February 20, 2005

Bolivian Crisis: A Look from the Financial Side

MABB is a registered TM.

In the spirit of generating a bit of speculation about the "possible" effects of what the international conglomerates are "planning" in Bolivia, I decided to post these paragraphs.

On February 13, this year, it was reported that the Irish Oil and Gas producing company, Pan Andean, was in talks to buy a controlling interest in a Bolivian oil field. Pan Andean is said to be negotiating to buy more interests at the Monteagudo Oil field. The company already owns 30 percent of the concession and now wants to purchase the 50 percent Repsol-YPF owns for US$1.25 m. The rest 20 percent is owned by giant Brazilian oil company, Petrobras.

The curious thing is not that Pan Andean, the smaller company of all the energy companies operating in Bolivia, is buying Repsol-YPF's shares in the field, but the fact that Repsol-YPF is selling.

Repsol-YPF's interests in Bolivia are and have been substantial. It has controlling interests on Andina S.A., one of the capitalized companies operating in Bolivia. However, now we learn that the company is selling some of its interests in Bolivia. But, why would this company be selling its interests?

Well, I think, one does not need to be a prophet or a seer to realize that the unstable and hostile business climate in Bolivia is scaring the company. In fact, on an AP report released on February 16, we can see a glimpse of what lies behind. The Spanish-Argentine oil giant announced its five-year plan. In it, the company, says it will invest US$1.1 billion in western Argentina over five years on exploration and refining projects.

My take is the company wants to reduce its dependence on its Bolivian investments and wants to spread its political risk. If things don't go well for the company in Bolivia and somehow the government wants to nationalize its resources, then the company would be left with its investments in "safe" Argentina.

Although, I have to say, the risk of full nationalization is minimal. Even the most radical political actors (e.g. El Mallku) in the Bolivian political landscape realize that would be a suicide and that they need these companies to survive.

At the same time, I think, this action by Repsol-YPF, is very telling. The political and legal uncertainties or not having the new Hydrocarbons Law is really having an effect on Bolivia's foreign investment climate.

The congress should hurry in finishing the Hydrocarbons Law and stop this uncertainty once and for all.