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Venezuela's State Oil Firm in Huge Debt to Suppliers

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Petroleos De Venezuela owes $11 billion to suppliers, while Chavez returns from treatment to show his country who's in charge.

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Venezuelan state oil firm Petróleos de Venezuela (PDVSA) owed $10.9 billion to suppliers at the end of 2010, up a whopping 55% over the previous year, according to its results published on Tuesday.

This could mean that the company will struggle to boost production as suppliers demand payment upfront or increase costs in anticipation of delays.

The company was upbeat in its report, however: "The results of the operational, financial, environmental, and social management of PDVSA for 2010 show the strength and growth seen by the company, despite the crisis currently being suffered by global capitalism."

Oil minister Rafael Ramírez said only that the situation had "improved" since the end of 2010 with suppliers, but failed to elaborate.

PDVSA is investing heavily in oil reserves that are larger than Saudi Arabia's. In 2010 the company invested $13.3 billion, and it is looking to spend $142 billion between now and 2015.

Crude production is thought to be down slightly on the previous year. PDVSA's own figures claim that 2.97 million barrels per day were produced in 2010, down from 3.01 million the previous year. However, there is little trust in the company's own figures.

Crude reserves have risen to 296.5 billion barrels, according to OPEC, beating Saudi Arabia's 264.5 billion. But it is the Middle Eastern giant that has the capacity and infrastructure to produce more.

There also are concerns that Venezuela's oil isn't quite up to par with Saudi Arabia's. "It doesn't flow the way regular oil flows," Michael Lynch, president of Strategic Energy & Economic Research in Winchester, Massachusetts, told the Associated Press. "If you transport the stuff, you have to be careful it doesn't turn solid."

Venezuela Sets Bond Sales
Venezuela is to sell $4.2 billion in 2031 bonds, as the government looks to raise funds. The money is most likely to be spent on social programs, though ultimately it will be focused on winning votes before presidential elections in 2012. The securities will carry a coupon of 11.95%. It is the country's first offering since August 2010.

New York trading of Venezuelan bonds fell with the announcement. "I think it's fair to say that this will keep Venezuela out of the market for a while," Siobhan Morden, Latin American debt strategist at RBS, told The Wall Street Journal.

Bloomberg correspondent Daniel Cancel tweeted yesterday, "It's annoying hearing people get excited about Venezuela USD bond sales before announcement then complain about rising external debt after."

Chávez Returns From Chemo
In typically histrionic style, President Hugo Chávez returned Saturday night to Venezuela after completing his first phase of chemotherapy in Cuba. He appeared well as he stood outside Latin American independence hero Simón Bolivar's house in Caracas on Sunday, celebrating what would have been the liberator's 228th birthday.

However, another bout of chemotherapy is imminent, and photos of Chávez are unlikely to look as healthy in the coming months. For that reason, the president is doing all he can to keep himself in the public eye and demonstrate that he is in charge before presidential elections next year.

Though not an official announcement, Chávez has confirmed that he intends to seek another six-year term.

In an interview with the Chavez-supporting Correo del Orinoco newspaper, the president said: "I have medical reasons, scientific reasons, human reasons, reasons of love, and political reasons to keep myself at the front of the government and the candidacy with more force than before. … On a personal level, I tell you I have never thought for even an instant of retiring from the presidency."

Chávez added: "I'm resolved to reach 2031."

Former PDVSA director Gustavo Coronel, a popular critic of Chávez, wrote an op-ed piece for the Latin American Herald Tribune this week. Coronel offered three scenarios for the country's future: Chávez abandons the presidency or is defeated in re-election attempts next year; a military coup maintains the Bolivarian revolution with or without Chávez at its helm; or Chávez is cured and wins next year.

Coronel offers odds for each. Most likely, he says, is the first at 45%. "A democratic, liberal government would take over and would introduce many policy changes in the country but it would have to face the enormous material and spiritual ruin left by 13 years of Chavez's disastrous regime," Coronel writes.

At 30% is the final scenario where Chávez maintains power. "Both his health and the deterioration of the country become progressively worse," Coronel offers, suggesting that the tenure would be short-lived.
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