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Venezuela central bank's gold reserves sink 13% in 2022

CARACAS, Feb 3 (Reuters) - Venezuela's central bank's gold reserves dropped 13% to a new 50-year low last year, according to financial statements published by the bank on Friday, falling 10 tonnes in 2022.

The number of gold bars in the bank's vaults in Caracas sank to an equivalent of 69 tonnes at the end of December 2022.

The central bank did not immediately respond to a request for comment as to where the 10 tonnes of gold moved out of the bank went.

Venezuela has used gold to shore up state finances in recent years amid the country's extended economic and social crisis.

The value of the gold that left the bank was around $650 million, leaving the central bank with some $3.91 billion in gold reserves.

The average price for gold, according to bank estimates, was $1,775.02 per troy ounce in 2022, compared to $1,799.48 per troy ounce in 2021.

In mid-2022, a UK court rejected Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro's efforts to gain control of more than $1 billion of Venezuela's gold reserves stored in the Bank of England's underground vaults in London.

For decades, Venezuela's central bank held on to more than 300 tonnes of gold, but that amount quickly dropped as the Maduro government began using the metal as collateral for loans with international banks from 2015 to 2017.

That, matched with a drop in oil production and the impact from U.S sanctions, has led Maduro's government to use gold as a source of finances. Political opponents have alleged bars were sold in exchange for cash.

In 2022, the central bank injected dollars into Venezuela's foreign exchange market to anchor the exchange rate, along with measures to limit credit and public spending, as part of a plan to tamp down on inflation.

The strategy worked for most of last year, but has begun to crack, sources told Reuters. Venezuela is at risk of returning to hyperinflation, economists say, and the annual inflation rate hit 234% in 2022, according to the country's vice president. (Reporting by Mayela Armas; Writing by Kylie Madry; Editing by Chris Reese)

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