Leading shipbroker Gibson has once again highlighted the plight of Venezuela, by saying that the focus had now shifted to its huge $150 bill foreign debt.
Around three weeks ago, Venezuela missed a deadline to make $200 mill interest payments on two government bonds, resulting in Standard & Poor’s formally declaring the first default.
About the same time, the Venezuelan president stated the country’s intention to restructure its foreign debt and the Russian Finance Ministry announced that the two countries had signed a debt restructuring deal, allowing Caracas to make “minimal” payments to Moscow over the next six years to help it meet its obligations to other creditors.
Politics and geopolitics aside, the economic challenges faced by Venezuela have direct implications on the domestic oil sector. The country’s crude production has been in steady decline over the past couple of years, largely due to the lack of investment, the shortage of available funds and ill-maintained production infrastructure.
According to IEA data, crude output averaged just over 1.9 mill barrels per day in October, 2017, down by 0.55 mill barrels per day, or 22%, compared to October, 2015.
The decline in production has had negative implications for the country’s crude exports, although not to the same extent. Venezuela’s financial problems also hit its refining sector, where lack of maintenance has led to a notable decline in domestic throughput volumes, reducing the downward pressure on crude exports.
Venezuelan crude trade to the US was one of the biggest consequences of the country’s economic and political problems. Between January and August of this year, crude shipments to the US averaged 0.69 mill barrels per day, down 175,000 barrles per day compared to the same period in 2015.
In addition, the EIA weekly estimates suggest that this trade has declined further in recent months, averaging just 0.5 mill barrels per day since early September. Interestingly, Venezuelan crude exports to China have increased. During the first eight months of this year, shipments to China averaged 0.44 mill barrels per day, up by 100,000 barrels per day, compared to the same period in 2015, Gibson said. .
Apart from direct trade implications, it was also reported by Reuters that PDVSA is increasingly delivering poor quality crude to its international customers, which has resulted in complaints, cancelled orders and demands for discounts. There are also reports of logistical issues and disputes over payments. For tonnage calling at Venezuelan ports, this translates into additional, and at times extended, delays and sporadic cancellations.
Despite their recent firming, oil prices are still below the level needed by Venezuela to balance its financial requirements. As such, the difficulties faced by the country at present are unlikely to disappear anytime soon.
The recent debt restructuring with Russia will help to ease the most immediate pressures but it is unlikely to be sufficient to reverse the slide in domestic crude production and exports, Gibson concluded.