Venezuela

As Venezuelans queued to buy dollars last week to protect their savings from the world’s fastest inflation, intelligence agents arrested Antonio Ledezma, the opposition mayor of Caracas, on suspicion of being part of a coup plot backed by the US.

The news at least provided some distraction for a country mired in economic crisis, where GDP is expected to shrink 7 per cent this year and where citizens are reeling from effects of the latest back-door devaluationRead more

“You want milk? Low fat? Skimmed?” asked a man who identified himself only as Juan. “I can get you milk, but it is going to cost you!”

My arrival for a three month reporting stint in Caracas has schooled me in some simple rules of life in the Venezuelan capital. One is that supermarkets almost never have milk, so if people want something to add to their coffee they need to find the telephone number of someone like Juan, a fixer.

The next rule is that once they’ve heard the price, they’ll prefer black coffee. Juan was charging 150 bolivares a litre ($24 at the official rate of 6.3 per US dollar). That is roughly ten times the cost of pasteurised milk at the regulated price in state-run supermarkets. Read more

Instead of clarity, still more confusion out of Venezuela on Tuesday as officials made yet another announcement on a long-awaited reform of the country’s dysfunctional foreign exchange system.

The government said dollars to cover 70 per cent “of the economy’s needs” would be supplied at the official rate of 6.3 bolívares, with the remaining 30 per cent offered at a variable rate starting at 12 bolívares to the dollar. That still left room for a third channel, to be known as Simadi, supposedly left to float freely according to supply and demand. Read more

By Francisco Toro

As stories proliferate of Venezuelans waiting in line for hours for basic staples and people paying $755 for a pack of condoms, it’s been been easy – too easy – to fit Venezuela’s economic collapse into the “falling oil prices” narrative. After all, when 95 per cent of your export earnings come from one commodity and its price drops by more than half, you’d expect a bit of turbulence, wouldn’t you?

Well yes, but only if you’re not prepared. The oil market’s volatility is nothing new: wild boom and bust episodes have been with us since the 1970s. Which is why smart oil-dependent countries realized long ago they’d better save up during boomtime, so they could have some sort of cushion during the busts. Smart oil-dependent countries such as…Venezuela. Read more

By Simon Quijano-Evans of Commerzbank

Today’s surprise visit by President François Hollande and Chancellor Angela Merkel to Moscow must be seen as the final attempt to find peace in Ukraine. This can only be brought about through: 1) full coordination between the EU and Russia at all levels, with clear pledges from the Ukrainian government and separatist forces to do the same and 2) the presence of a meaningful international peacekeeping force to secure the agreed-on buffer zone in eastern Ukraine. Indeed, as we hear from the US debate on providing arms to Ukraine, the alternative to peace would be full escalation and definitely not a “frozen” conflict, given that Russia’s military doctrine sees Nato as one of the main threats to national security. Read more

By Russ Dallen of Caracas Capital Markets

Investing in Venezuela has always been like praying mantis love. On first acquaintance, Bolivarian Venezuela has those big, beautiful Miss Venezuela eyes and those angelic clasped praying hands inspiring trust and confidence, all backed up by glorious profits and yields. But while other investors in Venezuela – from oil companies, to airlines, to consumer products corporations – have been lured to their demise, bondholders have until the past two years been spared from most praying mantis cannibalism, and the action for bondholders has been great! Even if Venezuela has not paid shareholders of ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips, or the Koch brothers’ Fertinitro, Venezuela paid the bondholders handsomely! Always! But then came the first sign of trouble, from steel company Sidetur, which the Venezuela government expropriated in 2013 and then didn’t pay its bondholders (or shareholders). Read more

The late Hugo Chávez once rubbished Citgo as a “bad business”. But the US refining unit of PDVSA, Venezuela’s state oil group, may now be coming to the rescue of its socialist owners in Caracas, and in a thoroughly capitalist way.

Venezuela is in deep recession, its citizens are struggling to buy food and the government is struggling to meet debt commitments of at least $10bn this year. Step forward Citgo, which is reportedly preparing to issue $2.5bn in loans and bonds to raise some much-needed cash for its embattled parent company, and hence its embattled sovereign. Read more

Shortages in Venezuela are leading to unrest and worrying bond markets. Russ Dallen, head of Caracas Capital Markets, explains that policy failures have reduced production capacity and the country cannot afford to import or pay its debts.

While crude prices extended losses, Venezuela’s President Nicolás Maduro extended his trip abroad, seeking support to stop the collapse in the price of oil, which accounts for some 96 per cent of his country’s foreign earnings.

Meanwhile, back home, something else also extended: queues and discontent. Read more

Investors used to studying Venezuela’s financials for signs of impending default might want to switch their attention to the queues building outside supermarkets across the country, as Venezuelans find it harder and harder to buy the most basic household goods.

The threat of rising social unrest leaves the government in Caracas with a choice: should it use its scarce resources to pay bondholders, or to put groceries on the country’s shelves? Read more

There are few more sure signs of economic meltdown than a run on a country’s banks. In Venezuela, however, the currency is losing its value too quickly to be worth running after. Instead, Venezuelans are going after groceries. The country is seeing a run on its supermarkets that is gathering pace by the hour. Read more

Venezuela’s President Nicolás Maduro had many words of praise for his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, after their meeting in Beijing this week.

However, as fastFT reports, the announcement that he had taken more than $20bn in investment from China for various types of projects left many wondering if the president of the oil-dependent Caribbean nation had really got what he wanted. Read more

Another year, another announced change to one of the world’s tightest and most complex foreign exchange regimes. Unsurprisingly, however, the long-awaited change has fallen short of the full scale reform of currency controls promised last week by Nicolás Maduro, Venezuela’s increasingly isolated president. Read more

By Russ Dallen, Caracas Capital Markets

Trying to predict what will happen in South America’s wildest emerging markets in 2015 has the degree of difficulty of trying to compute pi to the 100th digit in your head.

With Venezuela, in particular, the range of options of what could happen next year is almost as infinite – ranging from more of the same and muddling through, to default, violence, coup, civil war and international brigades. On the economic front, whether Venezuela survives 2015 will depend almost purely on the price of oil, however. Read more

Last week, Cleary Gottlieb – the US law firm representing Argentina in its debt negotiations – held a packed closed-door session on Venezuela. The question of the day was: what if Venezuela defaults? This week, the US Senate passed a bill that seeks to sanction Venezuelan officials for alleged human rights violations. Although these two events are not obviously related — and the sanctions bill still has to be approved by Congress, and signed into law by Barack Obama — they could become so. They both also illuminate the horrible mess that Venezuela could be heading into. Read more

By John-Paul Rathbone and Andres Schipani

Socialist Venezuela would never sell out its friends to Wall Street, right? Yet it appears that is exactly what Caracas wants to do. Pressed by the oil price collapse, rattled by fears of default, facing rising social tension as imports collapse due to lack of foreign exchange, and seemingly unable to put its economic house in order, the country is trying to raise desperately-needed cash by selling debts owed to it by the Dominican Republic and Jamaica on to Goldman Sachs. Chavismo turns to the vampire squid?

The idea has been circulating for a while in the investment banking community. But now details have emerged in the press, as reported by El Nuevo Herald, and Petroleum Argos. Essentially, the trade involves Venezuela securitizing debts owed under its $3.5bn a year subsidised oil program, called PetrocaribeRead more

Among the many woes afflicting Venezuela, one of the most pressing is the rapid decline in its reserves of hard currency. These fell from some $29bn at the start of 2013 to a low of about $19bn last week. But Beijing’s generous hand has since boosted them to $23.5bn, according to the central bank.

The fall in reserves had raised concerns about Venezuela’s ability to pay its debts, so the influx brought some relief to rattled markets, fuelling a small rally off recent lows in Venezuelan bonds, which remain among the highest yielding in the world.

But is the influx all it appears to be? Read more

One could talk about Venezuela’s economic policy in Shakespearean terms. To devalue or not to devalue; to converge foreign exchange rates or not to converge; to raise the price of the world’s cheapest gasoline or not to raise; to sell Citgo or not to sell; to default or not to do so – these are the questions.

The distortions created by the government’s foreign exchange and price controls – covering even Barbie dolls – keep playing a treacherous role in Venezuela’s unfolding tragedy. Why is this happening instead of not happening? To some analysts, that is the question. Read more

Ali al-Naimi, Saudi Arabia’s oil minister (pictured above on the right), and Rafael Ramírez, Venezuela’s foreign minister (on the left) met on the resort island of Isla Margarita late on Wednesday on the sidelines of a climate conference. As the continuing oil price drop keeps adding pressures to some Opec members, particularly Venezuela, there were expectations.

“We’re great friends!” Ramírez was quoted as saying as he arrived in Margarita. He later tweeted of an “excellent meeting” of “brother countries”. But the talks were mostly about climate change and there was no real word on prices, Opec’s oil policy, or the crude supply glut. Ramírez reportedly said only that the sliding oil price was a “concern for everyone.” Read more

When oil prices fall, it’s a fair bet that Venezuela’s economy will suffer. After all, that has been the case every time oil prices have fallen in the past. When Venezuela’s official gazette then publishes a legal notice on October 10 saying that its oil-for-loans scheme with China had been tweaked, it is also a fair bet that this would be taken as a sign of Venezuelan economic distress and maybe even a default on loans from its closest ally, China. That is how beyondbrics and many others understood it. How wrong one can be — sort of. Read more