Venezuela’s $1.7bn gold sell-off in the first quarter of 2016 has made them a prime target for ’conquest by capital’ from their primary global financier, China.
Wednesday night, the Financial Times reported that Venezuela’s gold reserves “plunged to their lowest level on record” after their central bank made the decision to sell 1.38-million ounces of gold, the equivalent of 43.1 tons (US) or 39.1 tonnes (UK).
According to the World Gold Council, Venezuela has the world’s 16th-biggest gold reserve, sitting on roughly 1.295-million ounces of gold, the equivalent of 40.5 tons (US) or 36.7 tonnes (UK). Bloomberg reported that this latest export flurry has made Venezuela the biggest gold seller in 4 out of the last 5 quarters.
According to data from the IMF, this has fueled the gold purchasing sprees of many nations including:
Russia – + 16.2 tonnes / 17.86 tons / 571,520 ounces
China – + 10.9 tonnes / 12 tons / 384,000 ounces
Kazakhstan – + 3.2 tonnes / 3.52 tons / 112,877 ounces
Turkey – + 2.6 tonnes / 2.86 tons / 91,712 ounces
But why are Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and his economic czar Miguel Pérez Abad making a 180 on the gold hoarding policies of their now dead leader Huge Chavez? Venezuela is in desperate need of physical cash.
In 2011, Chavez began importing large amounts of gold bullion to Caracas as a potential tool to decouple his nation from what he called the “dictatorship of the dollar”. Unfortunately, this didn’t work completely in Chavez’s favor, as the US responded by forcing Venezuela to take a 40% discount when engaging in cash swaps for US currency — the world’s reserve currency used in the international trade of Venezuela’s primary export, oil.
Today, as Venezuela has entered full economic collapse with hyperinflation and sudo-martial law, Maduro’s regime has been forced to announce that the government has run out of money, and can no longer print new money because of the runaway currency devaluation which has caused a simple burger to now cost $170 per.
This is where China comes in. As a knight in shining red armor, Venezuela’s primary financier has gladly agreed to provide foreign capital investment. This lifeline will not be free, however, and will likely come with the price of Venezuelan real estate, and unbridled access to their nation’s vast oil reserves — which are actually larger than Saudi Arabia’s.
Maduro’s economic czar Abad confirmed this to Bloomberg, saying that the country had reached a deal with China to extend loans.
“We have a cash flow problem, but we have sufficient assets for the short-term and will reprofile the debt levels in an intelligent manner. There are various scenarios, and all of the proposals are extraordinary for the bondholders. They have the absolute assurance that their securities are guaranteed,” he said.
Economic trends analysis Jim Willie highlighted in his latest Hat Trick Letter that China is patiently waiting for the debt defaults of Venezuela and Brazil to not only open up their oil reserves to Beijing, but the vast fresh water resources of the Amazon River. “The Amazon River delta is to become a series of monster processing plants for industries,” Willie wrote. “China will take over that region by buying Venezuela outright, or they will send somebody to finish the mess there with a well placed push,” Willie ended.
“The Amazon River delta is to become a series of monster processing plants for industries,” Willie wrote. “China will take over that region by buying Venezuela outright, or they will send somebody to finish the mess there with a well-placed push.”
Fresh water is a key component to oil refineries, and the Amazon River provides over 200 miles of this quickly appreciating global resource. Willie noted that Saudi Arabia had previous explored building a refinery at the estuary of the Amazon for this reason.
Other than China, Venezuela has explored gold exchange cash-swaps with central banks to generate physical cash for the starved nation. In February, Reuters reported that Venezuela had exported $456 million of physical gold, approximately 373,064 ounces or 10.6 tonnes, to the Swiss-based Bank for International Settlements (BIS) in exchange for direct cash. After approximately seven such gold cash-swap transactions the BIS decided to halt their dealings with Venezuela, citing default risk concerns.
Aside from the BIS, Reuters named Deutsche Bank AG as being in negotiations with the Central Bank of Venezuela for a similar cash-swap deal, and in 2015 Citigroup Inc’s Citibank carried out a swap with Venezuela.
Venezuela’s need for cash has not only stemmed from the inability to print but looming fines and interest payments also. Canadian mining company Gold Reserve recently won a settlement through arbitration of $750 million, after Venezuela’s expropriation of its gold mining operation in 2007. The Latin American Herald Tribune reported this week that a mutual agreement had to be reached between Gold Reserve and the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela which extended the previously announced February 24, 2016, settlement payment from May 12, 2016, to May 27, 2016.
This payment of $750 million due at the end of this month, as well as the growing pressure for Venezuela to meet its yearly debt interest payments — payments which Trade Minister Jesus Faria said were guaranteed including those near term as well as in October and November — has provided a staunch incentive for the South American dictatorship to sell its gold holdings for quick cash.
In 2014, Bloomberg reported that their neighbor Ecuador under the iron rule of communist President Rafael Correa, sold 466,000 ounces of gold reserves — more than half of their total national gold reserves — to Goldman Sachs Group Inc. in a similar gold cash-swap deal.
With the collapsing Venezuelan economy, and their gold holdings leaving shore, will the country become a bonafide colony for the communist Chinese? Or will regional strongmen assume control of a country which is already seeing 90 percent of their gold mined domestically shipped to external criminal cartels, a fact documented by The Global Initiative in a recent report.