Will Brazil’s vice beget virtue?

We’re learning day by day that the wrecking ball of corruption piloted by Odebrecht and other Brazilian contractors swung far and wide across Latin America in the 2000s. Projects to build pipelines, highways and other strategic infrastructure are stalled, and senior politicians are quivering.

Latin American prosecutors gathered in Brasilia yesterday to coordinate their investigative efforts. Spurred by Brazil’s Car Wash probe of state-controlled Petrobras and Odebrecht’s December 2016 international plea deal, the prosecutors want to find out who took bribes, and how much of the loot from overpriced projects their governments might recover.

The rot may have gone straight to the top. Peru is after former president Alejandro Toledo. Colombia, Panama and Chile are scrutinizing how their sitting presidents financed their electoral campaigns.  Continue reading

Credit check

The oil market has been fixated on Opec of late, with newly-loquacious oil ministers’ every utterance pored over.

But the exporter body isn’t the only organisation with a key role to play in balancing the market. The People’s Bank of China is Opec’s mirror on the demand side, and the producer countries will be hoping it is up to the task.

BP, in its Energy Outlook published this week, said that all of the demand growth for oil in next 20 years comes from emerging markets, with China accounting for half.

The Middle Kingdom is already a black hole for crude, with storage being built and filled while global prices are low. Aggregate crude imports, apparent demand and refinery runs all hit record levels in December.

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Mexico’s moment of resolve

US President Donald Trump’s immigration wall and nebulous border tax plans are sparking a Mexican backlash likely to find expression in the country’s oil patch. US companies have a lot at stake.

The abrupt souring of bilateral relations coincides with Mexico’s historic opening of upstream, midstream and downstream sectors that had long been the exclusive domain of state-run Pemex. The dismantling of the company’s monopoly was already a lot to swallow for Mexicans nurtured on resource nationalism that was embodied by their much-diminished national champion. Trump’s blunt words threaten to persuade Mexicans that this sweeping reform path, quietly encouraged by Washington, is a misguided route to submission, as interpreted by the country’s emboldened political parties on the left.

US oil companies and providers of oil services and supplies are invested in the Mexican reform process, imperfect as it is. A whole host of opportunities from pipelines to product imports suddenly became available after the landmark reform was passed in 2014, and US firms were among the best placed to compete.

Trump’s confrontational approach will not directly short-circuit the energy reform. But it is compounding pressure on Mexico’s unpopular president Enrique Pena Nieto to defend his country with short-term measures, and unleashing emotions that will color the way the process is rolled out as his opponents position themselves ahead of 2018 elections.

It may be too late to expect that Trump’s constituents in the US business community will soften the new president’s approach toward Mexico. Even if they do, Trump’s harsh words are already uniting Mexicans in a way that could haunt Washington long after the mercurial real estate tycoon returns to his gilded tower.