We now have a decision from the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) arbitration panel. No matter who won or lost, and I am close to ready to review my conclusion to now call it at least a tie, but I just need more info at this time.
The question is: What does the decision mean for Venezuelan/PDVSA bonds?
Well, I think it is very bullish.
With the decision, I do not expect another one in 2012. While the ICSID could decide before the Venezuelan Presidential election in the Exxon case, I think it is unlikely, and if it does, it will be so close to that event, as to be essentially immaterial. (There will be a hearing in 1Q12 at ICSID) ICC could rule on ConocoPhillips, which is larger in scope, but given how it ruled in the ExxonMobil case, it would likely be also good news.
Thus, there does not appear to be any possible surprises from arbitration on the way to the election, which was one of the biggest uncertainties on the bonds for 2012. Oil could go down, but it could go up too if Iran gets tricky. Thus, based on internal politics, there will be two, maybe three scenarios:
1) Chavez's health is fine, he leads the polls, get out of the bonds, it will not be received well by those betting on political change.
2) Chavez' health is not fine, it deteriorates, bonds soar.
3) The opposition does well in the primaries, leads the polls, bonds soar.
But it is unlikely that there will be surprises in the middle, no decisions to screw up your strategy, to use a fairly technical term. Given 1) you get out by mid year, you may lose a little, not much. Given 2) and 3) collect the coupon and enjoy the ride. No ride, nice coupon. If there is a ride, it will likely your best investment all year. Just like 2011 if you were in the right Venny bonds. (Mostly PDVSA's)
It's Venezuelan bond investment at its simplest: Enjoy the carry trade, bet on the upside!