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Venezuela: Strange figures from the Central Bank

By Veneconomy

The performance of the economy in the first quarter of 2004 brought no major surprises. The Central Bank of Venezuela reported spectacular growth of 29.8% compared to the same period last year, when the national strike caused the economy to plummet 27.9%.

For practical purposes, the most useful thing would be to compare the results of the first quarter of 2004 with the same period in 2002, when the economy was still functioning normally, and even so, there is a drop of 6.3% this year. As for the balance of payments, the Central Bank posted a surplus of $1.678 billion, substantially higher than the $10 million in the first quarter of 2003, when, besides the strike, Cadivi did not hand over a single dollar in either February or March.

The first quarter’s surplus is due mainly to high oil prices and not to a dynamic of the economy, as the average price per barrel for the year to date is $28.73 compared to $17.46 during the first months of 2002. If it were not for this increase in oil prices, the balance of payments would be showing a deficit of $1.031billion instead of a surplus.

The Central Bank reports that oil exports came to $6.907 billion in the first quarter of 2004, which, at an average price of $28.73 per barrel, gives an export volume of 2,642,000 barrels a day. However, if to that figure the 400,000 b/d consumed by the domestic market is added, one concludes that the Central bank is saying that production was more than 3 million b/d. Both the International Energy Agency and Gente del Petrólo put oil production at nearly 2.6 million (400,000 b/d less).

For the first time in the 64 years since the Central Bank was founded, there may be grounds for doubting the veracity of its statistics. The figures issued by the Central Bank are supposedly obtained from PDVSA. What is surprising is not so much that PDVSA is padding the figures, but that the Central Bank’s technicians have not made the necessary corrections.

It looks as though the Central Bank’s figures are no longer to be trusted.

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