×

Venezuela could be the first sovereign oil producer to 'fully fail' after contentious vote, warns analyst

  • Helima Croft of RBC Capital Markets said Venezuela could become the first sovereign oil producer to "fully fail" as a state if a vote to form a new legislative body goes through.
  • The new government would essentially give President Nicolas Maduro the power to rewrite the country's constitution as he pleases.

Venezuela is already having a major meltdown, and a nationwide vote set for Sunday could send the country over the edge, a top commodities strategist told CNBC.

Helima Croft, global head of commodity strategy at RBC Capital Markets, said in a note that Venezuela, which has the largest oil reserves in the world, could become the first sovereign oil producer to "fully fail" as a state if President Nicolas Maduro moves forward with the vote to form a new legislative body named the National Constituent Assembly (ANC).

On Sunday, protesters clashed with security forces on Sunday as Venezuelans broadly boycotted an election for a constitutional super-body that unpopular leftist Maduro vowed would begin a "new era of combat" in the crisis-stricken nation.

Maduro is widely disliked for overseeing an economic collapse during four years in office. Yet he has pressed ahead with the vote to create the all-powerful assembly despite the threat of U.S. sanctions and months of opposition protests in which more than 115 people have been killed.


The ANC would supersede other legislative bodies — including the opposition-led National Assembly — and would be able to rewrite the country's constitution, cementing Maduro's power. The ANC would also be composed mostly of Maduro's supporters.

Those opposing the vote have taken to the streets in protest, and the United States and other nations have threatened to impose sanctions on Venezuela targeting its oil sector, and its state-run oil company Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A., or PDVSA.

"The Trump administration has issued stark warnings to Maduro about the elections and is
reportedly giving serious consideration to targeting the country's oil sector by either
banning Venezuelan imports into the United States or prohibiting the use of dollars in PDVSA transactions," Croft said.

"Either measure would result in extreme economic duress," she added. "With the country's foreign reserves recently having fallen below $10 [billion], PDVSA will be extremely hard pressed to avoid a disorderly default in the autumn or continue any semblance of regular salary
payments."

Critics say the assembly will allow Maduro to dissolve the opposition-run Congress, delay future elections and rewrite electoral rules to prevent the socialists from being voted out of power in the once-thriving OPEC nation.

The country's economy is almost completely at the mercy of the oil industry, which contributes 95 percent of Venezuela's exports. But a lack of investment in the industry has made it less and less profitable and productive.

A crash in oil prices that started in late 2014 sent the economy into a tailspin. Now, the International Monetary Fund expects Venezuela's inflation rate to rise by a crippling 720 percent this year.

"Unless Maduro has an 11th-hour change of heart, Venezuela appears poised to earn the dubious distinction of being the first sovereign oil producer to fully fail," Croft said.

--Reuters contributed to this article.