One day before suspension, Venezuela offers to adhere to MERCOSUR Economic Complementation Agreement
Foreign Minister Delcy Rodríguez says Venezuela is ready to adhere to the MERCOSUR (Common Market of the South) Economic Complementation Agreement #18, which aims at creating conditions for a common market by coordinating macroeconomic policies, tariff reductions and eliminating non-tariff barriers to trade, among others. Her announcement comes one day before a deadline for compliance by Venezuela set by MERCOSUR founding members: Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay. The founding members set December 1st as a deadline for Venezuela to comply with all MERCOSUR standards or have its voting rights suspended indefinitely. In a joint statement, MERCOSUR demanded that Venezuela adopt “close to 300 rules” to comply with its obligations as a full member of the organization. More in Spanish: (El Mundo, http://www.elmundo.com.ve/noticias/economia/politicas-publicas/venezuela-se-adhiere-al-acuerdo-de-complementacion.aspx#ixzz4RUDDRYfP; Infolatam: http://www.infolatam.com/2016/11/29/venezuela-comunica-resto-socios-se-adecuara-normativa-mercosur)
89 metric tons of optic fibers have arrived at La Guaira port from Curacao for the National Telephone Company (CANTV), to be used in repairing and maintaining company cables. More in Spanish: (Bolipuertos, http://www.bolipuertos.gob.ve/noticia.aspx?id=34802)
Oil & Energy
The OPEC deal is done. Here's what to expect from oil markets next
The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries has committed its fractious members to their first oil production limits in eight years. The impact on the energy world was immediate: benchmark oil prices gained as much as 10% in New York and the share prices of energy companies around the globe jumped alongside the currencies of large exporters. Now comes the hard part. OPEC has agreed to cut production by about 1.2 million barrels per day, or about 4.5% of current production, to 32.5 million barrels per day. Top oil exporter Saudi Arabia faces the unenviable tasks of policing cartel members and keeping crude prices within a range that will relieve pressure on oil-producing countries' economies, but which will dissuade non-OPEC producers from increasing output. Analysts broadly expect an agreement to boost oil prices above US$ 50 a barrel and keep them there. Prices have wavered between about US$ 40 and US$ 54 since the spring Commodity watchers also believe the deal will set up a long-awaited balance between oil supply and demand in the first half of next year. But OPEC now has a difficult needle to thread. Oil rigs began popping up in U.S. oil fields when prices approached US$ 50 a barrel, and analysts believe high-cost producers outside OPEC will further ramp up production if crude prices rise above US$ 55 a barrel. That includes U.S. shale drillers, which have built a backlog of partially completed wells in anticipation of a price recovery. Once prices rise, they could switch on that production-in-waiting. Goldman Sachs believes the deal will cause crude prices to spike in the first half of 2017, and then moderate in the second half as both OPEC and U.S. shale producers capitalize on the rally. But JPMorgan sees prices rising slowly but steadily quarter after quarter. The bank cautioned that the deal is essentially aimed at preventing an even larger buildup of oil stockpiles. Skeptics have long warned that OPEC members are notorious cheaters and may not stick to quotas agreed to in Vienna. But RBC Capital Markets said adherence may not matter so much this time for a simple reason: OPEC members are near full-tilt, and they don't have much more capacity to pump. Beyond OPEC, other countries aren't helping out those who hope for higher prices, the International Energy Agency said in its latest oil market report. Demand for oil around the world is expected to increase by 1.2 million barrels a day in 2017, a rate of growth that would match this year. The IEA also projects Russia, the world's largest oil producer, to increase its crude output by 230,000 barrels a day this year. The agency says Russia could boost production by another 200,000 barrels a day next year. OPEC said it is seeking to secure 600,000 barrels per day of cuts from non-OPEC producers, and that Russia has committed to temporarily cut production by about 300,000 barrels per day, “conditional on its technical abilities,” Energy Minister Alexander Novak said in Moscow. But implementing the cuts will be difficult for Russia. The Russian government, which owns a majority share in that country's big oil companies, would face a revolt from minority shareholders if it sought to limit production, he said. From a technical perspective, Russia can't turn off the taps, because much of the production comes from areas with freezing temperatures where drillers must keep oil flowing, he added. Prior to OPEC's announcement, the IEA said it also expects Brazil, Canada and Kazakhstan to pump more in 2017. That would push total non-OPEC output growth to 500,000 barrels a day next year, compared with a projected decline of 900,000 barrels a day this year. "This means that 2017 could be another year of relentless global supply growth similar to that seen in 2016," IEA said. OPEC will meet again on May 25 next year, at which point it intends to extend the cuts by another six months, Qatari Energy Minister Mohammed Al Sada told reporters in Vienna. (CNBC: http://www.cnbc.com/2016/11/30/the-opec-deal-is-done-heres-what-to-expect-from-oil-markets-next.html; Bloomberg: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-11-30/opec-said-to-agree-oil-production-cuts-as-saudis-soften-on-iran; The Wall Street Journal: http://www.wsj.com/articles/opec-deal-to-curb-production-in-doubt-oil-prices-rebound-1480481281)
Venezuela to cut 95,000 BPD, but will haunt oil long after Vienna
President Nicolas Maduro has welcomed the OPEC consensus on cutting 1.2 million barrels per day (bpd) in the joint oil production. "I congratulate and thank our OPEC partners for the important agreement we have reached today to stabilize the market," he said in his Twitter account. Oil Minister Eulogio Del Pino said this country will cut 95.000 barrels per day, a 4.6% reduction from 2.06 million BPD to 1.97 million BPD, starting January 1st; and Venezuela, Kuwait and Algeria will be part of a Ministerial Monetary Committee, established today by OPEC to monitor the development of the oil market. But Venezuela's officials can't be so sanguine. Venezuela's real GDP per capita has gone from its highest in 3 decades to almost its lowest in the space of about 5 years. So even if Saudi Arabia OPEC does agree to cut production to support prices, Venezuela's problems won't disappear. Which means its status as a wildcard in global oil supply won't, either. PDVSA’s problems are structural, rather than cyclical. The company has never fully recovered from the general strike and subsequent purging under late president Hugo Chavez in 2002 and 2003, with production drifting down even during the boom in oil prices for much of the decade after 2004. Part of the problem is that, as is often the case with state-owned oil companies, PDVSA was a piggy bank for the government. Social expenditure outpaced investment in exploration and production consistently over the past decade. The decline is worse because PDVSA's production has been shifting toward heavier grades of crude oil from the so-called Orinoco oil belt. Heavy oil from the Orinoco belt has risen from 38% of Venezuela's falling output to almost half. This oil is harder to process, and gets priced at a discount. So along with simply producing fewer barrels, Venezuela gets less for each one. Meanwhile, as its lighter oil production declines, it has fewer of those barrels to blend in with the heavier crude to make it palatable to refiners. The consequent need to import more light oil effectively raises the cost of each barrel and drains the country of precious dollar reserves. The traditional discount on Venezuela's basket crude oil price versus Brent has widened out even more in the past couple of years. At this point, PDVSA is straining to keep going. It just got an extension on some debt coming due after weeks of brinkmanship with bondholders. Contractors such as Schlumberger Ltd. -- crucial to holding the line against further declines in oil production -- have reduced activity in Venezuela until unpaid bills are settled. And a large proportion of PDVSA's output is effectively mortgaged to creditors, such as China, or earmarked for subsidized customers, such as Cuba. For all its tribulations, PDVSA will do everything it can to avoid defaulting on its debts, for fear of what would happen if the bond market were closed to it. If oil prices do increase from here, perhaps as result of an OPEC freeze/cut, then that would provide more breathing room for both the national oil champion and the government. Venezuela's structural problems mean it needs more than just temporary breathing room, though. In an extreme scenario, food shortages, rampant inflation and an unpopular government's effective blockage of a recall referendum could lead to widespread civil unrest and possibly a collapse in both oil production and consumption, taking perhaps 1.5 million barrels a day of exports off the global market. That would be the scale of cut OPEC has talked about -- only a de facto one coming out of Caracas rather than Vienna. If prices plunge again in the absence of a credible OPEC cut, then this potential reality comes a bit more into focus. Yet, even if Venezuela avoids such chaos, its existing problems will haunt the oil market for years to come anyway. Remember, even when prices were high, PDVSA's output was declining and turning heavier. Having dropped by about 300,000 barrels a day this year, it could easily drop by the same amount next year -- which would equate to one quarter of the expected increase in global oil demand. That would, in turn, support prices -- but mainly to the benefit of rivals such as U.S. shale drillers and OPEC's more stable members, rather than Venezuela itself. (Bloomberg: https://www.bloomberg.com/gadfly/articles/2016-11-30/opec-meeting-venezuela-will-haunt-oil-long-after-vienna; and more in Spanish: El Economista: http://www.eleconomista.net/2016/11/30/ecuador-reducira-su-bombeo-en-26000-barriles-diarios-y-venezuela-en-95000; El Universal: http://www.eluniversal.com/noticias/economia/opep-acordo-recortar-produccion-petroleo_629328)
Economy & Finance
Venezuela's currency is in 'free fall'
It's the latest sign of Venezuela's extreme economic, political and humanitarian crisis. Sky high food prices -- or massive shortages of basic food and medicine -- have plagued Venezuelans for years and have gotten worse this year. Inflation in Venezuela is expected to rise 1,660% next year, according to the IMF. The country has been in recession for three years now. One dollar fetched 1,567 bolivars on November 1. On November 28, a dollar was worth 3,480 bolivars on the widely-used unofficial exchange rate monitored by Dolartoday.com. "It's a currency that's going down the toilet," says Russ Dallen, managing partner at Caracas Capital Markets, an investing firm in Miami. "No one wants to hold on to something that's going to be worth 50% less in a month." A few factors are behind the bolivar's most recent plunge. The government has been forced to pump cash into its system because the money in circulation isn't enough to pay for goods that cost a lot more. But with the value of the bolivar falling so dramatically, Venezuelans are desperately trying to exchange their bolivars for dollars, which are seen as a more a more valuable and stable currency. That's led to a scarcity of dollars. That's boosted the dollar's value versus the bolivar even more.
- Food prices have skyrocketed this fall as the government stopped enforcing some price controls following a food scarcity. Many vendors had stopped selling food because the price controls was forcing them to sell at a loss. Now, with the price controls gone, there's food available on supermarket shelves, but at such exorbitant prices that few Venezuelans can afford.
- The government recently increased the minimum wage by 40%.
- Venezuela fully reopened its border with Colombia earlier this summer, allowing Venezuelans to go and exchange money to buy basic food and medicine. That drove up demand for dollars and more bolivars disappeared from circulation.
- Finally, the government cut the cash requirements at banks in Venezuela, which also helped juice the number of bolivars in circulation.
Venezuela will release even bigger bills to help shrink walletsAfter years of soaring prices reduced the value of the largest 100-bolivar bill to just a few U.S. cents, Venezuelan authorities are finally preparing to issue larger-denomination bank notes, much to the relief of shoppers. The notes -- 500 and 5,000 bolivars -- will be released toward the middle of next month, said a senior government official who isn’t authorized to talk about the plans publicly. Additional bills of 1,000, 2,000, 10,000 and 20,000 bolivars will enter circulation in the first half, the official said. The refusal of the authorities to issue bigger bills had forced Venezuelans to ditch wallets in favor of bags of cash for everyday transactions. Things have got so bad that some shopkeepers weigh wads of bank notes instead of counting them to save time. Venezuela’s money supply has risen 130% over the past year, according to the latest data available from the Central Bank in Caracas. On the black market, where a dollar costs more than six times as much as the weakest legal rate of 662 bolivars per dollar, the currency has slumped 65% this month alone. (Bloomberg: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-11-30/venezuelan-inflation-hits-currency-with-arrival-of-bigger-bills)
Venezuelan gold reserves to increase with artisanal ingots
President Nicolás Maduro has announced that the first artisanal gold ingots manufactured in the Orinoco Mining Arc, south Venezuela, would be sent to the vaults of the Central Bank of Venezuela (BCV), with a view to strengthening the country’s international gold reserves. (El Universal, http://www.eluniversal.com/noticias/daily-news/venezuelan-gold-reserves-grow-with-artisanal-ingots_629200)
Politics and International Affairs
Oppositions will pull out of talks if the government does not honor commitments
The Democratic Unity (MUD) opposition coalition has formally told Vatican and UNASUR mediators that they will not attend a second meeting on December 6th, if the Maduro regime does not honor the commitments it made at their first meeting. It says: “Any form of dialogue, meeting or negotiation is useless if there is no guarantee that both sides will honor the agreements that are reached.” Mayor Carlos Ocariz, of the Primero Justicia party, said “we have complied with all that we formally agreed to on 11-12 November, and the government has complied with nothing”. He explained that the government has disregarded the agreement to call of the Supreme Tribunal’s ruling that the National Assembly is in contempt, to replace two members of the National Elections Council (CNE), free the political prisoners, and open a route for humanitarian aid. He said the opposition had suspended the political trial of President Maduro, called off demonstrations and withdrawn 3 contested legislators from Amazonas state. It said it will not return to the negotiating table if the government doesn’t urge the Supreme Tribunal to nullify its ruling of contempt along with sentences that have restricted the National Assembly’s powers; name two new members of the National Elections Council by December 4th, when the term of Socorro Hernández and Tania D’Amelio expires; free political prisoners and set up a bilateral Truth Commission; open a humanitarian relief channel to import food, and medical supplies; call for new elections in Amazonas state at a mutually agreed upon date, through a Supreme Tribunal sentence. If the government has not complied by December 6th, the MUD will announce its final decision and call for constitutional, electoral, democratic and peaceful action to overcome the political, institutional, social and economic crisis Venezuela is undergoing. It adds that “the obstinate refusal of the government to comply with its part of the agreements clearly points to internal divisions that prevent them from compliance and therefore sits down to talks to gain time and fool the people….the Democratic Unity coalition wants a dialogue that has results that allow this country to constitutionally and democratically elect a national unity government that is able to stop the economic crisis, recover political governability, rebuild social coexistence, and fully respect human rights.” More in Spanish: (El Universal: http://www.eluniversal.com/noticias/politica/mud-amenazo-con-abandonar-dialogo-gobierno-cumple-acuerdos_629415)
Church authorities toughen stance on regime’s non-compliance with dialogue agreements
Roman Catholic Church authorities are witnessing the lack of commitment by the Maduro regime in complying with what it has offered at talks with the opposition sponsored by the Vatican and UNASUR. Monsignor Diego Padrón, Chairman of the Roman Catholic Bishops Conference, says “the government must comply with two things: freeing political prisoners and opening up a humanitarian channel to aid citizens needy of food and medicine…The Conference is not happy with the dialogue process and most of the people aren’t happy either….The people feel the government wants to control the dialogue, and the manner in which the government presents the dialogue to media transmits that negative impression”. At the same time, Jesuit father José Virtuoso, Rector of the Catholic University said “democracy in Venezuela is in a parenthesis because the government has managed elections arbitrarily. If there are no elections, dialogue must be abandoned.” More in Spanish: (El Universal: http://www.eluniversal.com/noticias/politica/runrunes_629257)
AI urges Venezuelan authorities to stop police raids.Human rights organization Amnesty International urged Venezuelan authorities to stop implementing anti-crime operations called Operation Liberation and Protection of the People (OLP) and to develop “plans for comprehensive citizen safety which respect human rights.” In a communiqué disclosed on Wednesday, the organization noted that security plans needed to include the broad and diverse participation of civil society and the guidance of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. “The so-called OLP has been reported by civil society organizations and individual cases of arbitrary detentions, torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment such as forced disappearances and executions carried out by officials who should be responsible for ensuring compliance with the law,” the communiqué reads, EFE reported. Last weekend, 12 bodies were found in two mass graves in the Barlovento area, northern Miranda state. They had been detained a month ago, in the context in one of the security operations in question and had no criminal record, according to Venezuelan Ombudsman Tarek William Saab. (El Universal: http://www.eluniversal.com/noticias/daily-news/urges-venezuelan-authorities-stop-police-raids_629426)
Judge Afiuni's case to be presented at National Assembly
Following an Opinion from the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, the National Assembly’s Domestic Policy Committee, headed by opposition lawmaker Delsa Solórzano, will review the case of judge María Lourdes Afiuni, who was accused of releasing businessman Eligio Cedeño. Afiuni spoke at a private hearing, and claimed her case “has revealed the horror that the country’s justice system has been turned into.” “Afiuni, who was released on parole in 2013, also said that: “Here (in Venezuela) the fear of judges prevents things from being clarified; they only follow instructions from the Executive Office. Thus, legal autonomy and independence are gone”. (El Universal, http://www.eluniversal.com/noticias/daily-news/judge-afiunis-case-presented-venezuelan-congress-meeting_629431)
As Venezuela talks stutter, detained Maduro foes languishA hundred or so opponents of President Nicolas Maduro have been detained on accusations or formal charges of plotting to overthrow his socialist government. Their fate is high on the agenda of Vatican-brokered talks between the government and opposition, intended to halt unrest and prevent further bloodshed in a deeply divided country in the midst of a crippling recession. Though the month-long talks have been faltering, several of the detainees - whom the opposition call political prisoners but Maduro says are coup-plotters and criminals - were released as early goodwill gestures around Pope Francis' initiative. But the opposition is demanding freedom for all, raising families' hopes. "None of them should be there in the first place. They use the prisoners as hostages, bargaining chips," said Adriana Pichardo, a legislator and rights spokeswoman for the hardline Popular Will party whose members have taken the brunt of arrests. Local rights group Penal Forum lists 108 political prisoners currently, up from 11 when Maduro was elected president following Chavez's death from cancer in 2013. The opposition coalition puts the current number higher, at 135. In the last two years, there have been 6,811 politically-motivated detentions, though most of those were short-term and spiked during a wave of anti-Maduro protests in 2014, according to Penal Forum which tracks cases and offers free legal assistance. The accusations range from stashing arms and explosives, to inciting violence and hate via Twitter and political ads. Of 53 new detainees in 2016 on Penal Forum's list of political prisoners, 49 were taken after former government leaders from Spain, Panama and the Dominican Republic began promoting talks in May, the rights group said. "They free some, but they've already taken more, so where is the gain?" Penal Forum director Alfredo Romero said. "That's their game." (Reuters: http://www.reuters.com/article/us-venezuela-politics-prisoners-idUSKBN13P1YT)
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.