Pump more oil in three years! That is new Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s ultimatum to his country’s oil industry. The left-wing nationalist has announced an ambitious 75bn peso ($3.7bn) cash injection to reverse cratering production at debt-laden national oil champion Pemex— which he will flesh out on Saturday — as well as a goal to halt oil exports, become self-sufficient in fuel and build a new $8bn refinery.
It is a tall order for a company that has clawed its way back into the black, but which struggles to make money from existing refineries and is seeing crude output decline at about 7 per cent a year. “It wouldn’t matter if they invested 10 trillion pesos in Pemex, it’s not going to happen,” scoffed the chief executive of one energy company, referring to Mr López Obrador’s goal to boost oil output by 30 per cent in six years.
Production this year is expected to be around 1.84m barrels per day, a 46 per cent drop from the 2004 peak of 3.4m. Investors, already spooked by the president’s decision to scrap a partially built $13bn Mexico City airport, which has triggered a messy battle with bondholders, fear any mis-step could cost Mexico dearly. Pemex is groaning under $100bn in debt — a third of which comes due in the next three years — and the 80-year-old firm risks a ratings downgrade in 2019 because of its fragile finances — something even the new administration acknowledges.
Shamaila Kahn, a holder of Pemex debt at AllianceBernstein in New York, noted that a “significant” amount of Pemex debt is in the hands of institutions which require it to be investment grade. If they had to dump it, that would “drag all Mexican assets down with it,” she said.