Will Venezuela’s Gold Sales Be Enough to Offset Lower Oil Production?

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It is no secret that the low price of oil has created some serious problems for many of the world’s oil producing nations. The consumer benefit just cannot offset the bust that low oil prices are creating. Perhaps no place demonstrates this better than the troubled nation of Venezuela. And now Venezuela has been selling off the nation’s gold to make up for the oil losses in an effort to keep the country viable. Will it matter?

Before getting into gold and oil data and the trends around them, it is important to understand that Venezuela’s situation only seems to be getting worse and worse.

OPEC’s report for July showed that oil production remains in decline. This was 2.31 million barrels per day in 2014 and 2.357 million barrels per day in 2015. The reading for Venezuela’s production in July was 2.095 million barrels per day, down from 2.115 million shares per day in June. That is based on OPEC’s secondary sources, and Venezuela’s direct communications have not yet been seen for July — but the 2.364 million barrels per day in June was versus 2.654 million in 2015 and 2.683 million in 2014.

The OPEC Reference Basket averaged $42.68 per barrel in July, which represented the first decline in five months.

Venezuela was a seller of 21 tonnes of gold in December, and it has sold almost 79 tonnes of gold in the first six months of 2016. Still, it is important to understand that Venezuela buys locally produced gold and it may sell or retain gold in reserves. This means that the swap data may not represent the full picture. The full 2016 picture of gold from the World Gold Council shows some 194 tonnes of gold held by Venezuela, citing the International Monetary Fund’s International Financial Statistics.

Bloomberg reported back in May that Venezuela was the largest central bank selling gold in four of the past five quarters, and a newer Bloomberg report showed that central bank buying of gold was last seen down 40% in the second quarter. Forbes reported on July 1 that Venezuela’s oil reserves are probably vastly overstated.

Now the latest bit of gold news is that Barrick Gold Corp. (NYSE: ABX), the number one miner globally, has recently signed a joint venture to review gold mining opportunities in Venezuela. This deal is said to be at or larger than $5 billion, if it is a done deal.

Venezuela’s gross domestic product (GDP) remains in decline. The CIA World Factbook data is a best guess estimate, but that source shows Venezuela’s GDP on a purchasing power parity basis at $515.7 billion in 2015. Venezuela’s GDP was forecast to be $546.9 billion in 2014 and $569.1 billion in 2013.

24/7 Wall St. just a day earlier featured Venezuela as the nation being hardest hit by lower oil prices. Here is how the CIA World Factbook starts out the Economy overview:

Venezuela remains highly dependent on oil revenues, which account for almost all export earnings and nearly half of the government’s revenue. The country ended 2015 with an estimated 10% contraction in its GDP, 275% inflation, widespread shortages of consumer goods, and declining central bank international reserves. The IMF forecasts that the GDP will shrink another 8% in 2016 and inflation may reach 720%.

Falling oil prices since 2014 have aggravated Venezuela’s economic crisis. Insufficient access to dollars, price controls, and rigid labor regulations have led some US and multinational firms to reduce or shut down their Venezuelan operations. Market uncertainty and state oil company PDVSA’s poor cash flow have slowed investment in the petroleum sector, resulting in a decline in oil production.

Where things will end up for Venezuela remains up for debate. Maybe it will recover, maybe it will end rather badly (can it get worse?). An economy in shambles facing gold sales and declining oil production just doesn’t add up too well when it needs the oil sales and needs to have gold reserves.