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IMF: Venezuela's oil economy in dire straits

Country's recession exacerbated by civil frustrations.

By
Daniel J. Graeber

WASHINGTON, Feb. 27 (UPI) -- Venezuela stands out in terms of regional economies affected most by the weak crude oil market, a research note from the International Monetary Fund said.

The price for Brent crude oil, the global benchmark, is up about 20 percent since the beginning of February, but nearly 40 percent below June 2014 levels. The IMF said the low price of crude oil is a net benefit to countries that rely on importers as the savings spills over to consumer pocketbooks. For net exporters, the weak market is creating fiscal pressures.

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"One country that stands out is Venezuela, which had been experiencing severe economic imbalances before oil prices began to fall and now finds itself in an even more precarious position," a note published Thursday by the IMF said.

The Central Bank of Venezuela in December said the collapse in oil prices was in part to blame for a 2.3 percent drop in third quarter gross domestic product, sending the country into a formal recession.

High inflation in the country is eroding consumer purchasing power, which in turn has led to frustration with the administration of President Nicolas Maduro.

MarĂ­a Corina Machado, a former assemblywoman who helped lead protests against Maduro last year, called on Pope Francis to step into a fracturing Venezuela. Roberto Enriquez, president of the opposition Copei Party, is to meet with IMF and World Bank leaders during the weekend, saying Thursday the Maduro government "has mortgaged the country."

The IMF said the economic prospects for the Venezuelan economy are grim.

"The fiscal position of Venezuela will suffer the most from the decline in world oil prices, as its public sector derives a large share of its fiscal revenues from oil exports," it said. "In addition, the domestic price of gasoline is expected to remain close to zero, which virtually eliminates any potential revenues from domestic sales."

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