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VENEZUELA

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Venezuela – Economic Crisis Strikes Consumers and Companies

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Venezuela, a country considered as a role model economy for other Latin American countries a few decades ago, has now fallen into deep economic, social, and political crisis that seems to never end. Venezuela’s economy, highly dependent on oil exports, witnessed a steep decline when global oil prices dropped dramatically during 2014-2017, followed by the government ill-treating national funds, and a massive reduction in import of goods. Under this scenario, several multinational companies, such as PepsiCo, Palmolive, and Coca Cola, chose to reduce or temporarily cease production in the country, which has led to increased unemployment. As a result, many Venezuelans started to flee the country in search for a better life quality, while those who chose to stay face low salaries, hyperinflation, empty supermarket shelves, and increasing violence as political turmoil is deepening amid opposition and criticism of the current government of Nicolas Maduro.

The root of the problem

Venezuela’s deep social and economic crisis is driven mainly by mismanagement of national funds and lack of investment in industries of national importance. For several years, the Venezuela’s government-established projects involved providing social aid for households with low income, and these programs were supported by revenue generated through oil exports. Therefore, as gas and oil sector revenue accounts for 25% of the country’s GPD, a steep plunge in global oil prices from US$85 in 2014 to US$36 in 2016 deeply affected Venezuela’s social projects turning them unsustainable.

Venezuela’s deep social and economic crisis is driven mainly by mismanagement of national funds and lack of investment in industries of national importance.

In addition, Venezuela did not invest in its oil industry, one of the main pillars of the country’s economy. Petróleos de Venezuela S.A. (PVDSA) the Venezuelan state-owned oil and natural gas company has witnessed limited investment, causing Venezuela’s crude oil production to decline from 2.7 million barrels per day in 2014 to two million in 2017, expected to further crumble to 1.4 million barrels per day in 2018. This also translated into a decrease in oil exports revenue by 64% during 2010-2015, deepening scarcity of funds and progressing economic instability in the country.

Venezuela - Economic Crisis Strikes Consumers and Companies

Plummeting imports in import-dependent economy

Venezuela has been highly dependent on imported goods and raw materials such as food staples and medicines, among other goods. After the fall in oil prices and decrease of crude oil production, Venezuela redirected a large percentage of the remaining revenue from oil export to repay foreign debt, drastically reducing import volume of goods. As a result, imports severely dropped from US$58.7 billion in 2012 to US$18 billion in 2016, leaving the country with shortage of wide range of goods, including pharmaceuticals, sugar, corn, wheat, etc.

Soaring inflation and unemployment

In addition, Venezuela established strict price control regulations as a way to counterbalance hyperinflation, which directly hindered production of goods by multinational companies. Consequently, several key market players reduced or partially stopped operations in the country as a way to avoid losing profits. In February 2018, Colgate Palmolive, a US-based consumer goods company, stopped production for a week after the government demanded that the company reduces the price of its products, which resulted in a large loss in profit for the company. Subsequently, the reduction of multinationals’ operations in Venezuela greatly increased the unemployment rate to 30% as of 2018, causing Venezuelans to opt for unreported employment or to flee the country looking for job opportunities. It is estimated that between one to two million Venezuelans will have migrated by the end of 2018.

EOS Perspective

Throughout 2017, the ministry of urban farming encouraged people to grow food, e.g. tomatoes and lettuce, at their homes and to start eating rabbits as a way to prevent starvation as a result of massive shortage of basic goods. Meanwhile, as a way to ease the situation, Venezuelan authorities sell a monthly bag containing corn flour, beans, rice, pasta, dried milk, and some canned foods at VE$25,000 – this is less than a dollar. These bags with food are distributed only among people registered in the communal councils and those who possess a Carnet de la Patria, a home registry system in order to receive the food. Additionally, president Maduro decided to open 3,000 popular meal centers as part of a nutritional recovery scheme seeking to feed hungry Venezuelans. However, none of these measures have clearly had enough impact to aid in the difficult situation amid the deepening crisis in Venezuela.

Migration to neighboring countries in Latin America has been the way many Venezuelans have found to escape the crisis. Argentina, Chile, and Colombia, among other Latin America countries, have received over 629,000 Venezuelans in 2017 alone, which is 544,000 more Venezuelans than in 2015. The mere number of fleeing people indicates the scale of the issue, yet the socialist administration of Nicolas Maduro refused to accept any help, aggravating the already strained political relationships with his Latin American counterparts. Further, Venezuela also refused to accept any aid from international institutions such as the WHO, which would help as a short-term solution or at least a relief for starving Venezuelans.

Moreover, Venezuela seems to be continuing to drown, as South American trade bloc Mercosur – one of the most important commercial blocs in the region, suspended Venezuela’s membership indefinitely in 2017. Such a measure translates into further reduction of imports into Venezuela from the bloc and, potentially, Venezuelans banned from legally migrating to any of the countries from the Mercosur bloc. So far, South American countries have welcomed waves of Venezuelans, but the dormant prohibition could negatively affect a considerable volume of the population seeking to flee from the crisis.

Venezuela seems to be continuing to drown, as Mercosur suspended Venezuela’s membership indefinitely in 2017. Such a measure translates into further reduction of imports by Venezuela from the bloc.

In addition, the USA issued an executive order banning any American financial institution from investing in Venezuela, that same year, which restricted the inflow of capital and increased the financial isolation of Venezuela from the North American markets.

This dramatic situation, both in Venezuela’s domestic as well as international arena, calls for president Maduro to reevaluate and encourage reforms that should empower small domestic producers, e.g. coffee makers, agricultural producers, among others, in order to reactivate internal consumption and counterbalance shortage of food and other supplies. Further, it is high time that the country’s leadership opens their borders to external help, however this seems unlikely to happen, considering that this would mean an acknowledgment that the socialist political management of the country has failed, and this in turn would play into Maduro’s opposition’s hands to easily overturn his government.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Venezuela – Evolution After the Revolution?!

It has been a month since Hugo Chavez passed away, losing a two-year long battle against cancer. With snap elections on 14 April, both Venezuelans and the rest of the world eagerly await the outcome – an outcome that might drive Venezuela deeper into a state of socialism or towards the path of market-oriented economic development.

Whatever the result of the election, perhaps the most pertinent question is how Chavez’s demise has impacted the future of Venezuela’s oil economy? What good has the largest proven oil reserves in the world (297.57 billion barrels) brought Venezuela in terms of inclusive human and economic development?

Let us retrace our steps to 1998. The global oil industry was in a big mess, with prices at an all time low of (less than $10 per barrel), driven by oversupply of oil by OPEC member countries, which were unwilling to comply with production and export quotas. Things, however, took a turn for the better when in February 1999 Hugo Chavez came into power in Venezuela. Now at the helm of affairs of one of the world’s largest oil producing nations, it became important for Mr. Chavez to revive the oil sector, which was to become the driving force behind his socialist policies. In his own charismatic manner, Hugo Chavez convinced the OPEC members to lower production, thus driving-up oil prices (to a price of $25-28 per barrel).

Further, driven by his ambition to bring about a socialist revolution in Venezuela, a new Hydrocarbons law was passed in 2001, to bring all oil production and distribution activities in Venezuela under the purview of the government. The law proposed a minimum 51% state ownership of PDVSA, the national oil company, and an increase in royalties paid by foreign corporations from 16.6% to 30%.

Under Chavez, Venezuela also shifted its focus from the US, to forge closer alliance with Russia, China, Nicaragua, Cuba and Iran by signing preferential oil deals. These deals, however, put additional economic pressure on PDVSA, and in turn the Venezuelan economy, with 43% of the company’s crude and oil products sales not being paid directly in cash, resulting in shelving of some of the company’s investment plans.

Oil-sector reforms were carried out under a veil of socialist change and reform. While the pro-socialist policies of Hugo Chavez remain popular among the Venezuelan masses, they have resulted in a lack of talent and investment, causing the Venezuelan oil industry to decline. According to Morgan Stanley reports, Venezuela’s oil production declined by 25% during the Chavez era (1998-2013).

While the socialist regime under Chavez is said to have brought about a sense of income equality amongst Venezuelans, the cost of this equality has left the country in an economically dilapidated state. Huge deficits and high inflation have lead to significant devaluation of its currency (30% to the US Dollar in February 2013).

The state of the economy hinges purely on the outcome of the elections, with Nicolas Maduro, the acting president and the hand-picked successor of Chavez, and Henrique Capriles, the governor of Miranda State, vying to be the next president.

Nicolas Maduro, who served as a foreign minister under Chavez for six years, is a right-wing activist. A loyalist to Chavez, Maduro pledges to follow Chavez’s policies. Given his closeness to Chavez, Maduro also enjoys the support of military.

On the other hand, Henrique Capriles, who came closest to beating Chavez in the last elections in 2012 (bagging 44% votes), vows to adopt pro-business policies, which include de-politicization of the oil sector and opening-up Venezuela to foreign investments. Capriles does recognize that actions taken during the Chavez era cannot be undone over a short period of time.

Driven by the emotions linked with Chavez’s death, initial polls widely tip Maduro to win the upcoming elections. But given the economic condition of Venezuela, would this be a right choice? Even if Capriles wins, will the government be stable enough to guide Venezuela to development? Will the Venezuelan oil sector open for global trade? One can only speculate.

Irrespective of who comes to power, one thing will stay unchanged. The oil sector will remain critically important in either continuing to aid the path towards a fully-socialist state or changing the course to a more market-oriented economy.

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