Venezuela’s jet fuel exports soar even as airlines cut ties
Cash-strapped Venezuela is tapping U.S. and European air passengers to help pay its debts, even as airlines cut routes to the country.
Exports of jet fuel to the U.S. and Europe more than doubled in April from March, data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration and Eurostat, the European Union’s statistical agency, show. That may provide some relief to state oil company Petroleos de Venezuela SA, which has $3.2 billion in interest payments and principal maturities due this year, according to Bloomberg data.
Jet fuel shipments are rising because domestic demand for air travel is falling, said Ehsan Ul-Haq, a London-based director of crude oil and refined products at Resource Economist Ltd. Hyperinflation has made flights prohibitively expensive for Venezuelans, and protests that have left almost 100 people dead are keeping foreigners away. The U.S. recommends that Americans avoid travel to the country and is weighing sanctions on Venezuela’s top officials and a ban on oil imports.
“The Caracas airport is considered as one of the world’s most dangerous airports, and several countries have warned their citizens against traveling to Venezuela,” Ul-Haq said. “Meanwhile, the [Donald] Trump administration has threatened Venezuela with sanctions, and this could lead to a further dip in domestic demand.”
Jet fuel exports from Venezuela climbed to a 15-month high of almost 634,000 barrels in April, the latest Energy Information Administration and Eurostat data show. That’s somewhat a surprise because Venezuela’s domestic refiner-
ies are operating at less than 50 percent of their installed capacity and are suffering from breakdowns and a lack of crude oil to process.
Venezuela needs the money, though.
The probability of the country defaulting on its external bonds is the highest in the world, according to derivatives traders, and the nation’s benchmark 10-year bonds trade at just 46 cents on the dollar. Despite drastically cutting imports of food and medicine to conserve the cash needed to pay bondholders, Venezuela’s foreign reserves have tumbled to a 15-year low of about $10 billion.
In the past three years, at
least seven airlines have suspended routes to Caracas or reduced the number of daily flights in part because they are trying to collect money from the Venezuelan government, which must authorize the repatriation of earnings from ticket sales under Venezuela’s currency controls. Airlines have about $3.8 billion being held by the government, according to the International Air Transport Association trade group.
United Airlines Inc. halted daily service from Houston to Caracas this month. American Airlines, Deutsche Lufthansa AG, Grupo Aeromexico SAB de CV, Latam Airlines Group SA and Gol Linhas Aereas Inteligentes SA canceled routes to Venezuela in 2016.
“The funds will help, certainly, but at these volumes, I don’t believe this will really
move the needle,” Mara Roberts, a New York-based analyst for BMI Research, said of the jet fuel exports. “Venezuela has dug themselves into quite a big hole, and it’s going to take something more substantial to help them out at this point.”
The rise in jet fuel shipments also may not last. Demand for aviation fuel is strong now because of summer holidays in the U.S. and Europe. But the U.S. has plenty of supply: Inventories were at a five-month high of 44.6 million barrels in April, above the fiveyear average, according to Energy Information Administration monthly data. They have since fallen to 39.2 million barrels, according to Energy Information Administration data earlier this month.
“I believe U.S. demand is not sustainable beyond the
busier summer travel season,” Roberts said. “Also, Venezuela’s refineries are still significantly underutilized due to a chronic lack of maintenance, which means supplies are likely not plentiful at the moment.”