YPF takeover may cut Argentine gov't spending on LNG

Thu Apr 26, 2012 6:24pm EDT

* YPF nationalization expected to become law next month

* YPF to then take over role of state company Enarsa

By Alejandro Lifschitz

BUENOS AIRES, April 26 (Reuters) - Argentina's takeover of YPF will mean the end of the state energy company that handles the fast-growing liquefied natural gas (LNG) imports, a ruling party lawmaker said, a change that could save the Treasury billions of dollars in subsidies.

Just before the Senate approved the government's plan for taking control of YPF from current majority holder Repsol late on Wednesday, clearing the way for the bill to be passed by the lower house next week, Senator Anibal Fernandez said the nationalized company will take charge of LNG imports.

Those purchases are now in the hands of state energy company Enarsa, which gets its budget from the government and has $2.3 billion officially earmarked in 2012 for LNG purchases. Enarsa also buys natural gas from neighboring Bolivia.

"Once this law comes into effect, YPF will surely absorb it (Enarsa)," Fernandez said during Wednesday's night's Senate debate. "There will not be any more Enarsa if we have a company specifically positioned to be take care of this issue."

Fernandez did not say whether the State would fund the purchase of LNG when YPF assumes the role of importer. But analysts believe the surge in energy imports and the dollar shortage in the country are a great temptation for the Treasury to be released from that burden.

"This is where you will see whether YPF follows a strategy combining a state vision but with a private management style, or whether it starts doing this kind of business," said Buenos Aires-based energy analyst Victor Bronstein.

Senator Fernandez is a government ally and a driving force behind the YPF takeover legislation, which has prompted condemnation from Madrid to Washington.

Enarsa usually acquires LNG at between $15.5/mmBtu in the international market and sells gas on the local market at about $4/mmBtu, using subsidies to shield Argentine users from high prices.

Argentina sells gas at much lower prices in the internal market, and the state picks up the tab.

With Argentina's economy slowing due to Europe's debt crisis, lower demand from key trade partner Brazil and government-imposed import restrictions that have hurt business confidence, the government is looking to pinch pennies.

Most Argentines support the move to renationalize YPF, privatized in the 1990s after 70 years under full state control. Many blame the privatizations and free-market reforms of that decade for provoking Argentina's 2001/02 financial meltdown.

The bill sailed through the Senate in a 63-3 vote in the early hours of Thursday.

The government has justified its YPF takeover with accusations that parent company Repsol has long under-invested and under-produced in Argentina, a charge the company dismisses.

Argentina's trade surplus, a pillar of the government's economic policy, shrank last year as fuel imports more than doubled - sending the issue of flagging oil and natural gas production to the top of its agenda.

Once the takeover becomes law, attention will turn to the compensation Argentina will pay Repsol for its stake. Officials have already said it will be far lower than the $9.3 billion the company has sought.

FILED UNDER: