Archive for January 15th, 2007

Central Bank Director justifies Chavez’ withdrawal of US$ 8.7 billion in international reserves

January 15, 2007

And you have to wonder what Central Bank Director Armando Leon has been smoking this year. The once respected economist, whose term at the BCV expires this year, told local newspapers that he saw nothing wrong with President Chavez asking the Central Bank to give out US$ 8.7 billion to the Development Fund Fonden.

Leon saw no problem with this saying that this created no disequilibrium given that Venezuela had a nice position in international reserves. Ummm….The disequilibrium does not come from the position in reserves, but the artificial creation of monetary liquidity at a rate which can only end in a disaster. Moreover, oil prices have come down significantly which means that reserves will go down if the Government continues to spend (or buy stakes into well run companies for ideological purposes, rather than spend the money where it can benefit the people).

Leon also told us that the exchange control administration has been managed efficiently. Apparently he is not aware of all of the new rules which forbid giving foreign currency to a large list of items, as well as the new certification that the product is not being produced in Venezuela. The result will be more pressure in the parallel exchange rate as those importers buy the foreign currency there. And the parallel rate, even if the Government does not want to acknowledge it affects the inflation rate. In 1995, the rate topped the annualized value of 120%, forcing the Caldera administration to remove exchange controls, something this “control all” administration is not ready to do.

But the mots hilarious statement by Leon, even if it is not funny, was to argue that people have learned to invest in Venezuela. Even worse, Leon mentioned that small investors have bought shares of CANTV and Electricidad de Caracas. I guess Mr. Leon must have been abroad the last week as these stocks lost over 30% of their value, putting the Caracas Stock Exchange in deep freeze for a long time to come. Who does he think he is kidding?

Reality is that monetary liquidity increased by 70% last year, but reserves increased by only 16%. Subtract now from the reserves US$ 8.7 billion to satisfy Chavez wishes, subtract then however much the Government will pay for nationalizations and add Government spending in 2007 which its conmmesurate increase in liquidity and you have a time bomb. At the end you can spice this all up with making savings rates so deeply negative that people have no incentive to save and have all incentives to buy dollars in the parallel market.

The only measure under which you can say Venezuela’s reserves are adequate is in terms of its yearly imports. The rest is simply hot air and I am truly amazed and surprised that Mr. Leon will publicly say what he did. Unless, of course, he wants to be reappointed as Central Bank Director.

The whole issue of reserves is being handled with total irresponsibility. Next time the Chinese Prime Minister comes I do hope Chavez asks him why if China as exchange controls like Venezuela, it does not use a good chunk of its US$ 1 trillion in international reserves for development projects. But, of course, he will not think of it.

Government to buy only foreign control of electric company, making small investors partners!

January 15, 2007

Last week, Venezuelan stocks fell when President Hugo Chavez said he would nationalize the telephone company CANTV and all of the electric companies including Electricidad de Caracas, a publicly traded utility majority owned by US based AES Corporation. At the time, the Head of the Venezuelan Securities Regulator, the Comision Nacional de Valores, urged investors not to sell until they knew the details.

Well, today Electricidad de Caracas fell an additional 10.5% when investors actually learned about these details that were supposed to impress them. You see, when Chavez first announced the nationalization of the electric company he said nothing about compensation, while later the Minister of Finance said there would be “fair” compensation to shareholders. But today, the Minister of Energy and Mines announced that the Government would “only” purchase control of Electricidad de Caracas by buying AES’ stake of 87% in order to “protect” minority investors from capitalistic AES. These shareholders would thus become “partners” of the Government in this utility now run under the social precepts of XXIst. Century Socialism.

The whole thing was absolutely eerie as the Minister described the process as one to protect these shareholders from the hands of this horrible company saying they would not “affect” the interests of these small investors. So far the shares have fallen 30% since the announcement and it is likely that the slide will continue tomorrow when the market opens and the news is known by more shareholders.

What is remarkable, even if it may seem moot, since it is clear the Government could by now care less about the law, is that the Venezuelan Capital Markets Law requires that if you are going to purchase a stake like what AES has in Electricidad de Caracas, that you make an offer for 100% of the company, precisely in order to protect minority and small shareholders. How the Chavez administration will get around this legal requirement by issuing a “Nationalization Law”, as described by Ramirez, is unknown to me, but nothing surprises me any longer.

Last year, Electricidad de Caracas sold some US$ 90 million in new shares to its employees and small investors in an offering hailed by Government officials. I guess in the end it will be AES that made money by being smart last year and being bought off by the fake revolution this year. The small Venezuelan shareholders will simply be screwed by the revolution.

What else is new!

Will this fire matter?

January 15, 2007

It is rare in Venezuela for buildings to have fires that spread to many floors, but last night one such fire raged through the building of the National Institute for Statistics (INE) destroying the servers and a lot of material.

Given that people have begun to seriously question the veracity of INE’s numbers, the question is:

Does it really matter?

I think it does, they will now have a great excuse for losing some statistics.