Sunday, May 26, 2019

Trade between #Venezuela & USA has collapsed #OOTT

Sergi Lanau (@SergiLanauIIF)
Oil used to be a small part of Venezuela's imports from the US. As dollars to pay for imports ran out, oil was prioritized (naphtha and gasoline). Now that sanctions made oil trade impossible, there's essentially no trade between Venezuela and the US.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

#PDVSA has closed roughly 1/3 of its 1,765 gas stations across #Venezuela and is diverting scarce fuel stocks to Caracas as pumps run dry #OOTT

"Black market fuel sales are flourishing throughout the interior. Vendors are offering five-gallon containers for the equivalent of up to $10 apiece, or $2/USG, in a country where fuel is virtually given away at nominal prices. In the devalued local currency, 10,000 USG of gasoline costs one dollar at the official retail price.

"PdV since last week is capping sales in the interior of the country at five to eight USG per vehicle in an effort to contain panic buying and extend shrinking supplies while it works to repair key refining units."

PdV directs scarce fuel to Caracas, closes pumps

Venezuela's state-owned PdV is diverting scarce fuel stocks to Caracas and has closed roughly a third of its 1,765 service stations across the country as pumps run dry.

Along the lengthy border with Colombia, PdV service stations are shut down to curb sales and smuggling, station operators in Apure, Bolivar, Táchira and Zulia tell Argus.

At the border stations that remain open, police and national guards are deployed to avert any backlash from weary drivers forced to wait for days for a partial tank of gasoline or diesel.

First-hand reports from station operators in hard-hit states including Apure, Bolivar, Lara, Mérida, Táchira, Trujillo and Zulia belie PdV's official assurances that fuel supply is adequate.

Seven operators in Apure, Táchira and Zulia where security forces are supervising sales say they have witnessed numerous instances of security personnel extorting cash from drivers of buses and trucks in exchange for priority fueling.

Black market fuel sales are flourishing throughout the interior. Vendors are offering five-gallon containers for the equivalent of up to $10 apiece, or $2/USG, in a country where fuel is virtually given away at nominal prices. In the devalued local currency, 10,000 USG of gasoline costs one dollar at the official retail price.

PdV since last week is capping sales in the interior of the country at five to eight USG per vehicle in an effort to contain panic buying and extend shrinking supplies while it works to repair key refining units.

Unofficially, the oil ministry estimates that gasoline consumption has dropped below 120,000 b/d this month compared with peak consumption of 315,000 b/d in 2010.

Diesel consumption has dropped from a peak of 249,000 b/d in 2013 to about 100,000 b/d currently.

But an oil ministry official tells Argus the unofficial consumption estimates do not take into account continued fuel smuggling of at least 30,000 b/d to Colombia. The lucrative smuggling operations are controlled mainly by corrupt National Guard and army officials working in league with elements of the Colombian insurgent group ELN taking refuge in Venezuelan territory.

The 635,000 b/d Amuay refinery, once considered one of the world's largest and most modern refineries, is processing about 110,000 b/d of crude this week. The 305,000 b/d Cardón refinery is shut down because of equipment breakdowns and unstable electricity supply. PdV hopes to restart Cardón by end of May to help ease the fuel deficit. The two refineries form the CRP downstream complex in Falcón state.

The 140,000 b/d El Palito refinery on the coast of Carabobo state and 190,000 b/d Puerto La Cruz in Anzoátegui state are not operating.

Oil ministry and PdV officials responsible for domestic fuel distribution said the deficit is the worst Venezuela has experienced since a watershed oil strike in December 2002-January 2003 shut down almost 90pc of PdV's upstream and downstream operations nationwide.

PdV so far in May has imported less than 85,000 b/d of mainly motor fuel compared with last month's average imports of over 225,000 b/d, a PdV marketing official tells Argus.

"When US sanctions were tightened on 28 April, potentially threatening non-US companies that do business with the US or transact any business through the US financial system, even suppliers like Spain's Repsol and India's Reliance have temporarily halted fuel deliveries to Venezuela," the official said.

"Our options are very limited. Either we import more fuel or we recover domestic production and at least restart production at the CRP. If we cannot do either of these things quickly, Venezuela will run out of fuel, and local food distribution which depends completely on motor vehicles will stop and we will have a famine."

Veteran oil union leader Ivan Freites, an outspoken supporter of opposition leader Juan Guaidó, notes that PdV's crude production has declined to its "lowest level since the early 1940s, its local refineries are barely 10pc operational, power is unstable particularly in Zulia and the Andean region, most of PdV's fuel tanker trucks are down, and US sanctions are hindering fuel imports from the few suppliers and tanker operators still working with the company."

A resolution approved yesterday by the opposition-controlled National Assembly presided by Guaidó blames the government for the collapse of production, the refinery breakdowns and rampant smuggling to Colombia that it says costs Venezuela about $1bn in annual lost revenues.

Restoring oil operations cannot begin until "the usurper" Maduro and PdV's current board of directors led by oil minister and PdV chief executive Manuel Quevedo are replaced by a new democratically elected government, the assembly's resolution says.

The assembly was rendered powerless by Maduro after the opposition won a majority of the seats in a 2015 election.

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Don’t Blame Washington’s #Sanctions for #Venezuela’s #Oil Woes

Don't Blame Washington for Venezuela's Oil Woes: A Rebuttal | Americas Quarterly

A Rebuttal to Economists Mark Weisbrot, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, and Jeffrey Sachs who conclude​ ​that Washington 's recent sanctions caused the current collapse and human suffering in Venezuela. 

Don't Blame Washington for Venezuela's Oil Woes: A Rebuttal

On August 2017, the White House imposed financial sanctions on Venezuela, limiting its access to U.S. financial markets. Shortly after, Venezuela's economy and oil sector collapsed. ​Economists Mark Weisbrot, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, and Jeffrey Sachs conclude​ ​that the sanctions caused the collapse and human suffering that followed. Is this persuasive? 

In short, no. 

To make their point, Weisbrot and Sachs take Colombia as a counterfactual for Venezuela. Then, they claim that Colombia and Venezuela's oil production trends were similar before sanctions and diverged after the sanctions were imposed, when Venezuela's production declined much further. Hence, they reason, the sanctions must have caused Venezuela's added decline. Their evidence is in Figure 1 below. 

Figure 1: Weisbrot and Sachs' Main Evidence

Sources: OPEC (2019), OPEC Secondary Sources; US Energy Information Administration (2018). Adapted from Rodríguez (2018).

Is Colombia a good counterfactual for Venezuela, though? Not by a mile. Firstly, the oil production trends were ​anything but similar in the decade before sanctions. In fact, Colombia had an oil boom in the 2000s that was partly fueled by the 20,000 Venezuelan oil professionals that Chávez fired from PDVSA in 2003, which caused Venezuela's production to plummet. The trends can only be made to look "similar" before sanctions by conveniently re-scaling the axes and only looking at data from 2013 onwards. 

Figure 2: Oil Production in Colombia and Venezuela (kbpd) 

Sources: EIA, OPEC (secondary sources), own calculations

Secondly, the two countries are radically different in other dimensions. Colombia has had pro-market oil policies since the 2000s and has done well in recent years. In contrast, Venezuela has been a slow-motion train-wreck. Over the last decade, its democratic institutions have been hollowed out, the rule of law has vanished, and deepening economic distortions have resulted in an unprecedented humanitarian crisis and economic depression.

Thirdly, just a month after the financial sanctions in late 2017, Nicolas Maduro fired both the relatively technocratic PDVSA president and oil minister and replaced them with a single military general with no experience in oil​. The new CEO fired and imprisoned over 60 senior managers of the oil company including its previous president on corruption charges. Nothing remotely similar happened in Colombia, thus confounding the effects of the sanctions with those of the firing, which again makes it a bad counterfactual for Venezuela.  

Fourthly, Colombia has mostly heavy oil, which makes its production sensitive to low oil prices. According to Weisbrot and Sachs, this is what makes it a good counterfactual for Venezuela. But Venezuela has a mix of light, medium and heavy crudes. Furthermore, Venezuela's heavy crude production (run by joint ventures with foreign oil companies) has been relatively resilient. What's collapsed disproportionately is the production of light and medium crudes, which are under direct PDVSA control. Hence the alleged similarity in the 2015 output decline is not related to heavy-oil, as Weisbrot and Sachs argue. Lastly, Colombia has very little oil left underground, barely 1.7 billion barrels, while Venezuela has over 300 billion barrels, the world's largest oil reserves.  

For all of these reasons, taking what happened in Colombia since 2017 as a counterfactual for what would have happened in Venezuela if there had been no financial sanctions makes no sense. 

If instead we compare Venezuela to the rest of OPEC, a set of countries with typically large reserves more similar to Venezuela, a clear picture emerges. While Venezuela's production fluctuated around 10% of OPEC before Chavez took over in 1999, it started a sustained decline thereafter (Figure 3), almost two decades before the sanctions, courtesy of policies that included the afore mentioned firing of 20,000 employees, the repeated expropriation of oil production and service companies, the diversion of its borrowing to non-oil activities and gross mismanagement and corruption. 

Figure 3: Share of Venezuela's Oil Production in OPEC (% of total)

Sources: EIA, OPEC (secondary sources), own calculations 

Weisbrot and Sachs also attribute rising mortality rates in 2017-2018 and the 40,000 associated deaths to the financial sanctions. This is even less serious. How do they rule out that mortality rates wouldn't have continued rising without sanctions? How do they rule out that it wasn't the collapse in the importation of food and medicine that pre-dated the sanctions that increased death rates? Or Venezuelan doctors leaving the country? Or government indolence and corruption? Weisbrot and Sachs don't rule out or address any alternative explanations.  

But there's more that's wrong with the Weisbrot and Sachs' article. They also write that the $7 billion in debt service that was due for PDVSA in the next two years "could have been postponed with the restructuring of the PDVSA debt that was being negotiated" at the time if it hadn't been for the financial sanctions. As a result of the sanctions, their article implies, the restructuring derailed and government had to slash imports of food and medicine to pay PDVSA's debt, which contributed to the humanitarian crisis. 

This reasoning is deeply flawed. First, when oil prices collapsed in 2014, many analysts, ​including us​, suggested that a debt restructuring was necessary and indeed desirable. But instead, the government persecuted those that sounded the alarms and instead opted to cut food and medicine imports, triggering the humanitarian crisis well in advance of the sanctions. Consequently, by the time sanctions were imposed, Venezuela had already slashed imports of food and medicine by more than 80% (Figure 4), triggering ​a humanitarian crisis that was anticipated as far back as December 2015​. Years before defaulting on bondholders, Maduro chose to default on Venezuelan stomachs.

Figure 4: Medicine Imports Collapse

Sources: Miguel Santos using data from the CID Atlas of Economic Complexity

Relatedly, Venezuela was already shut out of capital markets months before the August 2017 sanctions. Three months earlier, in May 2017, the country raised almost $900 million in cash by promising to pay $2.8 billion in five years with the sale of the infamous ​hunger bonds​. The implicit interest cost of the financing was 47%. Previously, in November 2016, it had attempted to place a greatly over-collateralized bond at a 22% yield to maturity but was unable to sell the whole issue.  

So, many months before the sanctions, capital markets had decided that it was too risky to lend money at anything other than an eye-gouging rate. The lack of market access had nothing to do with the financial sanctions, and the negotiations with bondholders (which were being run by a "​drug kingpin​") were almost certainly going nowhere. Markets did not believe that Maduro was willing or able to reverse Venezuela's decline.

 In January 2019, the U.S. government ​sanctioned PDVSA​, restricting the ability of U.S. persons from having any commercial or financial relationship with the company. The sanctions were followed by a precipitous decline in oil production. Again, can we straightforwardly attribute the decline to the sanctions? No. 

Most sanctions were to take effect on April 15 and yet oil production declined precipitously before that date. After all, Venezuela was able to skirt the sanctions by redirecting oil sales from the U.S. to India, China, and Russia. Instead, the national electric blackouts that recently paralyzed Venezuela are the main driver of the added decline. As seen in Figure 5, the collapse of oil production in March was fundamentally related to the two blackouts that occurred between March 7-11 and March 25-31. 

Figure 5: Daily Oil Production and Blackouts

Sources: IPD consulting

These recent blackouts were triggered by wildfires near key transmission lines — nobody had done the required maintenance to trim the overgrown vegetation. But the electric sector's collapse dates back to its nationalization in 2007 and the 2009 "electrical emergency" where the regime allocated over $50 billion to investments in the sector. A well-documented corruption orgy consumed most of the funds and generation capacity did not increase by a single gigawatt.

Perverse policies and extreme mismanagement explain the bulk of Venezuela's collapse. The financial sanctions have prevented the regime from further mortgaging the future of the country. They are a means to put pressure on the regime to negotiate the return to democracy and constitutional rule. Oil sanctions are designed to restrict their access to the resources with which to continue its oppression. Nobody disputes that they will adversely affect PDVSA going forward, but they have brought Venezuela closer than ever to regime change. 

It's understandable if the authors don't agree with the use of sanctions to pressure Venezuela's dictatorship. It is not understandable that they would misrepresent their effects with sloppy reasoning. 


Ricardo Hausmann is the director of Harvard University's Center for International Development (CID), economics professor at Harvard's Kennedy School and is an adviser to opposition leader Juan Guaidó. Frank Muci is a research fellow at the CID's Growth Lab. 

Thursday, April 4, 2019

#SaudiArabia threatens to ditch #Dollar #Oil trades to stop '#NOPEC' bill #OOTT

"The Saudis know they have the dollar as the nuclear option" 

"The Saudis say: let the Americans pass NOPEC and it would be the U.S. economy that would fall apart"

Reuters reports:


Saudi Arabia controls a 10th of global oil production, roughly on par with its main rivals - the United States and Russia. Its oil firm Saudi Aramco holds the crown of the world's biggest oil exporter with sales of $356 billion last year.

Depending on prices, oil is estimated to represent 2 percent to 3 percent of global gross domestic product. At the current price of $70 per barrel, the annual value of global oil output is $2.5 trillion.

Not all of those oil volumes are traded in the U.S. currency but at least 60 percent is traded via tankers and international pipelines with the majority of those deals done in dollars.

Subscribe to the MasterEnergy News Feed here

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner