Venezuela has been on default watch for months. Its credit rating is already in the gutter, at CCC at Standard & Poor’s. With oil now $20 lower thant it was when the S&P made that call, a default is no longer a question of if, but when.
A recent emergency economic decree is likely too late to save anyone but president Nicolas Maduro. After two years of inaction and the recent decline in oil prices, Barclays Capital analyst Alejandro Arreazaa said a ” credit event” in 2016 is ” increasingly difficult to avoid.” In other words, oil major PDVSA and the government it bankrolls is going bankrupt.
With oil under $30, Venezuela would need to use 90% of PDVSA’s oil export revenue to meet debt obligations to local and foreign creditors.
Figures released Wednesday by the Central Bank of Venezuela show that foreign currency reserves were just around $20 billion in the third quarter, but by the end of November they hit just $14 billion, the lowest ever. Net assets are also seen shrinking to around $24 billion, roughly $10 billion less than a year ago. Considering current oil prices, any reasonable additional import cuts may be insufficient to cover the financing gap.
Maduro keeps reiterating his government’s willingness to pay its debts, but his anti-Yankee rhetoric and is hardline against multinationals there makes him hard to believe. The official position shows a lack of understanding of the magnitude and roots of the crisis, making for this default to be the biggest Latin America has seen since Argentina’s in 2001 and its more strategic default on the same debt in 2014.
Venezuela has about four weeks to figure this out or the first sovereign default of 2016 will come from the radical socialist government of Hugo Chavez and his successor Maduro.
In theory, they could still make the February payment using its available assets, which includes a Chinese loan of around $5 billion, but it will still not be enough to finance the gap of nearly $30 billion that Venezuela faces in 2016. How is Venezuela going to keep its social programs intact, keep public education funded and public pensions paid when there is no money coming into the economy?
One way is to tax the living hell out of the foreigners. Goodyear Tire and Rubber (GT) may have to pay a one-time pretax charge of more than $500 million, Reuters reported.
American Airlines has had difficulty repatriating profits, and others like Clorox (CLX) have left. Ford and Pepsi-Cola have written off nearly their entire investment in Venezuela.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if in a year or two, most U.S. and multinational companies have packed up and left Venezuela. How can anyone make any money there?” asks Peter Kohli, head of DMS Funds in Leesport, Pa.
Venezuelan politics have been a mess for 10 years. The Bolivarian dream has become a nightmare for the ruling party, now faced with a real opposition and increased disparity. It is no longer easy, charming or picturesque to be poor in Maduro’s Venezuela. The country is in a severe recession, with an accumulated contraction of approximately 16% in the past two years, and considering the contraction expected this year, Venezuela has lost roughly a quarter of its GDP…in three years!
Maduro blames it all on a Western conspiracy against the Chavez’s “Bolivar Revolution” in Venezuela. Maduro says the newly elected leaders of the opposition are making matters worse to drive him out of power.
Inflation was 141.5% by the end of the third quarter. Yields on Venezuela’s 2022 debt is over 25%. Inflation will worsen, making life more expensive for the poor. And Maduro may be faced with an Argentine decision of paying its public employees and retirees, or paying its debts. It’s not hard to see which choice this president will make as he fights for his political career, and the legacy of “Robin Hood” Chavez in Venezuela.