How Chavismo Has Ripped Off The Private Sector For Years

July 9, 2014

ripoff

There is an article today in the New York Times, which while factually correct, seems to me to be a little late to the game in explaining to its readers how Chavismo has “vanished” the profits (And equity too) of private companies, whether they are Venezuelan or not.

Chavismo has never played by the rules, whether international or national. It has ripped off the Venezuelan people by claiming to care for them, while allowing inflation to soar and wasting the oil windfall of the last decade on propaganda, incurring in new debt and  simply doing whatever was necessary to preserve Chavismo in power. And it continues to do so.

But to pretend this is a new phenomenon, or that it only has to do with the most recent devaluation in Venezuela, is to ignore fifteen years of Chavismo as well as eleven years of exchange controls. Not to mention the total lack of scruples by Chavismo to steal, lie, bully, ripoff and deceive multinational and national companies, accustomed to people being honest and respecting the laws and customs of business and trade.

When Chavismo imposed foreign exchange controls in February 2003, the Bs. 1.59 per US$ rate was established as a way of protecting international reserves and the Government promised to make that rate available to bona fide companies in import and manufacturing, as well as allowing people to buy at the controlled rate for some of their needs. The system and the controls allowed companies to repatriate profits and even capital, if required, you just had to follow certain procedures to make sure your needs and requests were real.

Since the Government imposed certain limitations, a parallel “swap” market developed immediately, as people realized that the Government had not banned exchanging two properties, such as a security denominated in Bs. for one denominated in US$. This market took a while to develop, as people discussed its legality, some companies were afraid to use it and the Government and the Government kept talking about issuing a Bill that would make it a crime to exchange money outside of the official controls.

But about two years after imposing exchange controls, the Venezuelan National Assembly approved the so called “Foreign Exchange Illicits Bill” which did penalize buying or selling dollars, but actually exempted “securities” from the Bill, essentially saying that it was healthy for a parallel market to exist.

This was a critical step in the development of the swap market (mid-2005 or so), as most companies started trading in the swap market to solve temporary foreign currency (or Bolivar!) needs and even to speculate with the currency.

But few companies used the swap mechanism to repatriate dividends. The argument was that why bother doing this, when the Government, via Cadivi, was going to give them the foreign currency for repatriation at the official rate of exchange.

By the time the law was approved, the official exchange rate was around Bs. 2.1 per US$, while the swap rate was maybe 20-30% higher.

But then things got complicated. Just as Chávez began using reserves for parallel funds, squeezed PDVSA for social spending and issued debt to cover shortfalls, the international financial crisis of 2007-2009 hit and oil prices went down. Since Chavez needed more and more funding for his exploits, Cadivi became stingy, giving less and less for dividend repatriation which mostly (90%?) ended by 2007.

The Government kept promising that it would pay and companies actually believed it. But multinationals home offices began pressing for some form of repatriation. There was one problem though. if you bought at the swap rate, you had to take a loss in earnings. Some companies started doing it, others not, they were worried about their reputation, I mean, what would happen if Chavez accused them publicly of using the swap market, whether it was legal or not. Their reputation was at stake.

Meanwhile, the swap exchange rate closed at Bs. 3.3 in 2006, 5.6 in 2007, 5.6 in 2008, 5.9 in 2009, as the Government began actually intervening in the swap market, while refusing to devalue until January 2009 from Bs. 2.1 to Bs. 4.3 per US$.

By now, Chávez realized that he could rip off foreign investors without much trouble. In January 2007, he “nationalized” telecom company CANTV offering to pay US$ 16.85 per share, despite Carlos Slim offering US$ 21 per share a few months earlier. Slim’s offer was never processed by the Government and the Government kept the fiction that it would pay a dividend before the tender expired, which never happened. It also took over Electricidad de Caracas, the partners that did not agree to be a minority in the heavy oil fields and even Chavez’ Argentinean buddies in Sidor. The first two got paid fast. The oil fields are still in arbitration and the latter got paid because of the close relationship with the Kirtchners.

Nobody has gotten paid since.

And while today’s NYT article would make you believe that it was the recent devaluation that screwed multinationals, nothing is further from the truth. Each time the Government has devalued, it has reduced its revenues in US$ and its earnings and since 2007, it has all been vapor profits, monopoly money, as almost no dividend repatriation has been approved by CADIVI, now Cencoex. Only companies that repatriated via the swap market before it was shut down in 2010, managed to salvage, yes, salvage, some of their profits.

Thus, companies took a 50% cut on both revenues and profits when the Government devalued in Jan 2009, a 46% hit when it devalued in February 2013 and a 63% hit when Sicad 2 was created.

And counting…

And counting, because it is all still vapor earnings, revenues and profits. The Government is not going to pay them at the Sicad 1 rate either. Thus, some companies mentioned in the NYT article have decided to take the loss. Because they can. You see, before Sicad 2 existed, accounting rules say they had to follow the Government foreign exchange rates, even if they knew they would never get the money. Once Sicad 2 was created, serious companies, like Brink’s, decided to take the worst case and take a hit of 80% on their earnings using the Bs. 50 per US$ exchange rate, versus the Bs. 10 or whatever Sicad 1 rate is.

Think about it, wiping out 80% of your revenues and profits…

They actually could have said 100%, we will never get paid…

The things is, Brink’s is a minority and most companies are still “wishing” and lying to their home offices or simply hoping they will get paid at a rate below Sicad 2, so that it does not look so bad and their bonuses don’t suffer as much.

But if I had to guess, most of them, if and when they get paid, will get paid closer (above even) to the current Sicad 2 rate than the Sicad 1 rate they are booking their profits at today.

And note this includes earnings for 2007, 2008, 2009, 2019, 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014 and counting. We are talking eight years of Monopoly money, virtual profits for all.

Not exactly a recent event.

Nothing has changed, I wrote an article on this last December, entitled “Virtual Profits in Venezuela” in which I warned companies that they will get screwed yet again.

Companies seem to be getting the message, but many rely on “hope springs eternal”, particularly airlines.

Airlines are a very particular animals. They are not trying to repatriate profits, but revenues. This is worse. They sell tickets in US$ at the official rate of exchange and are supposed to received the foreign currency immediately or fast, as per IATA agreements. Except they started seeing delays in payment and they decided to increase prices as a hedge. But they still have not been paid, nor do I think they will be paid at Bs. 4.3, 6.3 or even 10, look north friendly airlines, you may get part of the debt paid above Bs. 25 per US$, but not all of it. You have been ripped off. Period.

Why do companies behave like this?

It depends. If you are a multinational you really believed that BS that you are in Venezuela for the long haul. Except you never thought the long haul would last so long.

If you are local, you want to survive. And you do, until you can’t, like the many companies that the Government has not repaid for their CADIVI imports at Bs. 6.3. In January 2014, the Government said, we don’t have enough money to pay you. So, they still hope. Another ripoff.

Or the oil service companies that accept PDVSA paying them in bonds, which implies a discount. At least they get something.

But the locals are the ones most screwed by the revolution. If they are not paid, they are dead. Most that have yet to be paid, will never be. The revolution has no scruples. They already screwed them with the devaluation in 2012, what´s another one? Chavistas thinks all private entrepreneurs are wealthy.

There are other cases, but you get the point. The point is, this is nothing new, the revolution has been ripping off the private sector for eight years and counting and there are those that still think they will get paid. And the international press is starting to notice. To say nothing of the regulators that have allowed financial reporting based on these virtual profits and fake exchange rates.

Clueless.

As for the long haul, sure, it will be a long haul, but only to take what is left of your stuff back home.

If any.

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49 Responses to “How Chavismo Has Ripped Off The Private Sector For Years”

  1. geronl Says:

    If all foreign companies stopped doing business in Venezuela that would actually help end this system, right? Or is Venezuela so backward that Marduro would become even more popular?

  2. moctavio Says:

    No, GDP does not adjust to the new rate completely as many things in the economy will retain their hard currency value, others not. Thus the new total GDP will be lower than current, but higher than scaling it to the new rate.

  3. Kepler Says:

    Octavio, OT: if Rafael devalues this month and there is a unique rate at, say, 30: what will happen with calculations of GDP per capita etc? Does it mean that every day counted from that day the GDP will be calculated at that level? (whereby the Venezuelan average income would drop dramatically, perhaps to Colombian level or below)

  4. Ira Says:

    Are airlines required to provide a minimal service to certain routes, and barred from pulling out altogether?

    Like U.S. domestically, you need FAA approval to fly certain routes (they don’t want to flood certain markets with too much supply), and you can’t just pull your bad routes (Osh Kosh to Albany, for example [Hah!]), without FAA approval.

    Maybe I got it all wrong, and I’m thinking about pre-deregulation, but are there any regs that forbid, say Delta, from pulling out of VZ 100%?

    • moctavio Says:

      Delta needs permission to fly a route. It can pull out, but if it leaves, I don’t think they will ever collect the debt.

  5. m_astera Says:

    Similar to Island Canuck’s DirectTV story above, a girl at a Movistar store informed me the other day that Movistar customers have not been able to make phone calls outside Venezuela since late March of this year. Something about there being no “room” on the international lines for Movistar. She said the same applies to Movilnet. It would appear that if one wishes to make an international call they must use CANTV.

    • Island Canuck Says:

      Interestingly I had Movilnet roaming service with AT&T for a month while we were in the USA recently and it worked fine.
      Received all my calls.

      On the other hand international mail service has stopped working since last year. IPOSTAL

    • m_astera Says:

      I have a Movistar fijo phone that I used to be able to call out of Venezuela with. It quit working for that a few months back and I finally got around to going to the Movistar store to ask what phone I could get from them that would allow out of country calls. That’s when she told me they had *no* international service at all anymore, not even on cell phone plans. The remark about Movilnet was something she had heard, not something I confirmed.

      You are saying you have Movilnet on the island and still have international calling from here?


  6. […] Miguel tonight has criticized an article from the New York Times which I would criticize even more than he does if I were to […]

  7. Mike Says:

    How about currency devaluation or inconvertibility insurance? Can it still be purchased? How about 3 – 4 years ago? It maybe too expensive for most businesses, but not for airlines if they had indeed an opportunity to purchase it when their ticket prices were sky high.

    • moctavio Says:

      For someone to sell you such insurance, they would have to find a way to hedge their risk. Given that there is no formal market outside the Government markets, nobody has done it for quite a while.

    • Roy Says:

      How could the risks possibly be calculated for such insurance? At best, they could have possibly found someone to buy their future value at a huge discount.


  8. Obviously the regime does not have a clue. Luckily, in many ways. If they had a clue or some remote semblance of competence regarding economic matters, Venezuela would be in deep, deep horse manure.

    Sadly, the more clueless they remain, the better, as things need to get worse to overthrow this dictatorship. Massive social discontent is the only way to get rid of those clowns. Hopefully they don’t read these blogs and get a clue.. Even if they did, they wouldn’t know how to implement any sound economic policies anyway. So in a terrible way, that’s good.

    More escasez, more inflacion,,, terminense de arrechar!


    • To clarify: what would be even worse than Vzla’s horrible current situation is if these clueless Chavistas had any economic clue, if they were able to fix a couple of things, provide more products and mislead our uneducated, ignorant people even more, with illusions of recovery and some brighter future.

      Then it would be Cuba # 2, for sure, for decades to come. Neo-dictadura disfrazada forever.. In that sense, that’s the bright side of it all: they are so incompetent in economic/social/political issues that people will someday have enough of them.. only when they really, really hurt economically, no more bread, no more circus, as they say in Rome.


  9. I don’t feel sorry for those multinationals. I wonder if anybody has interviewed that ChevronTexaco manager who is so cozy with the chavista mafia, and got from him the information on how he gets the joint venture dividends from Venezuela to an offshore account? Anyone? Anyone? Or is ChevronTexaco local management hiding the truth from their bosses in the USA? Or even worse, is C-t hiding the truth from shareholders?

  10. xp Says:

    Ripping off ,
    for the fun of it –

    Asesinan a chofer en Carapita para robarlo
    A Ender Moreno, de 20 de edad,
    lo despojaron del
    dinero que había ganado el día,
    del celular y la cartera

  11. ErneX Says:

    I have friends in VE that MINE bitcoin and other alternative digital currencies, taking advantage of cheap electricity since the graphic video cards required to mine at a reasonable speed consume lots of electricity.

    Some are making good money out of it, but like Miguel said, I don’t believe anybody would sell you bitcoins for BsF, you’ll need to mine your own digital coins and that requires expensive hardware.

    • Island Canuck Says:

      According to the information at the link you provided there is no talk of Bs. only Euros or US$.

      No one wants to sell US$$ these days.

      • wanley Says:

        Of course he is not going to answer, there is no answer. Must be the same place where they sell cars at “precios justos”. They exist but nobody has seen them.

    • N Smith Says:

      I would not trust this exchange. I see too many very unprofessional items on the site. Also no easy contact with them supplied.

      I would not use it.

      I was only trying to see if they would accept VEF for bitcoin.

  12. moctavio Says:

    You assume a “normal” country. If you do volume, the Government may follow you and figure out where those large amounts are flowing to and from. Thus, companies are afraid of doing it. There is little supply of dollars, bitcoins, whatever.

    • N Smith Says:

      There is no government involved here. It is all anonymous on the internet. That is what bitcoin is. It is decentralized and no government central control.

      • moctavio Says:

        Bolivars flow only thru Venezuelan banks, monitored by the Government looking precisely to see if large transactions are taking place. This is a Dicatorship, remember? If you receive 70 million Bolivars from someone else, they are going to come and ask you where they came from and why.

        I ask again: Who wants to sell Bitcoin for VEF in large quantities.

        Nobody is the answer.

        • N Smith Says:

          Yes, I see what you mean.

          I understand – from the gov´s point of view – that they want to stop capital flight. On the other hand, if all these companies could repatriate their dividends and monies due – which are not exactly the same capital flight – would that not be a good thing for the government? These companies would get their money outside the Ven economy without using USD. They will simply use their VEF, buy bitcoin and transfer it. No USD involved. Great for the government – as long as it does not involve flight of the country´s investment capital.

          • moctavio Says:

            If that were true, the Government could sell them the dollars at any rate they wanted, but it doesn’t

  13. moctavio Says:

    Who will selll bitcoin in exchange for VEF?

    I know noone, there has to be two sides to any trade. Someone has to receive the VEF. Who?

  14. N Smith Says:

    This is not about buying or selling Dollars at all.

    You simply buy bitcoin with VEF and you send the bitcoin anywhere in the world from your computer (smartphone?)

    The bitcoin will be priced in terms of USD.

    Current price of a bitcoin on this exchange

    http://bitcoincharts.com/charts/bitstampUSD#rg60ztgCzm1g10zm2g25zv

    is USD 612.

    According to DolarToday the parallel rate is 73.25.

    So for VEF 44 892 I can buy a bitcoin and send it anywhere in the world on my computer or smartphone (too – I think).

    I will have to check out the Caracas exchanges.

    • Alexis Says:

      And who will sell bitcoins for a small mountain of bolivars? If these exchanges exist, don’t overestimate the actual supply of bitcoins.

  15. N Smith Says:

    Miguel, I see there are at least two Bitcoin exchanges in Caracas. Surely small companies can take profits out via bitcoin?

    • moctavio Says:

      Did not know that. What are the volumes like? If few people sell, I see no way to get anything out.

      • N Smith Says:

        I simply googled “bitcoin exchange caracas” and saw two links. I did not investigate further.

        An exchange is a business. You have bitcoin and sell them at a profit in VEF. No USD need to be involved. Although I know nothing about how the Caracas exchanges operate.

        The bitcoin price is not very volatile at the moment. A little volatility is immaterial compared to never getting paid.

        Obviously the bitcoin would be priced at the parallel rate.

  16. Dr. Faustus Says:

    “Airlines are a very particular animals. They are not trying to repatriate profits, but revenues. This is worse. They sell tickets in US$ at the official rate of exchange and are supposed to received the foreign currency immediately or fast, as per IATA agreements.”

    Fast? How could a cumulative deficit of 4 billion dollars develop if immediate payment were required as per IATA? The airlines knew who the Chavistas were, yet chose to ignore fundamental business practices and common sense, Wow.

    • moctavio Says:

      I know, but Venezuela is the only country that does not pay airlines within days. That is what I meant. Yes, they were naive, extremely naive that they would get paid. They still are?

      • Dean A Nash Says:

        Not naive, Miguel. Let’s call them for what they really are: STUPID.

        • Victor Says:

          If you sell tickets for $2000 that are supposed to sell for $300 in a competitive and transparent marketplace, and if you have very deep pockets, you can patiently wait for a few years to get paid, especially when money is so cheap in the “imperio”. Maybe some aarilnes execs are not so stupid after all. Maybe the stupid are on the other side of the equation..

    • Victor Says:

      If you sell tickets for $2000 that are supposed to sell for $300 in a competitive and transparent marketplace, and if you have very deep pockets, you can patiently wait for a few years to get paid, especially when money is so cheap in the “imperio”. Maybe some aarilnes execs are not so stupid after all. Maybe the stupid are on the other side of the equation..


  17. In May, I published an article in my Blog regarding the same issue, but strongly based in accounting principles. All interested can read it in
    http://niifpymes-venezuela.blogspot.com/2014/05/translation-losses-in-venezuela.html

    Regards,

  18. Carolina W Says:

    Excelent!!!!

  19. Island Canuck Says:

    Other subtle ways the government is destroying private business in Venezuela.

    Yesterday I visited the local DirecTV office to replace some remote controls on a few of our 12 DirecTV connections.

    We were informed that they had none but that we would be put on a waiting list & in a month or so they would contact us.

    Obviously they have been unable to get new remotes which are imported becuase they can’t get the dollars to import them.

    As the government now has their own satellite TV service through CANTV I would suspect that DirecTV will not be seeing any new remotes or decoders any time soon.

  20. ErneX Says:

    Good post Miguel, when do you think the government is going to implement the unified dollar rate?


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