Dinar is served
Investors caught between Iraq and a hard place
By KAJA WHITEHOUSE
Thousands of Main Street investors, fed up with a stock market that has barely moved in more than a decade, are seeking out heftier returns in more exotic investments.
And then there is Ryan Williams.
Williams, 35, of Bakersfield, Calif., has abandoned US stocks and bonds for one of the chanciest investments on the map: the Iraqi dinar.
The small-business owner said he has been buying Iraqi dinars regularly since he was first turned on to them around 2005. His last purchase: just this month.
“There’s risk in anything,” he told The Post in a recent interview, explaining why he gave up US stocks and bonds in favor of the world of currencies. “I think our economy has shown us that.”
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Williams is not alone in investing in the currency of the war-torn country. There is a growing number of dinar devotees betting that the currency — currently pegged at 1,165 dinars per US dollar — could one day spike in value if Iraq’s new government gets on its feet, begins profiting from its massive oil supplies and revalues its currency.
The exotic investors point to currency spikes in West Germany following World War II and in Kuwait following its 1990 invasion as proof the strategy works.
The potential for riches has opportunity-hungry investors so eager for information that Paul Christopher of Wells Fargo said he gets more questions about the controversial paper than any other currency except, more recently, the euro.
“I don’t get many currency questions as frequently as I get questions about the dinar,” Christopher, the chief international investment strategist for Wells Fargo, told The Post.
Indeed, knowledge of the once-obscure currency trade is reflected in “Hit and Run,” a new movie starring Bradley Cooper and Kristen Bell.
Bell, who plays a university professor in love with a former bank robber, derides Cooper’s dinar deal as a “get-rich-quick” scheme.
Wells Fargo’s Christopher agrees with Bell’s assessment — and not just because of the ongoing geopolitical turmoil that could tumble the current government.
The Iraqi dinar isn’t held by US banks or traded by major currency exchanges, so interested investors must locate dealers who will deliver the investment in paper form.
That means higher risk for fraud, which has been increasing around this trade in recent years, according to warnings from the Better Business Bureau.
But it also means higher markups to buy the currency, plus storage fees. Selling the dinar could also be pricey, given the lack of big, institutional buyers.
At dealer DinarTrade, for example, buying 1 million dinars will cost $1,020, according to the website. But selling them back will earn you just $810, said DinarTrade founder Ali Agha, citing the unfavorable exchange rate by the Central Bank of Iraq.
Still, Agha, one of the few dealers rated favorably by the Better Business Bureau, doesn’t see interest in the trade fading anytime soon, given the degree to which mom-and-pop investors — who make up the bulk of his clientele — have been burned by stocks and real estate.
“Main Street doesn’t believe in the stock market anymore,” Agha said.