Author Topic: Mexico  (Read 446556 times)


Crafty_Dog

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Stratfor: AMLO's pension reform
« Reply #655 on: July 29, 2020, 06:28:37 AM »
Lopez Obrador Unexpectedly Moves to Safeguard Mexico’s Pension System
3 MINS READ
Jul 28, 2020 | 19:10 GMT

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s proposed overhaul to Mexico’s pension system will preserve investor confidence by maintaining the country’s current individual account system, while still addressing pressing concerns about the system’s long-term sustainability. On July 22, Lopez Obrador announced his proposed pension reforms, which the Mexican Congress will vote on when it reconvenes in September. The proposed changes to Mexico’s current pension system include doubling employer contributions over an eight-year period; increasing total contributions from 6.5 to 15 percent; limiting the commissions charged by Retirement Funds Administrators (AFOREs); and decreasing the number of years a worker needs to contribute to access a minimum guaranteed pension from 25 to 15 years, while increasing the number of such pensions by about 40 percent.

The overhaul will quell fears about Mexico reverting back to a defined benefits system. Lopez Obrador was a long-standing critic of Mexico’s pension system, which has been based on individual retirement accounts since the signing of landmark reforms in 1997. Over the years, the system had become a symbol of Mexico’s economic liberalization. But given Lopez Obrador’s previous criticisms and the need for funds to finance his government’s infrastructure projects, private sector leaders had feared he would seek to nationalize the pension system as Argentina did in 2008.

Latin American Pension Reforms

Across Latin America, politicians have been moving toward altering the defined contributions systems prevalent in the region. Chile recently voted to allow emergency withdrawals that will harm its individual accounts-based pension system. Peru and Brazil are also exploring changes to allow withdrawals that would hurt the long-term sustainability of their systems or create hybrid systems.

The timing of the announcement allows the Lopez Obrador administration to preempt more radical proposals that would have further hurt investor confidence in Mexico. Lopez Obrador’s hard-line supporters had floated several, more radical pension reform proposals, including the creation of a mixed system where low-income workers would be part of a separate “defined benefits” system. Some supporters had also pushed to nationalize current individual pension accounts.

The proposal could help repair Lopez Obrador’s relationship with the private sector, which has been steadily deteriorating since his more statist administration took office in December 2018. The pension reforms were designed with the input and approval of Mexico’s main business sector organization, the Consejo Coordinador Empresarial (CCE). The support by the business sector, unions and the leadership of Lopez Obrador’s party will also make it difficult for his hard-line supporters to oppose his reform proposal.

The proposal, however, is not problem-free as there are still legitimate concerns over the long-term impact of the increase in employer contributions on both formal employment and small businesses. The pension reforms also do not mitigate the risk of AFOREs being forced through legislation to invest in Lopez Obrador’s pet infrastructure projects.

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PEMEX losses deepen Mexico's financial woes
« Reply #659 on: September 02, 2020, 10:09:48 AM »
Pemex’s Losses Deepen Mexico’s Financial Woes
3 MINS READ
Aug 31, 2020 | 19:41 GMT

HIGHLIGHTS

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador's failure to strengthen Pemex's finances and shore up domestic oil production will exacerbate Mexico's public finance woes from COVID-19.  On Aug. 24, Mexico's state-owned energy giant Pemex reported its lowest level of monthly crude oil production since 1979, with the company's July output totaling only 1.6 million barrels per day (bpd) -- marking a 0.6 percent decline from June and a 4.5 percent decline from July 2019. Pemex was already struggling before the current COVID-19 crisis, seeing record losses during 2019 and the first half of 2020. Lopez Obrador's attempts to strengthen Pemex's bottom line and increase domestic oil production, however, will continue to fail without new private investment to help increase long-term production, as well as a business plan that forces Pemex to focus on the most profitable areas....

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador's failure to strengthen Pemex's finances and shore up domestic oil production will exacerbate Mexico's public finance woes from COVID-19.  On Aug. 24, Mexico's state-owned energy giant Pemex reported its lowest level of monthly crude oil production since 1979, with the company's July output totaling only 1.6 million barrels per day (bpd) — marking a 0.6 percent decline from June and a 4.5 percent decline from July 2019. Pemex was already struggling before the current COVID-19 crisis, seeing record losses during 2019 and the first half of 2020.


Lopez Obrador's attempts to strengthen Pemex's bottom line and increase domestic oil production will continue to fail without new private investment to help increase long-term production, as well as a business plan that forces Pemex to focus on the most profitable areas.

Mexico's current oil fields in the Gulf, such as Cantarell and Ku-Maloob-Zaap, are nearing the end of their productive life. Any substantive increase in production thus needs to come from new developments in either deep-water fields or the unconventional fields in northeastern Mexico, which Pemex does not have the resources or expertise to develop alone.

Other national oil companies, such as Brazil's Petrobras or Colombia's Ecopetrol, have engaged in strategies to get rid of unproductive assets and focus on their resources on most productive areas. These strategies have helped prevent both Petrobras and Ecopetrol's credit rating from being downgraded in recent years. Pemex's debt, meanwhile, was downgraded this year and last.

Lopez Obrador has relied on Pemex's revenue and resources to boost government spending, which has spread the company's already scarce resources thin by forcing its involvement in unprofitable activities. This has included placing Pemex in charge of building a new refinery in southeast Mexico and modernizing various other refineries.

Lopez Obrador's administration has also barred Pemex from partnering with private firms on long-term exploration projects, further accelerating the deterioration of the company's finances and profitability prospects.

Pemex will increasingly become a drag on Mexico's already stressed public finances, which will impede Lopez Obrador's ability to mitigate the fallout from COVID-19 ahead of 2021 midterm elections by robbing his government of a key revenue source.
Amid the fallout from the pandemic, Lopez Obrador is facing mounting pressure to revive the Mexican economy, which was in a recession even before the onset of the global health crisis. But this time, he Mexican government won't be able to rely on Pemex to shore up spending, especially in the absence of any tax reform that would enable the company to diversify revenues, and may be forced to redirect its scarce resources to keep Pemex afloat.

Pemex has long been a key financing source for the Mexican government, which is one of the main causes of the company's chronic underinvestment. Pemex's revenues currently make up around 10 percent of the federal government's total revenues.
The Lopez Obrador administration has provided Pemex with debt relief and even some subsidies in the hopes of giving the oil company some room to make more productive investments. But given the magnitude of Pemex's cashflow erosion, that money has instead been used to cover the company's current expenditures.

In response to the COVID-19 crisis, Lopez Obrador's administration has also not passed any meaningful fiscal stimulus packages, and has instead continued to fund its pet infrastructure projects that are already underway, including the $8 billion Dos Bocas refinery.


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« Last Edit: September 30, 2020, 05:07:47 PM by Crafty_Dog »

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General Cienfuegos
« Reply #663 on: December 09, 2020, 07:00:41 AM »
The Curious Case of Mexican General Cienfuegos
The former defense minister is released in another loss for the drug war.

By Mary Anastasia O’Grady
Dec. 6, 2020 5:58 pm ET


Mexican Gen. Salvador Cienfuegos receives the Legion of Merit in West Point, N.Y., Nov. 16, 2018.
PHOTO: MSGT JOHN GORDINIER



At a West Point ceremony in November 2018, the U.S. Defense Department conferred the Legion of Merit on Mexico’s then-secretary of national defense, Gen. Salvador Cienfuegos. Less than two years later, on Oct. 15, the retired Mexican four-star was arrested in Los Angeles on drug-trafficking and money-laundering charges.

A grand jury in the Eastern District of New York had handed up an indictment of Gen. Cienfuegos on Aug. 14, 2019, for crimes allegedly committed between December 2015 and February 2017. The indictment remained sealed until his arrest.

On Oct. 16, requesting a “permanent order of detention,” Acting U.S. Attorney Seth D. DuCharme alleged before the New York court that “while holding public office in Mexico, the defendant used his official position to assist the H-2 Cartel, a notorious Mexican drug cartel, in exchange for bribes.”

U.S. prosecutors insist they had what they needed to convict Gen. Cienfuegos, who was an active member of the Mexican military during the six years (2012-18) he held the cabinet-level post in the government of President Enrique Peña Nieto. But on Nov. 17, Attorney General William Barr dropped the case. The general was released and on Nov. 18 returned to Mexico, where the government has said it will investigate the charges. The odds of that happening are pretty long.


Chalk up one more loss for the futile, half-century-old U.S. war on drugs. In this case, the circular logic out of Washington is that keeping Mexico as a U.S. partner in fighting transnational crime trumps actual crime fighting. The good news for the drug-war bureaucracy is that its jobs program is secure.


Gen. Cienfuegos is innocent until proven guilty, and the Drug Enforcement Administration’s case against him, using intercepted BlackBerry Messenger communications that he supposedly sent to the capos, has provoked skepticism. Some are asking why a high-ranking government official, well-versed in intelligence, would recklessly risk a prestigious career.

On the other hand, institutional corruption is a problem in Mexico, while the American legal system guarantees the general due process. To remove the case to Mexico under pressure from Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (a k a AMLO) reeks of cynicism on both sides of the border.

It is unclear if the DEA informed its counterparts—the Defense Department’s Northern Command, the Central Intelligence Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the National Security Council and the director of national intelligence, to name a few—of the evidence against Gen. Cienfuegos and built consensus for his arrest.


The DEA may have sensed the risk of being overruled and decided it was easier to ask for forgiveness than permission. As one source close to diplomatic circles of both countries told me, “It’s hard to understand how the DEA would have gotten the green light to arrest him, and then the Justice Department would send him back to Mexico.”

Word around Washington is that some of the alphabet-soup bureaucracy was unhappy at being left out of the loop. But that was nothing compared with the outrage from Mexico’s military. While AMLO was initially blasé about a DEA bust of a former top official, he did not remain so when the army made its fury clear.

Mexico’s rules for the DEA inside the country require agents to share intelligence regularly with Mexican authorities. The Mexican military, it is said, felt humiliated and betrayed by what it saw as a violation of the spirit of engagement and cooperation between the two countries. At this AMLO sprang into action, sending a message, via his foreign minister, to the gringos that south of the border, trust had been broken. With extradition and Mexico’s willingness to allow DEA agents to remain in the country at risk, the general was set free.

The Pentagon may have played a role too. After two decades working to convince the Mexican armed forces to modernize the relationship between the two sides, there has been substantial progress. Joint field training exercises at U.S. Northern Command in Colorado, for example, demonstrate a shared sense of the importance of North American perimeter security. Was prosecuting the general worth losing all that?

AMLO has put the army at the center of many of his pet projects, from developing a new international airport to taking over management of the country’s seaports. Yet while it is also charged with combating the transnational crime ravaging Mexico, it has achieved very little. It would be nice to know why.

The Cienfuegos release was meant to salvage bilateral cooperation. But what sort of cooperation is it if Mexico’s priority is to bury this matter rather than get to the bottom of whether the general is guilty or was set up? The drug-war game of cops and robbers will return to the script but the case against Gen. Cienfuegos suggests a more serious problem is brewing.

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WSJ on AMLO
« Reply #664 on: February 01, 2021, 05:25:46 AM »
Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador —a k a AMLO—has been known to bristle when critics liken him to the late Hugo Chávez. But the parallels between the spirit of Mr. López Obrador’s two-year-old government and that of the Venezuelan strongman’s in its early years are impossible to ignore.

Morena, AMLO’s party, launched an effort in the Mexican Senate in December to seize autonomy from the country’s central bank. The lower house, the Chamber of Deputies, will discuss the bill this week. The president seems to be backing off the idea, but if so it is only a tactical retreat.

AMLO is on a mission to complete what he calls “the fourth transformation” of Mexico, and he has to centralize power to do it. He has already wrested control of the Supreme Court, and last month he proclaimed that autonomous regulatory bodies like the federal antitrust commission and the office that provides transparency in federal contracts should be eliminated.


Ahead of the June midterm elections he is signaling that he is ready to buck the authority of two independent bodies charged with ensuring election fairness. Mexican democrats are in a fight for their political lives.

There are obvious differences between AMLO and Chávez. But when the history is written I suspect most of them will turn out to have been driven by economic constraints on the Mexican caudillo, not choice.

Chávez had control of Venezuela’s state-owned oil monopoly PdVSA when oil prices took off in the early 2000s. Awash in oil income, he was able to buy off opponents while spreading money around to create the illusion that the masses were getting richer. He had the resources to militarize his government, and Cuba had been infiltrating the barracks for decades.

AMLO’s world is one of moderated oil prices and a diversified economy. Revenues generated by Pemex, the state-owned, debt-laden petroleum company, are dwarfed by the boom in manufacturing and services born of the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement.


So AMLO can’t copy Chávez play by play. But his aspirations are hauntingly similar and so is his modus operandi.

Chávez was a demagogue and he used his television show—“Aló Presidente”—to bond with the man in the street against the Venezuelan establishment. AMLO uses his daily morning press conferences to the same effect—though he has been absent since his Covid-19 diagnosis a week ago.

His words sow resentment and division while justifying abuses of power in the name of corruption fighting. His critics are dismissed as elites—or “fifi” in his lexicon. There is no civil discourse.

Up to now he has used “legal” instruments like the anti-money-laundering Financial Intelligence Unit inside the Mexican Treasury to purge institutions of nonbelievers—including a Supreme Court justice and the head of the energy regulatory commission. Neither has been charged with a crime. He has also boosted the army’s role in the economy.

Morena controls the Senate, where the bill passed in December would obligate Banxico, Mexico’s central bank, to buy foreign-currency cash from Mexican banks.

Watchdogs on both sides of the border are alarmed. Cash is a nonissue for legally compliant financial institutions because they verify its origins and are able to ship it to correspondent U.S. banks.

Morena claims that the change in the law is necessary to ensure that migrants aren’t forced to change their dollars at disadvantageous rates. Yet Banxico reports that only about 1% of total remittances are cash.

It isn’t clear who Morena is trying to please by obligating the central bank to take cash dollars. But it is certain that passing the law would break a longstanding taboo in place to protect the monetary authority from becoming a tool for transnational criminal organizations to launder money. Who else walks into Mexican banks with suitcases full of unexplained cash?

Banxico says the law threatens its autonomy and its ability to do its job. In a Dec. 9 communiqué it said the draft legislation “would force the Central Bank to carry out high-risk active operations that may compromise” international reserves and “the compliance with the constitutional mandate to preserve the purchasing power of the National currency.”


Sharp criticism from the international financial community seems to have given AMLO second thoughts. He knows that if Mexico is marked a money launderer, the peso will hit the skids, and so will his presidency. His finance minister now says the government is working on an alternative idea for migrant cash transactions.

If he and Morena back off, it will be a small but important victory. Preserving Banxico’s autonomy may not be a sufficient condition to save Mexican pluralism from the Venezuelan fate, but it is a necessary one.

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Re: Mexico
« Reply #665 on: February 24, 2021, 05:24:07 AM »
Mexico’s Energy Conundrum
Winter storms were just the beginning.
By: Allison Fedirka
Last week, ice storms disrupted natural gas supplies to Mexico and so revived an existential question over how energy independent the country can and should be. But because Mexico’s independence is so often defined by its relationship to the United States, what started as an errant power outage quickly became a larger debate over the future of Mexico’s energy sector, infrastructure development and domestic politics as officials clamored for more energy self-sufficiency.

Their calls are hardly misplaced. State-run energy company Pemex has long focused primarily on oil, leaving the natural gas sector in a state of arrested development. What natural gas Mexico does produce is in decline. Modest deregulation has allowed for private investment and infrastructural improvement, but for now the country relies heavily on the U.S. to meet its natural gas needs. In fact, its northern neighbor accounts for about 70 percent of the natural gas consumed in Mexico, and 60 percent of the energy consumed by vital manufacturing hubs in the north is natural gas. Similarly, the U.S. meets nearly 75 percent of Mexico’s gasoline needs. (Though Mexico is an oil-producing country, it does not have the refining efficiency, ability or storage capacity to meet domestic demand with its own crude oil production.) In 2019, Pemex alone spent $14.75 billion on fuel imports; the country total is even higher once private importers have been factored in.


(click to enlarge)

Energy is a historically sensitive issue in Mexico. U.S. and British oil companies dominated the country’s oil industry during its infancy, and were put in check only in 1917, when Mexico’s new constitution stipulated that the national government had ownership over all subsoil – that is, resources. A series of taxes and other regulatory measures favoring Mexico ensued, until finally in 1938 President Lazaro Cardenas simply expropriated the assets of nearly all the foreign oil companies operating in Mexico. The move reflected years of festering discontent among Mexicans with how the oil industry operated in their country – how profits were being sent overseas, how investment was lacking, how production was low, and how poor Mexican industry workers were. Shortly thereafter, the government formed Pemex and has played an influential role in its operations ever since.

With a past like this, it’s easy to see why energy independence means more than just a best-practice of diversification. There’s an inherent wariness between the U.S. and Mexico, which lost a lot of its territory to the U.S. in 1848 and which fell victim to intermittent invasions and occupations by U.S. forces up until the start of World War I. Past energy disputes make Mexico even more uneasy. After the 1938 expropriations, the U.S. threatened to stop buying Mexican silver and its oil companies embargoed Mexican oil. Exports fell to half their volume in a handful of years. The issue was not resolved until Mexico agreed to pay $29 million in compensation to U.S. companies in 1942. Now as then, Mexico’s dependence gives the U.S. a ton of leverage. Current disagreements between the countries are plenty manageable, but this kind of leverage means Mexico has a hard time acting from a position of strength if an unmanageable conflict erupts. Energy security is thus highly politicized.

Value of Mexican Oil Exports by Destination
(click to enlarge)

It’s one thing to want independence, of course, and quite another to have it. Importing energy from other suppliers is simply not a viable option. Its proximity to the U.S. and its existing infrastructure make transport cheaper than from any other supplier. Higher prices on energy imports would drive up Mexico’s own production costs, making domestic markets more expensive and exports potentially less competitive.

In addition, the country’s state-owned oil company is in dire straits. Once the pride and joy of the country’s economy, Pemex is now a drain for the government. Crude oil production has been in decline since peaking in 2003, and the lackluster price of oil globally makes recovery difficult. Tax demands, mismanagement, barriers to reinvestment, pension plans and fuel theft have made Pemex operations inefficient and have left the company in debt to the tune of approximately $110 billion. The Mexican government has been pumping money in to keep the company afloat – and plans to provide another $3.5 billion this year – but has been unable to reverse its course.


(click to enlarge)

The administration of Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador is betting heavily on improving Mexico’s refining capacity. Its refineries are currently operating at 36.4 percent capacity, according to the energy office. (Lopez Obrador says Pemex refineries operate closer to 50 percent capacity.) Issues are due partly to supply and partly to the lack of upgrades. The Dos Bocas refinery project, for example, lies at the core of the government’s plans to solve the country’s refining shortcomings. Pemex owns the project, which will cost $31.3 billion over 20 years. The project’s potential value and return remain contested by members of the business community; those opposed believe the benefits are unrealistic. There is also concern over the lack of storage capacity for refined fuels.

Mexico City has meanwhile made modest policy attempts to improve its energy issues.
For example, it attempted to curb fuel imports by introducing a bill last December that significantly reduced the timeframe for related contracts. These measures were challenged in court, though, and their application was temporarily suspended under court orders.

The government also proposed major natural gas infrastructure projects. In the last quarter of 2020, it announced an infrastructure investment package worth $14 billion. Among the proposals is the Salina Cruz liquefaction project, which includes the expansion of pipeline networks and will account for $1.2 billion of the earmarked investment. While the Salina Cruz project has the domestic market in mind, two other liquified natural gas projects in the package mean to re-export LNG to Asia. These kinds of projects are designed to both stimulate economic recovery and signal to private investors that their money will be used wisely.

Mexico's Natural Gas
(click to enlarge)

The government can’t go it alone, so foreign direct investment will play a key role in helping Mexico build out its energy infrastructure. The problem confronting the government is that its hands-on approach to restructuring and revitalizing the domestic energy industry is off-putting to the very investors Mexico needs to attract. When he came to office, Lopez Obrador made several moves that discouraged investor confidence such as rewriting gas contracts, canceling electricity projects and taking steps toward ending subcontracts in the labor force. Other efforts, such as saving Pemex, have been viewed as superficial, moves that treat the symptom and not the disease. The chambers of commerce from Canada and the U.S. have both expressed concern over the growing role of the state in economic projects and warned that this could affect investment behavior going forward.

Mexico has a national imperative to break free of its energy dependence on the United States, in spite of the many obstacles that stand in its way. Even under the best of circumstances, they will be difficult to surmount any time soon.