Zimbabwe Going After Hungary’s World Record in Hyperinflation


Zimbabwe’s currency plunged to a new record low on Thursday, trading at an average 1 billion to the U.S. dollar on a recently introduced interbank market and triggering massive price increases.

That’s one Billion, with a B. Unimaginable… almost. The world has seen worse.

Until now Hungary held the rather unpleasant world record for the most extreme hyperinflation ever. After World War II, in July 1946 the monthly rate was 41,900,000,000,000,000% (4.19 × 1016%). I can’t even read out such a large number, and it’s monthly, not annual.

The currency in Hungary for decades was the Pengo. The first banknote I’m showing on the right is 1 Billion Millpengo. (Millpengo = 1 Million Pengos). Crazy enough? It was soon followed by 100 Million Bilpengo, where Bilpengo = 1 Billion Pengos. But it’s not over yet: the highest denomination ever printed, but fortunately not issued ( new currency was issued instead) was 1 Billion Bilpengo. Again, I don’t even know what number it translates to, but Wikipedia says it would be one sextillion or 1021 pengo. Another indication of how surreal it was is the fact that all these banknotes were printed on the same day…

Instead of the large numbers, let’s try to imagine what such hyperinflation means in everyday life. Wikipedia says it amounted to prices doubling every fifteen hours. My parents’ recollection is even worse: employees were paid daily in large wads of cash and they had to rush to the stores to spend their earnings before it would become worthless. They would join endless lines, and by the time they got to buy their bread, it cost double the amount it was when they joined the line.

In Zimbabwe, a loaf of bread, which cost about Z$15 million before the polls (in which Mugabe lost but does not give up) now costs about Z$600 million. Will Zimbabwe displace Hungary’s world record?

Update: Hungary also holds the world record of kissing.

Update (6/16/09): Mint has the story of nine hyperinflationary currencies.


  1. “I want to buy a shoelace.”
    “It will be 50 billion millpengos”
    “I have only a 100 billion millpengo note.”
    “I’m sorry, can you wait 15 minutes? I can’t give the change right now.”
    “Ah, and you will be able to give change then?”
    “No, the shoelace will cost 100 billion millpengos”

    I knew an older guy, he plastered his walls with millpengos.

    It was crazy, I hope no one will break the record. It would not be too good for anyone.

  2. Zimbabwe is already where Weimar Germany was in 1923. Next stop Hungary 1946!

    This is because Mugabe inflates to pay his political cronies, soldiers, torturers and secret police (I don’t know if they are officially separate or if the same people do all everything).

    Ordinary people can only withdraw Z$100bn a day- soldiers & etc. can have Z$1.5tr a day and the banks will deliver it to their baracks, concentration camps or wherever they are.

    If this were happening in Europe we would have invaded by now but waiting for SADC to invade appears to be waiting for the Greek Calends.

    The only ray of hope is that Mugabe may not have enough paper to inflate much more- Germany will no longer supply him. He will move on to steal something else to pay his henchmen but possibly the currency may recover a bit?

  3. Is the money worth less than the paper it is printed on?

  4. Wondering what is their Credit Cards limit…. 100 billions?


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