Venezuela Plans to Move Reserve Funds

Posted by Vergel Villasoto on 18 Aug 2011


Venezuela also plans to move 211 tons of gold it keeps abroad and values at $11 billion to the vaults of the Venezuelan Central Bank in Caracas where the government keeps its remaining 154 tons of bullion, the document says.

Venezuelan officials were tight-lipped. Representatives of the ministry of finance and the central bank said there was no official comment, and no one was authorized to address the issue.

Lately, senior Venezuelan officials have criticized Venezuela's dependence on the dollar. Last Saturday, Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro said the world's financial system, based on the dollar, "had entered into a crisis of uncertainty and we are planning to construct a new international monetary system, and especially in South America, protect ourselves from this situation," he said.

The Bank of England recently received a request from the Venezuelan government about transferring the 99 tons of gold Venezuela holds in the bank back to Venezuela, said a person familiar with the matter. A spokesman from the Bank of England declined to comment whether Venezuela had any gold on deposit at the bank.

A spokesman for the Bank for International Settlements where Venezuela keeps $3.7 billion of its cash reserves, and 11.2 tons of gold, Venezuela values at $544 million, according to the document, also declined to comment.

Analysts said the planned move made little economic or financial sense, since Venezuela would be taking its money out of secure banks in safe countries and putting it in countries that are not as safe and perhaps in currencies such as the Chinese yuan or the Russian ruble, which are not reserve currencies. "It's a big risk," said José Guerra, a former official at Venezuela's central bank. Mr. Guerra said he also had heard about the documents whose authenticity was confirmed to him by Central Bank officials.

Mr. Guerra said one possible reason for the planned moves could be that Venezuela is afraid it could be compelled to pay billions of dollars in compensations to foreign companies that have gone to court to recover damages for companies Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez has nationalized. Another reason could be that China may have asked for collateral for billions of dollars it has loaned Venezuela, Mr. Guerra said.

Venezuela faces a sizable bill from arbitration but it's difficult to pin down a reliable estimate.

"It's a wide range from $10 billion to $40 billion and beyond," says Tamara Herrera, chief economist of Síntesis Financiera, an economic consulting firm based in Caracas. "There are many ongoing negotiations; the major ones of course are with oil companies."

One of the documents outlining the moves appears to have been drafted by Jorge Giordani, Venezuela's planning and finance minister, in conjunction with Nelson Merentes, the central bank president, for Mr. Chávez's approval. It calls for the transfer of the cash and gold reserves as of Aug. 8 in a maximum of two months.

Another document prepared by Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro for Mr. Chávez's approval calls for Messrs. Giordani and Merentes to prepare a plan to safeguard Venezuela's international reserves given "the recent U.S. debt crisis and its impact on the dollar as a world reserve currency."

The crisis, the document says, "has lit all the alarm signals as to whether it's convenient to maintain our reserves in that currency."

The document also notes that "the powers of the North" have "pillaged" Libya's international reserves as a result of the sanctions applied to Libya. "That makes us reflect on the need to elaborate a plan to monitor and secure the funds that the Republic maintains in international banks to meet its commitments abroad.

For some analysts, the reference to Libya signaled a possible political motive. The charismatic Mr. Chávez, who has said he will run again for president next year's elections, is being treated with chemotherapy for cancer in Cuba. Neither Mr. Chávez's type of cancer nor Mr. Chávez's prognosis has been made public. Moving the reserves may signal that Mr. Chávez and his associates could be preparing some drastic political moves—such as canceling elections—that could incur international condemnation and perhaps trigger sanctions.

"It doesn't augur well for Venezuela," says Roger Noriega, a former high-ranking state department official during the Bush administration.

Opposition congressman Julio Montoya said he received leaked copies of the proposal to move the funds from concerned officials of the finance ministry.

"We don't know if (Chávez) has signed it," Mr. Montoya said during a press conference Tuesday. The congressman from Zulia state criticized what he called the "secretive" nature of the president's deliberation over the measure.

Mr. Montoya said that the proposal raised the question if Venezuela was being pressured into transferring its reserves because of its growing ties with China and Russia.

To fund the country's large-scale social programs, Mr. Chávez has turned to resource-hungry China for assistance on everything from financing to housing and machinery. Last year, Venezuela received a $20 billion credit line from the China Development Bank for housing, which it is paying back with oil shipments.

While China has been Venezuela's largest creditor in recent years, Russia has been a major arms supplier to the South American nation.

Most recently, Venezuela announced it was finalizing agreements for two additional credit lines of $4 billion each with Russia and China, with a portion of the Russian funds earmarked for the Venezuelan military. Venezuelan officials have also said they have recently reached an agreement with Brazil for a $4 billion line of credit.

Source: 20110817, Wall Street Journal