Venezuela Payment Delays Surge to One Year for Airline

Venezuela is falling further behind in payments to foreign companies as the government limits access to dollars and inflation accelerates to a 16-year high.

Copa Holdings SA, which runs an airline with routes connecting the U.S., Caribbean and Latin America, said the delay in getting its funds repatriated from Venezuela has doubled from an earlier six to seven months.

“We know we’re going to get it out eventually, but it's taking a while,” Copa’s Chief Executive Officer Pedro Heilbron said on a conference call today. “Even with that money stuck in Venezuela, our cash position is still strong.”

President Nicolas Maduro this week blamed a “parasitic bourgeoisie” for looting South America’s biggest oil exporter and has said he’d impose limits on profit margins after sending troops to take over an electronics retailer last week. The country’s dollar reserves tumbled to about $21 billion last week, the lowest in nine years.

Panama City-based Copa Airlines received $153.5 million from Venezuela’s currency board in 2012 after getting $472 million from 2004-2011, according to a document published on the board’s website. The agency has not provided information for 2013 and Heilbron did not give more details.

The company, a member of the Star Alliance, operates 82 aircraft with flights to 29 countries. It ended the third quarter with $1 billion in cash and investments, the company said in a statement today.

‘Pending Repatriation’

“Of such cash, 38.4 percent or $391.8 million was subject to exchange controls in Venezuela and was pending repatriation,” according to the statement.

Venezuela’s currency board, known as Cadivi, sells dollars at the official exchange rate of 6.3 bolivars per dollar. On the illegal black market, the exchange rate is about 63.65 bolivars per dollar, according to the Dolar Today website.

Maduro, who took over as president this year after his socialist mentor Hugo Chavez died of cancer, is stiffening government-imposed price controls that have contributed to shortages of food and basic consumer goods including toilet paper. Inflation surged to 54 percent in October, the fastest in the world.

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