The fall in crude prices has made the oil-for-loan agreements more onerous. Because loan payments were negotiated when crude prices were higher, the agreements require PDVSA to ship more oil in order to continue servicing the debts at the same rate. That saps its ability to ship to other customers - such as India, or
That saps its ability to ship to other customers - such as India, or customers in the United States - who would pay in cash, which PDVSA desperately needs.
"PDVSA is taking a legal risk by postponing cargoes to key customers and a financial risk if it also delays deliveries to customers who pay by cash," said Francisco Monaldi, fellow in Latin American energy policy at Baker Institute in Houston.
The top buyer of Venezuelan crude in India is Reliance Industries, operator of the world's biggest refining complex. The company imported 353,000 bpd of Venezuelan crude in 2016, 5 percent less than a year ago. To replenish its heavy sour Venezuelan crude supplies, it has stepped up imports from Mexico, Iraq and Saudi Arabia.
If PDVSA can't meet its obligations to Russia and China, Monaldi said, the countries could recover money through projects or assets outside the oil sector, he added.
The Chinese and Russian financing schemes, however, offer Venezuela and PDVSA more repayment flexibility than they get from the holders of $50 billion in bonds they have sold to investors. Because of default concerns, yields on those bonds are currently among the world's highest, paying an average of 21 percentage points more than benchmark U.S. Treasury bonds. China and Russia, which have provided unwavering support for Venezuela in
China and Russia, which have provided unwavering support for Venezuela in diplomatic forums, have stayed quiet about any misgivings with Caracas. The problem of delayed cargoes would most likely be discussed discreetly through diplomatic channels, analysts said.
An escalation into a commercial dispute, with Chinese or Russian firms demanding prompt payments, could affect Venezuela by triggering default clauses on bonds, or lead PDVSA to lose control of U.S. subsidiary Citgo, almost half of which was pledged to Russia as collateral.
While that scenario is unlikely, PDVSA clearly does not have enough oil or money to satisfy its many creditors, said a trader who works at a company that regularly buys Venezuelan oil.
"At this point, everybody is trying to collect pending debts from PDVSA by receiving cargoes," said the trader, speaking on condition of anonymity. "But production is not enough."
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