CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA [PDVSA.UL] began making a major bond payment due on Friday, easing short-term worries about default but leaving the socialist government with less cash to attend to food shortages and economic depression.
Investors had fretted this week that cash-flow problems and regulatory hurdles resulting from U.S. sanctions on the government of President Nicolas Maduro might leave the company unable to make the nearly $1 billion payment.
Venezuela’s socialist policies have resulted in an economic depression, soaring inflation, and shortages of food and medicine, despite being an OPEC country with among the largest oil reserves in the world.
Bondholders have for years shrugged off Venezuela’s economic implosion, insisting Maduro’s willingness to pay and Venezuela’s substantial offshore assets made the high-yield debt a good bet.
But sources close to the government this week said Maduro had considered not paying, and that the last-minute approval came after intense discussions among cabinet members about the potential benefits of defaulting.
PDVSA “has knocked down the doomsday voices that were betting on economic meltdown and attacking the Venezuelan people, in conspiracy with the global economic oligarchy, with the aim of destabilizing and sabotaging the Bolivarian government’s economic advances,” PDVSA said in a statement.
PDVSA transferred $841.88 million in principal on the 2020 bond to accounts at JPMorgan, the statement said, without mentioning the outstanding $143 million coupon payment also due.
Late Friday Vice President Tareck El Aissami confirmed the payment, adding, “They were not able to block us.”
PDVSA did not immediately respond to a further request for comment. JPMorgan also declined to comment.
Clearing house Clearstream, which facilitates payment to bondholders, did not respond to a request for comment on whether it had received the money.
Two operators, requesting anonymity told Reuters the money has been sent but had not yet arrived. Several financial sources said Monday would bring clarity.
Venezuela and PDVSA bond prices rose earlier Friday following a Reuters report that the payment had been initiated.
PDVSA’s 2017N bond, which comes due on Thursday, was up 7.150 points to a bid price of 96.500, according to Thomson Reuters data, while Venezuela’s 2022 bond was up 3.8750 points to bid 44.250.
The 2020 bond, which was issued last year as part of a refinancing effort, is backed by shares of PDVSA’s Citgo U.S. refining and marketing subsidiary.
Separately, on Friday Venezuela said it had appointed Simon Zerpa, PDVSA’s chief financial officer, as the OPEC member’s acting economy minister.
Investor concerns will now turn to the company’s next looming large debt commitments. PDVSA faces a $1.2 billion debt payment next week, while Venezuela and PDVSA have around $10 billion in bond service next year.
“At some point down the road, if it’s not tomorrow it’s going to be, who knows, in some months, in one year - the risk of a (default) is very high,” said Mauro Roca, sovereign analyst at asset manager TCW, which has $201.6 billion under management.
Roca added that U.S. sanctions against Maduro, which bar banks from providing new financing to Venezuela, will make a debt restructuring impossible, further clouding the long-term panorama.
Cash-strapped Venezuela has cut food imports and sales of U.S. dollars through official mechanisms to ensure Friday’s bond payment. Partly as a result, the bolivar currency has tumbled 34 percent on the black market in the last month.
“After today’s payment of financial debt, the social debt remains unpaid, with a population dying of hunger, stricken by illnesses, and hopeless,” said opposition lawmaker and economist Jose Guerra.
Opposition political parties claim the late President Hugo Chavez recklessly issued bonds during an earlier decade-long period of high oil prices but that many of the proceeds evaporated in mismanaged projects and corruption.
“Bondholders shouldn’t be blamed... The blame goes to those who irresponsibly indebted Venezuela,” added Guerra.
Sanctions this year by U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration block U.S. banks from providing new financing to Venezuela but allow them to carry out routine operations, including making bond payments for Venezuela-based entities.
Since the sanctions, financial institutions have insisted on greater documentation for Venezuelan transactions.
Russia on Friday separately said it was ready to restructure $3 billion in debt between the two countries, which included the possibility of postponing a debt repayment.
Venezuela has borrowed billions of dollars from Russia and China over the years, primarily through oil-for-loan deals that over time have crimped the country’s hard currency revenue by requiring oil shipments to be used as service on those loans.
Additional reporting by Eyanir Chinea and Deisy Buitrago in Caracas, Paul Kilby, Davide Scigliuzzo and Dion Rabouin in New York, and Marianna Parraga in Houston; editing by Brian Ellsworth, Alistair Bell and Clive McKeef