Bankers are worried that Venezuela, a major oil exporter with foreign debts between $25 billion and $30 billion, has not come up with an economic and financial program to deal with its foreign exchange crisis and may not do so for several weeks.
The Venezuelan government, which earlier this month was forced to put on exchange controls to stem a flood of money out of the nation, is asking its creditors to stretch out loan payments on about one-third of its debt, or $9 billion.
However, negotiations are proceeding very slowly and bankers complain that the Venezuelans are in danger of turning what could be a manageable problem into a serious payments crunch. With sizable foreign exchange reserves and large oil earnings, Venezuela's problems "are not as serious as those in other countries," such as Brazil and Mexico, which each owe more than $80 billion overseas, one banker said.
But the Venezuelan government is handling the nation's debt problems "so badly that it may yet manage to pull a crisis out of what ought to be an orderly adjustment," one New York banker commented yesterday.
Another commented that bankers are now in Venezuela trying to set up a committee to work on the rescheduling. One indication of the present confusion is that the government and the banks have not yet established such a steering committee, a banker said yesterday. If this can be done this week, then negotations on an extension of payments may get under way in earnest, he added. A likely candidate to lead the steering committee would be Chase Manhattan bank, one source said.
One problem in dealing with the Venezuelan rescheduling is that no one seems sure exactly how much money the nation owes, one banker said. Individual government agencies were allowed to borrow from overseas without notifying the central bank or finance ministry, he explained, so that there is no central tally of the nation's total debts.
It is now becoming clear that many official agencies took out new short-term loans last year, which are now all falling due. This explains why the Venezuelans need to refinance such a high proportion of their total debt this year.
Bankers are also unhappy that the nation does not have an agreement on an economic program with the International Monetary Fund. An IMF team is due in Venezuela for regular consultations and may discuss new economic measures to cope with the problems caused by declining oil prices and the flight of private capital, some bankers hope. However, an administration official commented that it was very unlikely that the Venezuelans would ask for a conditional IMF loan this year. They have not yet drawn all of the unconditional money that they are entitled to have from the IMF, one banker said.
Finance Minister Arturo Sosa was in New York last week for further discussions with the nation's creditors, but bankers were disappointed that he did not present a plan of action for improving Venezuela's economic and financial position.
Although bankers think "sooner is better than later" to come to grips with the rescheduling, they have indicated that there is little point in Sosa returning for more talks until the government has agreed on a program for the economy and debt repayments. This could mean that further talks will be delayed until the end of this month, after a meeting in Panama of the Inter-American Development Bank, one banker said.
The administration official commented "the longer the Venezuelans diddle around, the more difficult it gets" to resolve the foreign exchange problem.