Venezuelan Daily Brief

Published in association with The DVA Group and The Selinger Group, the Venezuelan Daily Brief provides bi-weekly summaries of key news items affecting bulk commodities and the general business environment in Venezuela.

Friday, December 13, 2013

December 13, 2013

Economics & Finance
International reserves continue decreasing.
Venezuela's international reserves have continued to decrease and hit U$D 20.5 billion this week, a 31% drop year-to-date, and their lowest level ever since August 20, 2004. The reduction in reserves is due to lackluster gold prices, increasing debt service cost, more imports, and lower oil revenues –caused by dwindling oil output and agreements under which Venezuela sells oil at discount price to other countries. (El Universal, 12-11-2013;

ECLAC estimates 1% economic growth in Venezuela in 2014.
The UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean has released its "Preliminary Overview of the Economies of Latin America and the Caribbean", which projects Venezuela's economic growth for 2014 at 1%. (El Universal, 12-11-2013;

Nearly 40% of firms acquiring FOREX in 2013 were dummy corporations.
Interior and Justice Minister General Miguel Rodríguez Torres says nearly 40% of the firms which acquired FOREX through the official system this year were dummy corporations, which have cheated the Government of millions of dollars, with official accomplices. (El Universal, 12-12-2013;

Venezuela's food inflation is the highest in Latin America.
Venezuelan authorities have established controls on prices for a large variety of products, set up a number of agro-industrial corporations, and control vast agricultural areas. However, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) there is huge gap between goals and results. In October 2012 - October 2013, the price of food and non-alcoholic beverages was 72.1% in Venezuela, while the increase rise in Latin America and the Caribbean was merely 9.6%. (El Universal, 12-12-2013;

Oil & Energy
Attached is a SPECIAL REPORT from Latin Business Chronicle: China, Russia, India, and the Venezuelan Petroleum Industry. By Dr. Evan Ellis, Associate Professor with the William J. Perry Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies in Washington DC.

This week PDVSA and REPSOL could sign an agreement through which the Spanish oil company will invest U$D 1.2 billion in the PETROQUIRIQUIRE joint venture. The agreement should have been signed last week. REPSOL had plans to close this year with a U$D 470 million net investment in Venezuela. (Veneconomy, 12-10-2013;

Venezuelan government weighs gasoline increase.
Land Transport Minister Haiman El Troudi says the government is considering raising gasoline prices, and that President Nicolás Maduro is responsible for announcing any decision on this matter. El Troudi ruled out any effect on public transport and nationwide freight services. (El Universal, 12-12-2013;; Veneconomy,

CAF grants U$D 300 million loan to Venezuela's electricity corporation.
Venezuela's Electric Power Corporation (CORPOELEC) and CAF - the Andean Development Bank signed a U$D 300 million loan to partially finance the consolidation of power transmission grids in west and east Venezuela.
The funds will be disbursed as follows: U$D 122 million this year; U$D 100 million in 2014; and U$D 78 million in 2015.
(El Universal, 12-11-2013;

SIDOR works begin street protests.
SIDOR workers who have been striking for 27 days over wage calculations, and benefits have taken their protests to the streets of Puerto Ordaz in Bolivar state (Eastern Venezuela). They denied having starting up operations, saying "they can’t continue to lie to President Maduro, SIDOR has not started up again, we have stopped working." More in Spanish: (El Universal,

International Trade
Smuggling from Venezuela to Colombia exceeds formal trade.
Authorities at San Antonio (Táchira state) Main Customs in western Venezuela told the Venezuelan-Colombian Economic Integration Chamber (CAVECOL) that "volumes and amounts involved in smuggling" on the border "may outnumber those of formal trade." According to CAVECOL's figures, Venezuela-Colombia bilateral trade in January-July 2013 dropped by 9% to U$D 1.5 billion, under U$D 1.6 billion the same period in 2012. (El Universal, 12-12-2013;

Logistics & Transport
IATA concerned over Venezuela's U$D 2.6 billion debt with airlines.
Tony Tayler, Director General of the International Air Transport Association (IATA) expressed the group's concern that the Venezuelan government has "continued to block repatriation of U$D 2.6 billion in cash due to the airline industry". More in Spanish: (El Universal,

Kerry says Washington is ready for talks with Venezuela.
Despite concerns about some moves by Nicolás Maduro's Government, US Secretary of State John Kerry says - in reference to Venezuela-US relations: "We are ready and willing, and we are open to improving that relationship." He adds that Washington is "concerned" about the recent approval of the Enabling Law, which grants the Venezuelan president special powers to issue decrees, something that could lead to "potential" abuse. Despite this, Kerry claimed he is prepared to resume a bilateral dialogue, yet hopes Caracas does not try to take advantage of the bilateral relationship to hide Venezuela's problems. (El Universal, 12-11-2013;

...but Caracas says US must stop funding dissenters in order to resume relations.
Venezuelan Foreign Minister Elías Jaua says that for US-Venezuela relations to come back to normal, the United States must "once and for all" stop "financing Venezuelan opposition organizations" and stop former officials allegedly plotting against the country. His remarks came in response to the statements issued by US State Secretary John Kerry. "For the purpose of advancing in the normalization of relations with the United States, once and for all that Government must stop financing opposition groups and purported non-governmental organizations in Venezuela," Jaua said in a press conference. (El Universal, 12-11-2013;

Opposition coalition evaluates its next steps.
President Maduro is touring districts where is party won municipal elections, claiming opposition leader Henrique Capriles must resign as Governor of Miranda state because he had called recent elections a "plebiscite" and they failed to garner a plurality. Capriles counters by saying he will continue to seek uniting all Venezuelans - adding that the President is not concerned about the nation's polarization. At the same time, Ramón Guillermo Aveledo, Secretary General of the United Democratic Conference (MUD), says the coalition must examine the agenda to determine what most concerns voters: There was a 58.9% turnout during municipal elections, which is high for a local vote, but not enough for the plebiscite format the opposition sought to achieve.  The pro-government United Socialist Party and its allies tallied 5.1 million votes (short of 50%) and controlled 255 municipalities - many of them in rural and remote areas, while the opposition's total was 4.2 votes and 75 municipalities which include most of the nation's largest cities. A variety of minor independent parties controlled 8.03% of the total vote, depriving the government of a clear majority. More in Spanish: (Infolatam)

Government claims the murder rate has dropped under Maduro.
According to the Venezuelan government, the murder rate here has dropped by about a quarter this year, and claims opponents' talk of ever-rising crime is propaganda. Violent crime has been Venezuelans' No. 1 concern in recent years. Awash with guns, the nation is one of the worlds most violent, with an official homicide rate of about 52 per 100,000 people last year, or more than 15,000 victims. (Reuters, 12-12-2013;

The following brief is a synthesis of the news as reported by a variety of media sources. As such, the views and opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of Duarte Vivas & Asociados and The Selinger Group.

SPECIAL REPORT from Latin Business Chronicle:

China, Russia, India, and the Venezuelan Petroleum Industry, by Dr. Evan Ellis, Associate Professor with the William J. Perry Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies in Washington DC.

PDVSA is increasingly beholden to foreign oil companies to keep up production. Is it sustainable?

Venezuela is in economic crisis: inflation exceeds 50%, basic goods run short, reserves are dwindling, and the Bolívar trades on the black market at almost 11 times the official rate. In this context, the oil sector -which generates over 96% of the country’s revenues – finds itself stuck between investors cutting their losses, and a group of Chinese, Indian, Russian, and Western firms who are expanding their presence and commitment to the country.

While the decision to stay may reflect a lack of better alternatives, it also implies a hope or faith that PDVSA will grant them greater autonomy, due to its need for continued investment. This autonomy could include allowing them to rationally manage the operations that are, in name, controlled by PDVSA, as well as ensuring that they can take delivery on additional oil, as promised, to repay themselves. In the process, those staying hope to emerge with a strategic position in the Venezuelan oil and gas sector, whose 300-500 billion barrels of oil (depending on assumptions about recovery rates) make its reserves the largest in the world.

China: The role of China in Venezuela includes:(1) loans to the Venezuelan government (a part of which is for goods and services that support the petroleum sector), (2) direct investments to quantify, develop and exploit oil blocks, (3) loans to PDVSA to cover its share of petroleum joint ventures, (4) augmentation of Venezuelan refinery capacity, and (5) the sale of major assets for future petroleum deliveries, including oil tankers and drilling rigs.

As of December 2013, loans actually disbursed by China Development Bank (CDB) to the Venezuelan government through its development bank BANDES total  U$D 36 billion, with U$D 15.4 billion still outstanding. The vehicle, referred to as the “China Fund” includes three separate instruments: the Heavy Investment Fund (HIF) Phase 1, into which CDB has made two injections of U$D 4 billion each, HIF Phase 2, which has similarly received two injections of U$D 4 billion, and the Large Volume fund, disbursed in two “tranches” totaling U$D 20 billion.

Some confusion exists over the price Venezuela received for its oil to repay these loans. The documents establishing the instruments mention a “Reference Price” used to calculate the volume of oil deliveries to repay the loan, based on the low market price for Venezuelan heavy crude when the deals were signed (U$D 50 for HIF Phase 1 and U$D 40 for HIF Phase 2). The actual credit received by BANDES for each barrel of oil delivered against its outstanding loan balance was based on the market price (plus markup) at the time of delivery.

Outside the “China Fund,” CDB has loaned U$D 4 billion to PDVSA to support the joint venture SINOVENSA. International Commerce Bank of China (ICBC) has also explored loaning as much as U$D 4 billion in support of projects being worked in Venezuela by the Chinese company CITIC, although no ICBC funds appear to have been disbursed.

The presence of Chinese companies in Venezuela’s oil industry predates the current “Bolivarian Socialist” regime. In 1997, CNPC was awarded rights to exploit the mature Intercampo and Caracoles oilfields. The project was the largest Chinese investment in the Americas at that time. In 2001 CNPC established a joint venture with PDVSA, SINOVENSA, to produce a special boiler fuel, Orimulsion, from heavy petroleum extracted from the MPE-3 oilfield in the Orinoco belt region. In 2006, SINOVENSA switched to upgrading the extracted product to sell it as oil instead. In 2004, CNPC was awarded another mature field, Zumano, converted to a joint company in 2007 as part of the nationalization of the Venezuelan oil sector.

Production from these mature fields supported the ramp-up in petroleum exports to China, starting in 2005, although the 2008 agreement with CNPC to develop Junin-4 (formalized in 2010) grabbed more attention. PDVSA received U$D 900 million from CNPC for the rights to Junin-4, plus the company’s commitment to contribute its 40% share of the U$D 16.4 billion estimated to be required to develop the block.

Despite the initial promise, progress on Junin-4 was very slow, with PDVSA lacking the funds to pay for its 60% of the infrastructure required to develop the field. Chinese commitments to other joint ventures were also slow to emerge. In 2010, SINOPEC was contracted to quantify reserves in Junin 8, yet there was no award for follow-on development, nor progress on the Junin-1 and Boyacá 4 blocks which PDVSA head Rafael Ramirez announced in 2011 might be awarded to SINOPEC. Similarly, in non-associated gas production, although China National Offshore Oil Company (CNOOC) signed a MOU in 2011 to participate in the Mariscal Sucre field, no commitment emerged.

In February 2013, amidst questions about leadership succession in Venezuela, China’s growing reservations led it to defer a request for a new U$D 4 billion loan. By the summer, however, with Xi Jinpeng officially installed as China’s president, and with serious challenges to Nicholas Maduro’s claim to power in Venezuela in the past, China appears to have decided to proceed with new loans to and projects with the regime. In June 2013, CDB agreed to loan U$D 4 billion, outside the China fund, to help the PDVSA-CNPC joint venture SINOVENSA more than double production at MPE-3 in a bid to generate more revenue. In September, trips to the PRC, first by Ramirez and subsequently Maduro, led to agreements with SINOPEC to develop Junin 1, and to CNPC for Junin 10, giving PDVSA much needed, albeit small, royalty payments. The meetings also produced a commitment by CDB to inject an additional U$D 5 billion to the China fund, although the latter was reportedly a disappointment for Maduro, who was hoping for an even bigger loan with cash not tied to specific projects.

Beyond loans and joint ventures, Chinese support to Venezuela’s petroleum sector includes a U$D 843 million Wilson Energy Services contract to support the Puerto la Cruz refinery in eastern Venezuela and CNPC’s construction of a 400,000 barrel per day refinery in Guangdong to process heavy Venezuelan crude. While CNPC is formally partnered with PDVSA on the refinery, it has had to fund the venture on its own, with PDVSA committing to pay its share through future petroleum deliveries.

Finally, PETROCHINA is supplying eight new oil tankers to PDV Marine through the joint company CV Shipping, also paid for through the China fund by Venezuelan oil deliveries. The tankers are important to control PDVSA’s freight costs as it ships increasing volumes of petroleum across the Pacific to China and India. While the first of such tankers, the Carabobo, never left China following its September 2012 christening in (now scheduled for delivery in May 2014), the second, the 2 million barrel Ayacucho arrived in Anzoátegui in October 2013, and the third, the Boyacá, overdue as this article went to press.

Russia: As with China, Russia is also making a long-term play for a stake in Venezuela’s petroleum sector, although its presence is more modest. Russia’s participation was initially spearheaded by a 5-company consortium, comprised of ROSNEFT, GASPROM, LUKOIL, SURGUTNEFTEGAZ and TNK-BP, which was awarded rights in 2010 to develop the Junin 6 block in partnership with PDVSA (forming the joint company PETROMIRANDA). In 2011, the consortium was named to develop the Mariscal Sucre offshore gas fields, while GAZPROM was separately given a contract for the Bachaquero Tierra and Lagunilla Tierra oil fields in the state of Zulia. The driving force behind the Russian initiatives was arguably Igor Sechin, Deputy Prime Minister until 2012, and current Executive Chairman of ROSNEFT.

Sechin, with close ties to the leftist regimes in both Cuba and Venezuela, assembled the consortium of Russian companies to present a unified front while negotiating with Venezuela on a state-to-state basis, rather than engaging PDVSA as individual companies. The consortium quickly ran into problems. In 2012, ROSNEFT began the purchase of TNK-BP, while SURGUTNEFTEGAZ pulled out of Venezuela, with ROSNEFT picking up stake. More damaging, however, was LUKOIL’s 2013 decision to withdraw. Within the consortium, LUKOIL arguably had the greatest technical knowledge and capability for operating in Venezuela, and its pullout left ROSNEFT with a difficult challenge to absorb LUKOIL’s stake and execute the concession.

Despite such problems, Russian companies remaining in Venezuela have decided to continue with PDVSA and “ride out the storm.” In November 2013 GAZPROM agreed to loan PDVSA U$D 1 billion to help it to bring production on line. At an industry conference the same month, ROSNEFT committed to invest U$D 65 billion in Venezuela through 2022, although industry experts are doubtful of the credibility of such commitments.

India: The third significant extra-regional actor in Venezuela is India. Its potential participation expanded significantly at the end of 2013, yet its companies have actually committed very little real money. Indian companies have been participants in the Venezuelan petroleum sector since the 2008 formation of PETROINDOVENEZOLANA (which included ONGC VIDESH) to develop the San Cristobal project in Junin, followed in 2010 by the formation of PETROCARABOBO (including ONGC-VIDESH and India Oil) to develop Carabobo-1.Indian engagement with PDVSA has also included contracts to purchase oil through Venezuela for Reliance and other Indian refineries.

A September 2013 summit in India between PDVSA head Rafael Ramirez and Indian Energy and Mines Minister Veerappa Moily, followed by the visit of an Indian delegation to Caracas in October, produced multiple new agreements including with Reliance to evaluate the Ayacucho-8 block and with ONGC VIDESH to evaluate Ayacucho-3. The agreements also included potential work for ESSAR and Oil India on transportation infrastructure. Also mentioned was the possible expansion of the ONGC VIDESH investment in Carabobo-1, to pick up the share being abandoned by the Malaysian company PETRONAS. The Carabobo-1 investment would also potentially include a multi-billion dollar investment in an upgrading facility so that the product extracted from the block could be transported to and processed in conventional refineries. Reportedly, Indian companies also continued to be interested in Ayacucho 3 and Boyaca-4 (previously earmarked by PDVSA for the Chinese company CNPC).

For PDVSA, the pursuit of new concessions with India were arguably motivated by hoped-for royalty payments from a potential future agreement. For India, possible motivations included controlling more of the oil used to feed its refineries and decreasing direct oil purchases from Iran, although the imperative for the later diminished as Tehran and Washington moved closer to a nuclear deal that could re-legitimize the latter as an international oil producer. India’s initiatives also reportedly were facilitated by its Ambassador in Caracas, Smita Purushottam, who had written a graduate thesis while at Harvard on using China as a model for India’s engagement in countries such as Venezuela.

Other Actors: As noted previously, Chinese, Russian and Indian companies are not the only ones who have made the calculation that the best of bad options is to remain in Venezuela and help PDVSA to bring online the oil production that will repay their extra-contractual collaboration. Although EXXON MOBIL and CONOCO PHILLIPS pulled out years ago, western companies electing to stay for the moment include CHEVRON, Spain’s REPSOL, and Italy’s ENI. Indeed, the estimated U$D10 billion in loans provided to PDVSA by its partners this year (although some are simply conversion of accounts receivable with PDVSA to debt) includes an announced U$D 2 billion from Chevron, U$D 1.2 billion from REPSOL, and U$D 1.5 billion from Schlumberger.

Conclusions: Looking toward the future, Venezuela experts consulted for this article generally agree that the country’s present trajectory is unsustainable. Perhaps the greatest cause for hope is suggestions by persons close to PDVSA that the current crisis is forcing a greater role of foreign firms in the operational, financial, and strategic management of joint ventures.

The complex truth is that PDVSA will be able to bring up production in some areas, and address some problems in refining, transportation and other areas. It will not, however, be able to meet all of its increasingly desperate future commitments to its partners, while simultaneously passing enough money to the government and society to stave off public disorder. The calculus of government and industry actors is thus arguably evolving from desperate attempts to save the ship of state to an ugly struggle over “who gets the last lifeboat.” In this game, the only rule is ruthlessness, and competitors and partners alike are the enemy. Someone will eventually end up in control of 300 billion barrels of recoverable oil, even if market developments in other areas like shale gas diminishes their value, and even if, in the process, Venezuela descends into chaos and bloodshed.

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