Venezuela has seen an unprecedented exodus of people in recent months. In response to a dramatic economic downturn in which inflation is soaring, oil production tanking, and a humanitarian catastrophe unfolding, many Venezuelans are seeking refuge in neighboring countries. However, the lack of official numbers on emigration from the Venezuelan government, and receiving countries largely refusing to acknowledge a refugee status for affected people, it has been difficult to quantify the magnitude of this crisis. In this note we document how we use data from the social media service Twitter to measure the emigration of people from Venezuela. Using a simple statistical model that allows us to correct for a sampling bias in the data, we estimate that up to 2,9 million Venezuelans have left the country in the past year.
Although Venezuela’s experience since the 1980s would seem to make it a classic example of the resource curse, that perspective fails to explain the country’s impressive economic, social and institutional performance—including healthy public debate—during the first five decades after oil was first produced on a large scale. This chapter takes a long view of the Venezuelan experience and argues that this initial performance was lengthy and positive but fragile, given the incapacity of the country’s institutions to adapt to the different environment that developed afterwards, characterized by high oil price volatility and significant and sudden declines in oil revenues. The prolonged initial period of equilibrium became a curse of sorts. Lacking adaptive efficiency, political institutions were forced to rely increasingly on maintaining an illusion of harmony, and as faltering performance became evident, Venezuelans began questioning the model and its hegemonic arrangements. The scope and magnitude of the economic, social and institutional devastation that followed were such that public debate became one the first casualties. One of the main problems in contemporary Venezuela is the polarization of politics. This makes it difficult for the country’s population to arrive at reasonable solutions through public discussion.
Venezuela is at a breaking point. The political, economic, financial, social and humanitarian crisis that has gripped the country is intensifying. This unsustainable situation raises several urgent questions: Which path will the embattled OPEC country take out of the current turmoil? What type of political transition lies ahead? What short-term and long-term impact will the crisis have on its ailing oil industry, economy and bond debt? What would be the best and most effective prescription for oil and economic recovery under a new governance regime? To discuss these matters, the Center on Global Energy Policy brought together on June 19, 2017 a group of about 45 experts, including oil industry executives, investment bankers, economists and political scientists from leading think tanks and universities, consultants, and multilateral organization representatives. This note provides some of the highlights from that roundtable discussion, which was held under the Chatham House rule.
This paper documents negative cumulative abnormal returns (CARs) to five exchange rate devaluations in Venezuela within the context of stiff exchange controls and large black-market premiums, using daily stock prices for 110 multinationals with Venezuelan subsidiaries. The results suggest evidence of statistically and economically significant negative CARs of up to 2.07% over the ten-day event window. We find consistent results using synthetic controls to causally infer the effect of each devaluation on the stock prices of global firms active in the country at the time of the event. Our results are at odds with the predicaments of the efficient market hypothesis stating that predictable devaluations should not impact stock prices of large multinational companies on the day of the event, and even less so when they happen in small countries. We interpret these results as suggestive indication of market inefficiencies in the process of asset pricing.
Recent work suggests a connection between domestic debt and external default. We examine potential linkages for Venezuela, where the evidence reveals a nexus among domestic debt, financial repression, and external vulnerability. The financial repression tax (as a share of GDP) is similar to OECD economies, in spite of higher debt ratios in the latter. The financial repression “tax rate” is higher in years of exchange controls and legislated interest rate ceilings. We document a link between domestic disequilibrium and a weakening of the net foreign asset position via private capital flight. We suggest these findings are not unique to Venezuela.
Venezuela has an oil-dependent economy subject to large exogenous shocks and a rigid labor market. These features go straight to the heart of two weaknesses of real business cycle (RBC) theory widely reported in the literature: neither shocks are volatile enough nor real salaries suf ficiently flexible as required by the RBC framework to replicate the behavior of the economy. We calibrate a basic RBC model and compare a set of relevant statistics from RBC-simulated time series with actual data for Venezuela and the benchmark case of the United States (1950–2008). Despite Venezuela being a heavily regulated economy, RBC-simulated series provide a good fit, in particular with regard to labor markets.
Venezuela has one of the most abundant geological endowments in the world. Oil proven reserves are among the largest globally, even if a more conservative criterion than the one used by the current government is applied. However, these resources are qualitatively different than those of other abundant regions such as the Middle East. The large majority constitutes extra-heavy oil, which generally requires higher oil prices to be extracted profitably.
During the last decade, the Venezuelan oil industry wasted a unique opportunity to increase investment and production. At the high oil prices that prevailed, the massive oil reserves could have been monetized by rapidly increasing production with a large margin of profitability. Quite to the contrary, production steadily dropped due either to lack of investment in the new unconventional oil projects or for failing to compensate the decline of the older conventional fields. It is a tragic story of great potential with dismal performance.
A series of trends were negatively impacting the Venezuelan oil industry even before the oil price collapse in 2014. From the revenue side, although oil prices showed an increase in real terms of 120% between 2000 and 2014, the barrels that effectively generate cash for Venezuela have shown a continuous decline. This is not just because production has been declining for the most part during the last eighteen years (a trend that has gotten significantly worse during the last year), but also because of a number of developments. First, during that period, total exports have declined more rapidly than production, and recently, net exports have declined more than total exports. Consumption in the massively subsidized domestic market increased until 2013 (when it started to decline likely because of the recession in the local economy), while imports of oil products for the domestic market have increased since 2012. The domestic market not only generates negative cash-flow for the national oil company (NOC), PDVSA, but also its expansion reduced the barrels available to export. More recently, there has also been an increase in imports of light oil and naphtha as diluents for the extra-heavy oil. Second, the Venezuelan production basket has become heavier and the share of unconventional production, generally less profitable, has increased. Third, the production wholly operated by PDVSA has been falling much more rapidly, while the production share of joint-ventures increased. Fourth, a significant share of the exports to Latin America and the Caribbean is subsidized (although these exports have declined recently). Fifth, some oil exports are committed to repay debts of PDVSA and specially the Venezuelan government, limiting the actual cash flow received by the company. In particular, the government’s debt agreements with China involve a significant and increasing amount of production, although recently those agreements were restructured, allowing for a grace period with no capital amortization. From the expenditure side, PDVSA was increasingly responsible of carrying social expenditures and activities not related to the oil industry, which limited the resources for highly profitable investments. That is in addition to the increased fiscal take due to changes in the tax legislation. Also, higher investment requirements due to an increase in the equity share of PDVSA in joint venture projects, has had an impact on its cash flow.
The explanations for the underperformance of the Venezuelan oil industry basically fall into two connected categories: the multiple problems facing PDVSA; and the increase in above-ground risks for foreign investors operating in the country. The deterioration of the institutional framework, led to radical fiscal and regulatory changes, and to the nationalization of the majority of the industry. In 7 addition, the substantial over-extraction of resources from the NOC, the significant macroeconomic distortions affecting the cost structure of oil companies, and the constraints imposed by the energy infrastructure and human capital availability; have combined to produce dismal results. The massive firing of the majority of the management and technical experts from PDVSA in 2003 following the political conflict that led to a strike, has left the company with limited capabilities to operate effectively.
The recent decline in oil prices, and the changes in the international market structure, have exposed more dramatically the difficulties facing the Venezuelan oil sector, and call into question its ability to prevent a continuation of the declining trend in oil extraction. This situation becomes particularly severe if we take into account the cash flow constraints facing PDVSA, as well as its multiple operational problems, power cuts, and conflicts with oilfield services providers. These challenges are proportional to the enormous investments required to finance the projects in the Orinoco Oil Belt, where most of the reserves in Venezuela are located, and where the quality of the crude and the lack of development of the region, are just two of the many issues that need to be addressed.
Since this paper is part of a wider project to understand the macroeconomic challenges facing the country in 2016-17, it focuses narrowly on the financial problems of the oil industry in the short-term and the operational challenges that could impede its recovery in the next couple of years. Within this context, it largely analyzes the upstream operations, i.e. oil extraction, rather than the downstream, given that in the former is where the oil rents are generated and constitutes the main source of foreign exchange and fiscal revenues of Venezuela. Other areas for further research are mentioned at the end of the document.2
Official figures are used to the extent that they are publicly available. An important aspect that prevents an exhaustive evaluation of the oil sector in Venezuela is the lack of available information regarding key performance indicators affecting the cost structure of oil projects, the cash flow of PDVSA, and the fiscal contributions of the oil sector to the government, among other important variables. Thus, on occasion, estimations for variables of interest and explanations for their divergence from official figures are provided.
The paper has two main sections. The first one analyzes the issues affecting the cash flow of PDVSA, the effects of macroeconomic and fiscal variables on both revenues and costs, as well as other financial issues affecting the performance of the company. The second section discusses some of the operational challenges facing the industry and mentions areas for further research.
2For a more general overview of the recent developments of the oil sector in Venezuela see Monaldi (2015).
Venezuela’s business environment is systematically evaluated as one of the worst in the world. Producing and investing in the country imposes costs and risks arising from macroeconomic instability. Beyond the problems of inflation, fiscal deficit and trade balance; firms and entrepreneurs also face enormous difficulties and discouragement going from the uncertainty about property rights to lack of electricity. To identify binding microeconomic constraints for investment in Venezuela, we reviewed international rankings and experiences about key elements of the business environment and conducted interviews with members of guilds and managers at large companies in the country. We find that the most biding constraints to investment are within the functioning of institutions, including weak property rights, and arbitrary, unbalanced and unpredictable enforcement of the law. Also binding is the flawed functioning of markets, including access to inputs and price controls.
Even before the oil price crisis began in 2014, progress in reducing poverty in Venezuela had ceased and official figures showed that. According to the INE, between 2008 and 2013, the percentage of the population living in poverty remained almost the same, going from 33.1% to 34.2%.
Estas son las últimas cifras oficiales de pobreza de ingreso que disponemos ya que la última contabilización oficial de porcentaje de población en situación de pobreza es la del segundo semestre de 2013. A partir de ese momento la descripción social de la pobreza en Venezuela ha dependido de estudios independientes realizados entre otros, por un consorcio de varias universidades del país que dan cuenta de la evolución de la pobreza entre 2014 y 2015 (ENCOVI, 2014 y 2015), años donde se precipitaron los precios del petróleo hasta un tercio de lo que llegaron a ser durante 2008 acelerando un proceso de deterioro en los indicadores de desempeño económico y bienestar del hogar.
Según estas fuentes independientes de información la pobreza de ingresos en Venezuela habría llegado hasta un 55% en 2014 y 76% en 2015. Cifras que por sí solas hablan de la necesidad diseñar un plan de reformas económicas y sociales para hacerle frente al impacto social de la caída de los precios del petróleo, así como al conjunto de factores, más allá de los precios del crudo, que han llevado al país a tres años continuos de recesión y aumento de la pobreza.
En atención a lo anterior, el presente trabajo se enmarca dentro del conjunto de ejercicios de investigación que son necesarios para poder diseñar un programa de estabilización económica y su correspondiente plan de protección social. En ese sentido, en lo que sigue trataremos de dimensionar el número de familias que necesitarían formar parte de este potencial plan de protección social.
Para ello nos valdremos como fuente de información de la ENCOVI 2014 y 2015, encuestas desde las cuales no sólo tenemos información para contabilizar los hogares e individuos en estado de necesidad, sino además las coberturas probables de los programas sociales (Misiones) que actualmente implementa el gobierno de Venezuela, para de esta forma estimar; en primer lugar, las familias en situación de pobreza que reciben beneficios sociales; en segundo lugar las que estando en esa condición de pobreza no los reciben y; por último, y con miras a la reforma de los programas y la introducción de elementos de progresividad distributiva, los beneficiarios que aún sin ser población objetivo, por no estar en situación de pobreza, son receptores de transferencias, pensiones o becas por parte del Estado.
Adicionalmente a lo anterior, las políticas de control de cambio y la regulación de los precios, aunado a los problemas de abastecimiento, han hecho que los precios de los bienes a los que tienen acceso los distintos grupos sociales varían según si se adquieren en los mercados controlados o en los informales. Estos diferenciales de precios son muy importantes y están generando impactos distributivos difíciles de estimar, pero fundamentales para entender las necesidades de protección social que requieren los hogares para cubrir la canasta de productos básicos.
Es por ello que este trabajo también se propone describir a muy alto nivel los problemas distributivos generados por los diferenciales de precios. Si bien probablemente no sea posible llegar a conclusiones definitivas, al menos plantearemos lo relevante del tema para entender como la escasez de productos y las regulaciones de precios han introducido un conjunto de distorsiones en los precios y en el acceso a los bienes esenciales y presentaremos algunos de los dilemas y preguntas que estas distorsiones generan al momento de analizar la capacidad de satisfacer necesidades básicas en Venezuela.
 En Agosto de 2016, el Instituto Nacional de Estadística (INE) publicó estadísticas sobre el porcentaje de hogares en situación de pobreza por primera vez desde el año 2013. La serie fue actualizada para incluir los datos de 2014 y el primer semestre de 2015. Para el primer semestre de 2014 la cifra de hogares en situación de pobreza por ingreso alcanzó 29,5%, para el segundo semestre de ese año llegó a 32,6% y finalmente para el primer semestre de 2015 33,1% de los hogares se encontraban en situación de pobreza por ingresos. Sin embargo, el INE no ha hecho públicas ni el valor de Canasta Alimentaria Normativa para 2015, ni las Encuestas de Hogares que sustentan este cálculo ni las cifras de pobreza por ingreso como porcentaje de la población.
 We refer to the National Survey of Living Conditions (ENCOVI) conducted in 2014 and 2015 by the Andrés Bello Catholic University, the Simón Bolívar University and the Central de Venezuela. The results and report of the 2014 survey can be seen in: Zuñiga, Genny and González, Marino. A look at the social situation of the Venezuelan population. National Survey of Living Conditions. 2014 . IIES-UCAB. Caracas. 2015, The report of the 2015 survey is being prepared but the database is available at the Institute of Economic and Social Research of the UCAB.
Venezuela is an oil-dependent economy subject to large exogenous shocks, with a rigid labor market. These features go straight at the heart of two weaknesses of real business cycle (RBC) theory widely reported in the literature: Neither shocks are volatile enough nor real salaries are sufficiently flexible as required by the RBC framework to replicate the behavior of the economy. We calibrate a basic RBC model and compare a set of relevant statistics from RBC-simulated time series with actual data for Venezuela and the benchmark case of the United States (1950-2008). In spite of Venezuela being one of the most heavily intervened economies in the world, RBC-simulated series provide a surprisingly good fit when it comes to the non-oil sector of the economy, and in particular for labor markets. Large restrictions on dismissal and widespread minimum (nominal) wage put all the burden of adjustment on prices; which translate into highly volatile real wages.
Recent work has supported that there is a connection between domestic debt level and sovereign default on external debt. We examine the potential linkages in a case study of Venezuela from 1984 to 2013. This unique example encompasses multiple financial crises, cycles of liberalization and policy reversals, and alternative exchange rate arrangements. The Venezuelan experience reveals a nexus among domestic debt, financial repression, and external vulnerability. Unlike foreign currency-denominated debt, debt in domestic currency may be reduced through financial repression, a tax on bondholders and savers producing negative real interest rates. Using a variety of methodologies we estimate the magnitude of the tax from financial repression. On average, this financial repression tax (as a share of GDP) is similar to those of OECD economies, in spite of much higher domestic debt-to-GDP ratios in the latter. The financial repression "tax rate" is significantly higher in years of exchange controls and legislated interest rate ceilings. In line with earlier literature on capital controls, our comprehensive measures of capital flight document a link between domestic disequilibrium and a weakening of the net foreign asset position via private capital flight. We suggest these findings are not unique to the Venezuelan case.
This paper examines the microeconomic determinants of residential real estate prices in Caracas, Venezuela, using a private database containing 17,526 transactions from 2008 to 2009. The particular institutional characteristics of many countries in Latin America, and Venezuela in particular, where land invasions and expropriations (with only partial compensation) have been common threats to property owners, provide us with an opportunity to test the effects of these risks on housing prices using a unique database. The effect of these risks on property prices is negative and significant. To our knowledge, this is the first attempt to quantify these impacts in the Hedonic pricing literature applied to real estate. Size, the number of parking spaces, the age of the property, the incidence of crime, and the average income in the neighborhood are significant determinants of prices. Finally, this paper analyzes the microeconomic determinants of housing prices at the municipal level.