A quiz and an article about easy profits courtesy of the revolutionary Government

January 31, 2006


A couple of
months ago I
wrote a piece
on the Argentinean bond swaps the Venezuelan Government was
making, which I accompanied with an Editorial on the subject from Tal Cual. Basically,
in the name of solidarity the Venezuelan Government was buying Argentinean
bonds, only to later sell them at the official exchange rate to local banks
without any transparency. These banks then turned around, would sell the bonds
at a slightly lower US$ price in Wall Street; obtain dollars which are worth
much more in the parallel exchange market, making the banks a tidy profit.

Today. The
Financial Times has a
nice article by Andy Webb
on what a windfall this has become to certain
banks in the Venezuelan financial system. I thus have a quiz for my esteemed
readers, particularly those that support the Chavez Government, before I let your read Andys article:

1)
Why
would a revolutionary Government allow the banks to make the money, rather
than having the Venezuelan Government make it and thus make the people
richer.

2)
Why
is there so little transparency to this? When I wrote that piece in November
the numbers were fuzzy and still remain fuzzy. How much of the bonds that Venezuela has
purchased have been sold in this fashion? By whom? At what price?

3)
How
are the banks that benefit from this chosen?

4)
Who
decides who gets the bonds? How much does he charge for favoring you?

5)
Does
Chavez know about this and if he doesnt, who in Government has convinced him
in the name of solidarity to do these transactions to enrich the banks and whoever
collects the tidy commissions?

Read on
about how the rich (and the “bolibourgeois”) get richer in the name of and in the same bed with the
revolution in Venezuela:

Venezuelan banks enjoy treasuries
windfall
by Andy Webb-Vidal



A select group of Venezuelan banks is
profiting from opaque government treasury operations involving hundreds of
millions of dollars of Latin American sovereign bonds under a financial
programme fostered by President Hugo Chvez. Backed by record oil revenues, Venezuela has
bought $1.6bn in Argentine debt during the past year mostly
dollar-denominated Boden bonds maturing in 2012. They were purchased in
auctions that were eschewed, in some cases, by big investment banks, such as
Citigroup and JPMorgan Chase, because the yields offered were considered too
low.

Venezuela, which has been the largest buyer
of Argentine sovereign debt since the country defaulted on itsforeign debt in
2001, has said it is ready to buy up to $2.4bn worth of Argentine bonds.


It has also bought $25m of
Ecuadorean debt and finance minister Nelson Merentes recently said he was
looking at buying Brazilian and Chinese bonds.


Investment banks Morgan
Stanley and Deutsche Bank are reportedly advising on the bond transactions.


Mr Chvez justifies his
virtual hedge fund as a benevolent concept that will allow Latin American
nations such as Argentina to liberate themselves from an international
financial system that, he asserts, is manipulated by the US.


Last year, Venezuela transferred all of its foreign
reserves that were held in US Treasuries or that were on deposit at US banks,
about $20bn in total, to the Bank for International Settlements in Basel, Switzerland.


Venezuela
s bond purchases have helped Argentina
increase its foreign reserves. President Nestor Kirchners government last
month paid off its outstanding $9.5bn debt to the International Monetary Fund,
in part thanks to the cash injection from Mr Chvez.


Whilst the [bond]
purchases are good news for the Argentine government, the benefits for Venezuela are less clear, said Vitali
Meschoulam, emerging markets strategist at HSBC Securities in New York.


The Financial Times has
learned that significant profits deriving from the bond transactions are being
accumulated by a few private banks, rather than by the Chvez government.


In late November, Mr
Merentes announced that some of the bonds had been liquidated, leaving a profit
of $40m. Mr Merentes said last month that $600m worth of the Boden 12 bonds had
been sold, without elaborating on the method.


Most of the bonds were
sold directly instead of in an auction to two local banks, Banco Occidental
de Descuento and Fondo Comn, according to two people familiar with the deal
and a senior official at a financial regulatory authority. The banks have since
re-sold the bonds into the open market.


Mr Merentes didnt respond
to several requests for comment during the past week. Victor Vargas, president
of Banco Occidental de Descuento, and Victor Gil, president of Fondo Comn,
also didnt return messages seeking comment.


But though the chosen
banks are likely to have profited from increases in prices of Argentine bonds,
they have benefited more significantly from Venezuelas foreign exchange
controls, in place since 2003, and a flourishing but tolerated parallel market.


Venezuela
s treasury sold the Boden 12 bonds
to the banks at the official exchange rate of 2,150 bolvars to the dollar.
But, according to the people familiar with the transactions, the banks re-sold
the bonds at the parallel market dollar rate, which trades at about 2,600
bolvars.


On a re-sale of $100m
worth of bonds, the banks would gain bolivar profits equivalent to about $17m
at the informal market rate, or $21m at the official rate.


Following alleged
complaints from banks that were excluded from the operations, in recent weeks
the finance ministry has also begun selling directly to them some of the bonds
that it still holds, in $40m-$50m tranches every two weeks.


Orlando Ochoa, an
independent economist, said that a lack of transparency has become the hallmark
of the Chvez governments financial administration.


The ministry of finance
is allocating windfall gains in Argentine bond operations to selected domestic
banks, without bidding rounds and without financial reasons to privilege
them, Mr Ochoa said.

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