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As a Debt Deadline Looms for Venezuela, Maduro Is Defiant

Given the sanctions, however, it remained unclear how Mr. Maduro intended to restructure the government’s debt.

“There’s no way to restructure under existing U.S. sanctions, but the government may be hoping that bond holders now pressure the Trump administration to create an exemption to the sanctions,” said Risa Grais-Targow, director for Latin America at Eurasia Group, a political risk analysis firm.

In a challenge to the Trump administration, Mr. Maduro also named Vice President Tareck El Aisammí to lead the efforts. Mr. El Aisammí has been sanctioned by the United States over allegations that he is a narcotics trafficker, which blocks Americans from doing business with him.

There was no grace period for the loan payment due on Thursday, and it remained unclear how investors would react to the failure of the state oil company, Petróleos de Venezuela, or Pdvsa, to make the payment on time.

But Diego Ferro, co-chief investment officer at Greylock Capital Management, a New York hedge fund that invests in distressed high-yield bonds, said the restructuring announcement could buy Mr. Maduro some time with bondholders and the Venezuelan people.

“People were expecting the payment late anyway,” he said. “As of now they have at least a few months to come up with an offer to put off litigation in the United States. It will depend on what they offer” in terms of payments of principal and interest.


Venezuela’s state oil company, Petróleos de Venezuela, or Pdvsa, has offered leasing deals to Russian and Chinese companies. Credit Ricardo Moraes/Reuters

Mr. Maduro has sought to avoid a default, which could trigger years of international legal battles among creditors for control of Pdvsa assets outside Venezuela, including its American refinery subsidiary Citgo and tankers that deliver oil around the world.

“Venezuela will not default strategically,” said Miguel Angel Santos, a senior research fellow at the Center for International Development at Harvard. “If it defaults, it’s because they have really run out of dimes and nickels.”

In a default, Venezuelan petroleum exports would be interrupted, forcing the government to cultivate new ways of getting the nation’s oil into the international marketplace, perhaps including an increasing dependence on the Russian oil company Rosneft, according to analysts.

During a similar debt crunch in April, Rosneft provided a $ 1 billion advance payment for oil, which was crucial for Pdvsa to make nearly $ 3 billion in bond payments. Last week, senior Russian officials said they were ready to restructure some debts to suspend hundreds of millions in payments until 2020 or later.

Rosneft has a 49.9 percent stake in Citgo, Pdvsa’s refining and gasoline station subsidiary in the United States, as collateral for a $ 1.5 billion loan to the Venezuelan oil company. Rosneft and Pdvsa are in negotiations to swap Rosneft’s Citgo holdings for oil fields in Venezuela out of concern that the United States government could eventually place sanctions on Citgo.

International bond experts and the markets had been optimistic that the Venezuelan state oil company would make the $ 1.2 billion payment on time on Thursday.

But in recent years, Pdvsa has increasingly left investors and the market guessing up to the last minute on whether it would make its debt payments.

With the company facing a deadline last week on a separate bond payment, the markets were particularly jittery amid conflicting signals from the government about its preparedness to pay. On Friday, the company announced it had started to make the payment before the deadline, though bondholders did not start seeing the payments until a few days later.

The Venezuelan government and Pdvsa have been skipping interest payments over the last four weeks, taking advantage of grace periods to delay more than $ 700 million in payouts.

“They’re living day by day essentially,” said Daniel Lansberg-Rodriguez, an adjunct lecturer of finance at the Kellogg School of Management. “There’s a sense that at the liquidity level, there’s a scramble, there’s always a scramble.”

Venezuela has a $ 140 billion external debt, most of which was borrowed in recent years when oil prices were more than $ 100 a barrel. The collapse of oil prices three years ago forced Venezuela into a crisis, and experts have been predicting that a default is nearly certain unless oil prices recover quickly to over $ 75 a barrel — well above current levels.

With more debt payments due in the coming months, the government and Pdvsa are offering leasing deals to Russian and Chinese companies to transfer operational control of one or two major refineries, according to Argus, an energy and commodity news service.

But energy experts say that Venezuela’s refineries would be risky investments for any foreign oil company given that they are in poor working condition and that the domestic gasoline and diesel market is highly subsidized so returns are low.

Source: NYT > World

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