* PDVSA says selling about $50 mln per month via Simadi exchange
* Joint ventures offering $25-30 mln per month via same system
* New buyer interested in PetroVietnam stake at Orinoco project
By Andrew Cawthorne
ORINOCO OIL BELT, Venezuela, April 19 (Reuters) - V enezuela’s PDVSA is selling about $50 million a month at a new advantageous foreign exchange rate, while joint ventures with foreign partners are putting in a further $25-30 million a month via the Simadi system, the state oil company’s head said.
The government created Simadi in February as a third tier in Venezuela’s complex currency controls to allow importers and others to buy dollars at a higher cost in local currency than the other official rates of 6.3 and 12 bolivars per dollar.
But local businesses complain that even supply at Simadi, where the dollar is going for around 197 bolivars, is limited, thus crimping its impact on unblocking access to foreign currency that is hampering Venezuela’s recession-hit economy.
The black market rate has actually risen since the launch of Simadi, jumping from around 190 per dollar in mid-February to 275 on Friday, according to a widely-tracked web site.
PDVSA, however, views the Simadi system as a breakthrough enabling it and foreign partners to obtain more local currency for each dollar they invest in Venezuela oil projects.
“The partners have understood this is a very good way to increase the return of their investment ... That is a very good incentive to sustain investment,” PDVSA president Eulogio Del Pino told Reuters during a visit with foreign journalists to the Orinoco Belt heavy crude region.
“The joint ventures are putting between $25-30 million a month (into Simadi). And PDVSA is putting about $50 million a month. So the amount is no more than $100 million a month today,” Del Pino added, giving the company’s first such estimate of figures passing through Simadi.
The PDVSA boss said that level of exchange via Simadi was probably “enough” for current investment levels, but amounts would increase as Orinoco Belt projects progressed.
Thanks to using that new exchange rate, the cost of production in the Orinoco heavy-crude area, which was recently re-named the Hugo Chavez Belt in honor of Venezuela’s late president, has dropped to about $7 per barrel, he said.
“That’s $2 for production and $5 for upgrading. It means our breakeven, especially for new developments, is in the order of $15-20,” Del Pino added.
Access to Simadi could drive down the amount of hard currency foreign companies would need for potential future investment in the Orinoco.
That would be a positive development for foreign companies in Venezuela, which include the likes of Chevron Corp, ONGC, and Rosneft, amid operating difficulties stemming from delayed dividends and exchange rate complications.
OPEC member Venezuela is counting on the Orinoco region, a largely unpopulated area of 70,000 square kilometers with a huge 259 billion barrels of reserves, to boost national output oscillating around 3 million barrels per day in recent years, according to PDVSA.
PDVSA was the world’s fifth biggest oil company in 2013, according to a ranking by Petroleum Intelligence Weekly, which says it uses reserves, production, refinery distillation capacity and sales volumes as criteria.
Venezuela is Latin America’s largest oil producer.
Some foreign investors want improved terms for the joint ventures, including allowing them to commercialize oil or get payments from exports as opposed to dividends, in return for investing. That and currency problems have weighed on partners.
PDVSA director Ruben Figuera, who heads up its new Orinoco projects unit, confirmed that Vietnam’s state oil and gas group PetroVietnam (PVN) wants to pull out of its 40 percent stake in the Petromacareo project in the Orinoco.
“They announced to us their intention to sell their participation in Petromacareo. There is another company interested in buying, we can’t say who it is,” he told a foreign media briefing, adding that with such a range of joint ventures in Venezuela, it was quite normal for partners to come and go, or change composition, from time-to-time.
Industry sources say PetroVietnam is unhappy about Venezuela’s macroeconomic problems, including the highest inflation in the Americas, and the impact of its currency controls.
“We have strong ties to Vietnam and we would like them to stay around,” Figuera added, saying discussions on other opportunities for PetroVietnam in Venezuela were underway. (Editing by Alexandra Ulmer and Christian Plumb)