Venezuela puts off default by shipping tons of gold to Switzerland

Venezuela has been hit hard by the drop in global oil prices, making it difficult for the nation–which imports nearly everything it needs–to provide basic necessities like food and medicine. But the country is making an effort to avoid defaulting on bond payments and dipping heavily into gold reserves to do so. From Reuters:

Venezuela’s international reserves fell to a 17-year low of $13.5 billion on Friday after the government paid in full its $1.5 billion Global 2016 bond , according to central bank data. The $1.543 billion decline in reserves matched the interest and principal paid on the 2016 bond.

Venezuela shipped 35.8 metric tons (nearly 79,000 pounds) of gold to Switzerland last month which is enough to hold of default for now. But Financial Times lays out the numbers and questions how much longer the country avoid the inevitable given its dwindling reserves, ongoing need to import nearly everything it needs and, most importantly, more massive bond payments due before the end of the year:

Siobhan Morden of Nomura estimates that, after the Swiss shipment and taking account of recent price rises, Venezuela is left with gold worth about $11.3bn. According to the central bank it also has foreign exchange reserves of $14.6bn (after a withdrawal of $472m last week, also seen by analysts as preparation for Friday’s payment).

But Friday’s is not the only payment coming up. Taken together, the government, state-owned oil company PdVSA, and its affiliates, face repayments this year of $10.5bn. The crunch months are October and November (see chart).

On top of that, Ms Morden says, Venezuela must find $35bn to pay for imports and $12bn to cover capital outflows, out of oil revenues of just $20bn.

In other words, there doesn’t seem to be any way Venezuela can finish out the year in the black. CNN Money quotes Russ Dallen of LatInvest saying, “It’s a question of when Venezuela will default, not if.” He adds, “They’re running out of options.”

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David Strom 10:01 AM on February 04, 2023