Less than a month after his predecessor fell from power in the controversy over Mexico's lowering of oil prices by $4 a barrel, the new head of the state-owned oil company, Pemex, announced last week that Mexico was trying once again to raise its price.
But foreign analysts here believe there is little possibility of pushing exported petroleum from its current $30.60 a barrel to as much as $32.60, as the new Pemex director, Julio Rodolfo Moctezuma Cid, hopes, given the surplus of oil on the market.
"Several U.S. companies have said that if the price goes back up by $2 they'll have to cut their contracts in half," said one analyst here. "I can see maybe 60 or 70 cents, but $2? I would tend to say no."
Although not a member of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), Mexico generally parallels the cartel's pricing policies. It has been particularly hard hit by the current surplus of oil and the resulting downward pressures on prices and production that have created a buyers' market for the first time in years.
The rapid development of the petroleum industry here since 1976, making Mexico the world's fourth largest oil producer after the Soviet Union, the United States and Saudi Arabia, had created an atmosphere of endless growth that seems threatened.
When former Pemex director Jorge Diaz Serrano restructured the state-owned monopoly's pricing structure for its various grades of crude oil to reduce, in effect, the cost by $4 a barrel June 2, a storm of dissension broke within the Cabinet. Diaz Serano, until that day one of the country's most prominent politicians, was forced to resign even though most industry analysts believe Mexico had little choice on pricing.
Within two weeks President Jose Lopez Portillo, who had approved the new figure, was criticizing it. Minister of Industrial Development Jose Andres de Oteyza, who reportedly opposed it, was calling the price drop "precipitous" and vowing that it would last no longer than 30 days.
Even with lowered prices, Moctezuma Cid said, Mexican sales have dropped 310,000 barrels a day this month. The daily loss comes to almost $10 million.
Prolonged losses of this sort could have a profound effect on Mexico's development plans, which depend on Pemex for 30 percent of the federal budget, according to Moctezuma Cid.
Mexico, which claims potential reserves of 250 billion barrels, planned to be exporting 1.5 million barrels a day by now, but finds itself far short of that. Meanwhile, the anticipated deficit of Pemex for this year is approaching $2 billion.
In an attempt to overcome such problems, Moctezuma Cid has proposed a sweeping restructuring of Pemex, emphasizing aggressive overseas marketing, broadening of the company's clientele, creating a new investment and financial structure, pumping more sought-after light crude and considering breaking down some of the less desirable heavy oil before attempting to export it.
Much of Mexico's oil is so heavy and so contaminated with sulfur, nickel and other metals that few refineries want to touch it. At the same time as the June 2 price reduction Pemex instituted a new mix for exportation that would "sweeten" the barrels a little more than the 60 percent heavy and 40 percent light mixture previously exported.
Japan, an enormous potential market for Mexican oil, has more petroleum than it can store, according to analysts here. If the Mexicans could end postponements to opening new deep-water port facilities at Salina Cruz on the west coast, Japan, since it would not be ncecssary to carry the oil through the Panama Canal, would be able to take advantage of an almost 50 percent reduction in shipping costs, but Moctezuma Cid said yesterday November would probably be the earliest date of operation.