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Bolivia Seizes Spanish Utility In Forced Nationalization

Contributed by Jen Alic of Oilprice.com.

Spain’s Iberdrola has the gone the way of Repsol (REP.MC) in Latin America, as the Bolivian army seized its buildings on orders from the government to nationalize the utility.

On the eve of the New Year, Bolivian President Evo Morales ordered the nationalization of four business units owned by Spain’s largest utility, Iberdrola SA (IBE.MC). Hours later, the army and police seized the company’s offices.

According to media reports, the Bolivian government seized two of Iberdrola’s electricity distributors (Electropaz and Elfeo), a serve company and an investment firm.

This is part of Bolivia’s plan to make electricity more affordable and accessible to its population. The nationalization plan also includes telecommunications and water. So far, 15 companies have been nationalized since Morales launched the campaign in 2006.

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Will Iberdrola be compensated? According to Morales, yes, but shareholders aren’t optimistic that the government will fairly evaluate the company’s value for an acceptable compensation deal. A compensation deal should be announced within 180 days.

While Iberdrola and its shareholders will disagree—and they were warned in advance--to the people of Bolivia, Morales has a point: Some 66% of rural and 13% of urban residences do not have electricity, and Iberdrola is among the largest distributors. It’s not exactly egalitarian, according to Morales.

Another Spanish company, Red Electrica, was nationalized in 2012. In 2010, Bolivia nationalized the four largest generators owned by GDF Suez (GSZ) of France and Rurelec of the UK. In 2006, Morales moved to takeover oil and gas operators and then nationalized oil and gas reserves to redistribute natural resources wealth. In June 2012, the remaining foreign mining interests were duly warned when commodity giant Glencore lost its tin and zinc assets through its subsidiaries.

The highest-profile nationalization case was in Argentina, though, when the government expropriated YPF—the biggest energy outfit in the country—after accusing Spain’s Repsol of underinvesting in it. While Repsol is fighting this and has taken its case to the World Bank’s arbitrators, Iberdrola cannot pursue this avenue as Bolivia is not a member of the World Bank as of 2007 when it pulled up stakes.

Resource nationalism will be one of the greatest investor risks of 2013. And Bolivia tops the list, along with Venezuela in Latin America, while a few African destinations like Guinea, Zimbabwe and Democratic Republic of Congo should also be highlighted as very high risk.

Where Bolivia is concerned, not only do foreign companies lack the World Bank arbitration net, but the must deal with a president whose executive powers are largely unlimited and often wielded arbitrarily.

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Iberdrola shares dropped 1.3% to 4.08 euros at 9:56 a.m. in Madrid trading on 31 December. While the company will likely meet with the Bolivian government this week over the issue, compensation will regardless take some time, keeping in mind that Red Electrica, seized in May 2012, has still not been compensated.

Morales is under pressure to return the country’s natural resources to the indigenous population that elected him into office in 2006. The question is whether these nationalizations will actually result in a more egalitarian distribution of wealth. If they the effects are not visible soon, Morales will continue to be under pressure from his electorate, but is likely to end up dealing with a worse economic crisis if the nationalized companies fail to operate at the level expected.

How are things going so far? If one is to believe Morales there is visible economic progress in the wake of hydrocarbon nationalization, but 2013 will spell this out more clearly. Cross-posted from Oilprice.com

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Reader Comments (6)

Ah this does my heart good! Take from the rich and give it to the poor. Why should people live in abject poverty all their lives? Why? To hell with the shareholders. They can have a smaller share. Eat in a cheaper restaurant. To hell with them. Risk? Risk? Try bringing up children without electricity or clean water if you want to know what risk is like. One day the wretched of the earth will rise up and tear this system down. Then we will know the meaning of "counter party risk". And don't tell me that this kind of uprising would cause untold suffering. I know that. But if you were in the position of the world's poor what would you do? Be good little boys and girls and die at 40. Nothing can be done. So sorry. Really? Your third child just died of a curable disease but statistics prove infant mortality is declining, so maybe your great grandchildren will get lucky, one day, someday, never. But don't rise up because we will just have to kill you all. For your own good. Of course......
January 7, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRoger Yates
About time the other countries of the word tell their Western parasites to go home. Eventually, it will happen in Asia also. The sooner the better. "For Profit" Capitalism is another form of dictatorship. It's time for the 1st world to come down to the 3rd world level. THAT is Democracy, when ALL are equal.
January 7, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMakati1
Must be learning from comrad Chavez in Venezuela. Worked out well there!
January 8, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJaneb
Yes @Janeb they are learning from Comrade Chavez (may he recover soon). This is from the Havard Review of Latin America:
"Venezuela has seen a remarkable reduction in poverty since the first quarter of
2003. In the ensuing four years, from 2003 to 2007,
the poverty rate was cut in
half, from 54 percent of households to 27.5 percent. (See Table 1). Extreme
poverty fell even more, by 70 percent – from 25.1 percent of households to 7.6
percent. "
Let me repeat that "extreme poverty fell.....by 70%" So, yes it did work well there which is why he has been elected. Let me repeat Extreme poverty fell by 70% and poverty by 54% while poverty has INCREASED in America.
Ever lived in poverty @Jeneb?
January 8, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRoger Yates
January 8, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRoger Yates
The spaniards have been for centuries nothings but RATs
stealing commodities from South America, how sweet and
lovely it´s to see time´s justice working it´s way alll along ...

Folks, just wait and see the same happening to the nasty
greengoes this time the whole world kicking their dumb assses
out of everywhere ...
January 18, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCarlitos el Juez.

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