aghajanov told RFE/RL: "This is money laundering. There are no other explanations for this. If we attribute this to tourism, we had a peak in tourism in 2001 and even then we did not see such unbelievable fluctuations."
Talking about the mechanisms of money laundering, Aghajanov said he means first of all the flow to Armenia of money of "suspicious origin." "Only huge flows of such money can provoke such fluctuations," Aghajanov said.
The Central Bank official, though, denies those suggestions. Gayane Matevosyan admitted that the average sum of private transfers to Armenia has grown. But she said this growth is not enough to substantiate suspicions of money laundering.
Although the dollar has seriously slumped against Armenian Dram, market prices have grown even higher. The Central Bank, however, argues that market prices are not directly connected to the currency market. Besides, those prices have not grown too much.
"We don't see any serious growth in market prices. In the first six months, prices grew only by 4.4 percent compared to the planned 5.2 percent," Matevosyan said. The Central Bank declined, though, to predict the currency rates for the coming days.
But Aghajanov suggested that one cannot analyze the situation from an economic point of view. "Everything depends on the appetite of some clans," he said.