Oil blues: Argentina takes over YPF, White House yawns UPDATED
IBD has the details,
Never was a response to a global outrage more mealy-mouthed than the one from the U.S. after Argentina’s President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, standing under a portrait of Evita Peron, announced a brazen grab for YPF, the Argentine oil company that’s 57% owned by Spain’s Repsol.
Markets fell, world leaders denounced the violation of contracts and economically battered Spain rallied European Union support.
But the U.S.? “We are following developments on this issue. We are not currently aware of any WTO complaints related to this issue,” the State Department said.
Then, leading from behind after Spain vowed a “forceful” response, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton tried to toughen up: “Having an open market is a preferable model. Models that include competition and market access have been the most successful around the world.”
Which must have provoked a horse laugh from Buenos Aires. After all, Fernandez heard President Obama the first time when he declared that he free market “doesn’t work. It’s never worked.”The move — the largest expropriation since Russia expropriated Yukos in 2003 — not only hit Spain’s biggest company, already hit by a 38% loss of share value this year, it also moves Argentina sharply closer to another big default on its sovereign debt, trading in the debt swaps market shows.
You can watch the announcement (in Spanish),
The move follows Fernandez’s 2008 seizure of $24 billion in private pension funds and her tapping of central bank reserves to make debt payments. Investors already distrustful of Fernandez’s policies will see in this latest grab the start of a Chavez-like drive to expand the state’s control of the economy, further isolating Argentina, said Claudio Loser, a former International Monetary Fund official.
“It’s another sign that Argentina is moving away from the international economic community,” Loser, who oversaw Latin America at the IMF from 1994 to 2002, said in a telephone interview from Miami. “If Argentina already had trouble to get financing, this is going to make it even harder and hurt foreign investments.”
President Felipe Calderón of Mexico, while pointing out that Mexico owns 10% of Repsol): “This action will benefit no one.” (video in Spanish)
Hugo Chavez, still in Cuba, heartily approves (link in Spanish) of Cristina’s move. She’s a good pupil.
“And why should I care about this?”, you may ask. IBD explains,
If Argentina or Spain now defaults, it may mean the IMF will be called in for a bailout. Guess who gets stuck with the tab? That’s right, the U.S.
Meanwhile, U.S. investors own about 5% of Repsol. Its takeover hurts U.S. investors and our tax base. This should concern the indebted U.S., which if it did what other countries do, would defend its investors.
The U.S. buys 29,000 barrels a day from Argentina, a third of its output, and will need to find a new supplier as that collapses. Worse still, Argentina will lose investment in its vast shale reserves, the world’s third-largest at 22%. As that goes, prices will rise.
Worst of all, the expropriated assets may now go to China, significantly raising its influence in the region.
And, you’ll be seeing higher gas prices at the pump.