A leading U.S. investment banker said today that if oil prices stay near $10 a barrel for the rest of the year, Mexico and the banks that are its major creditors will need help.
Pedro-Pablo Kuczynski, cochairman of First Boston International, said that Mexico, which relies on oil exports for 70 percent of its foreign revenue, has enough dollars to ride out a crisis of a few months, but not enough to weather a year of $10 oil.
The price of oil fell to $9 a barrel briefly last week, rose to $14 on Monday and slipped back to $12 today on the New York Commodity Exchange. Four months ago, crude oil was about $27 a barrel. Each $1 decline in oil prices reduces Mexico's foreign revenue by about $550 million a year.
Kuczynski, a former minister of mines in Peru, said that the volatility of oil prices and the uncertainty about where they will level out is a major problem for oil-exporting countries and their lenders.
He said that, if prices average about $15 or $16, Mexico should make it through with belt-tightening and help from lenders and multinational institutions such as the World Bank. But if oil prices are closer to $10, "Some form of special help will be needed both for the banks that lend to Mexico, and Mexico itself, so it can make ends meet," he said.
Kuczynski addressed a symposium on the Latin American debt crisis sponsored by former president Jimmy Carter.
At the same meeting, C. Fred Bergsten, a former top Treasury official in the Carter administration, predicted that if the United States succeeds in reducing its trade deficit, the Latin American debtor countries could be hurt. The Latin nations will lose income from exports unless West Germany and Japan take steps to boost their economic growth and absorb Latin American exports the United States now is buying.
Nearly all the panelists at the second day of the debt symposium at Emory University agreed that Latin American debtors must rely upon increased exports to enable them to grow and earn their way out of the $370 billion of foreign debts they have accumulated.
But Bergsten warned that industrial countries must do a better job of managing the economic environment, including buying the exports that Latin America needs to sell.
Bergsten said U.S. Treasury Secretary James A. Baker III's call for increased lending from multinational development banks and commercial banks in return for internal, growth-oriented economic reforms in debtor nations is a good first step. But he warned that the amounts of additional lending involved -- about $6 billion to $7 billion a year -- are too small.
David Mulford, assistant U.S. Treasury secretary for international affairs, said, however, that convincing foreign investors to lend more to Latin America is difficult, especially when many Latin American citizens are continuing to put their savings abroad rather than to invest them in their countries.
Mulford said that if the Latin American countries make important internal reforms, their citizens will return some of their foreign savings, helping to alleviate the lack of resources in debtor nations.
Sen. Bill Bradley (D-N.J.) said in a speech Monday that Latin American debtors need relief from their current debts, not more loans. He proposed a seven-member international body -- composed of bankers, government officials and the president of the World Bank -- to examine reform proposals from debtor nations and determine whether they should be given debt relief.
Bergsten said that if Bradley wants to forgive some debts, he has to specify who will bear the loss.