Ahead of a $2 billion state oil company amortization in April, Venezuelan bond prices fell to the 40s as the Supreme Court moved to disband the opposition party-led National Assembly in another violation of the Organization for American States (OAS) charter drawing member condemnation. Fifteen countries headed by Mexico had called for political prisoner release and elections before the judicial “coup,” which was reversed when the Attorney General broke ranks with Chavista allies to outlaw the maneuver as unconstitutional. The challenge was the latest senior official blow after February’s US arrest of Vice President El Aissami on drug trafficking charges, and prompted another round of violent street protests against security forces amid worsening food and medicine shortages. Import needs are estimated at $20 billion, twice reported reserves, but oil earnings should rise to $30 billion with higher prices and Chinese loan repayment relief could also provide breathing space. The government is trying to sell PDVSA joint venture stakes to raise revenue but has been blocked in parliament, and the impasse may have animated the mooted closure effort. A miner got a Washington court order to attach oil monopoly assets, as Conoco awaits another likely big arbitration award from nationalization.
Ecuador bonds sagged likewise as President Correa’s chosen successor Moreno defied projections with a 2 percent win over rival former investment banker Lasso, who demanded a recount. The victor, confined to a wheelchair, gained support with his personal courage and common touch, in contrast to the opposition candidate considered aloof and closely tied to the business elite. The legislative majority for Moreno’s party shrank 20 percent to 55 percent, and he inherits a recession and 5 percent of GDP budget deficit after last year’s earthquake which may force resort to the IMF, which offered natural disaster aid.
Elsewhere in the Andeans Colombia’s sovereign ratings outlook was upgraded to stable by two agencies as the current account gap tightened to 4.5 percent of GDP and fiscal reform was passed in 2016, although peace plan spending may erase immediate tax gains. Economic growth has languished at 2 percent, but inflation has halved to 5 percent on food cost reduction allowing the central bank to cut benchmark rates. In the wake of the guerilla accord and mushrooming Odebrecht scandal, jockeying has begun for 2018 elections, with one of President Santos’ ex Vice presidents set to run, although an anti-establishment outsider could enter in the current charged climate, experts believe. Peru stocks increased the same 5 percent on the MSCI index in the first quarter as the government lowered its growth forecast 1 percent to 4 percent, which would still top the South American charts. Inflation is put in the 2 percent target range this year after consecutive misses, and recent flooding could again damage crops. The budget deficit will remain steady at almost 3 percent of GDP despite President PPK’s consolidation pledge as he ramps up early reconstruction and infrastructure spending. The terms of trade switched with commodity recovery to enable surplus return, but copper value remains heavily dependent on Chinese appetite and despite a flurry of commercial overtures to Beijing another bottoming is factored into metals scenarios.