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Venezuela’s Currency Woes Challenge International Airlines

Jan 10, 2014 5:00 am

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Unfortunately, Venezuela sees it difficult nature as an asset. If it understood it could become a global leader by being the opposite of this, it would be much smarter.

— Jason Clampet

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International airlines operating in Venezuela have $3.3 billion trapped in the South American country because of currency controls, the International Air Transport Association said.

Valued at the official exchange rate of 6.3 bolivars per dollar, the amount of cash airlines have in Venezuela has risen 27 percent from $2.6 billion in November, Jason Sinclair, an IATA spokesman, said today. Companies including Brazil’s Gol Linhas Aereas Inteligentes SA and Panama’s Copa Holdings SA are among those affected by the restrictions.

“We are still operating, but it’s hard to get money out,” Edmar Lopes Neto, Gol’s chief financial officer, said by telephone from Miami today. “We’re all in the same boat.”

Airlines have to wait around 12 months for the government to convert their bolivar earnings into dollars, with the time lag growing, according to the Venezuela Airline Association. Madrid-based Air Europa yesterday said it suspended ticket sales from Venezuela as its cash in the country totaled $100 million.

Copa’s Chief Executive Officer Pedro Heilbron said Nov. 13 that the airline, which runs routes to the U.S., Caribbean and Latin America, that delays in getting cash out of Venezuela doubled in the 12 months to September. The company said in a statement the same day that it had about $392 million “pending repatriation” from Venezuela.

Copa spokesman Rafael Arias didn’t immediately reply to a message left by Bloomberg News.

Carriers including American Airlines Inc., Grupo Aeromexico SAB and Avianca Holdings SA have been reducing their sales in the country since late 2012, as tighter currency controls make it difficult for companies to expatriate earnings amid 56 percent annual inflation and gradual devaluation.

Shortages of foreign currency have emptied Venezuelan shops of everything from shaving blades to milk as importers struggle to get dollars and prices rise at the fastest pace in the world. In the illegal black market, the exchange rate is 64 bolivars per dollar, according to website dolartoday.com.

Editors: Bill Faries, Richard Jarvie. To contact the reporters on this story: Anatoly Kurmanaev in Caracas at akurmanaev1@bloomberg.net; Christiana Sciaudone in Sao Paulo at csciaudone@bloomberg.net. To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andre Soliani at asoliani@bloomberg.net. 

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