Mexico opens up its energy sector to End Mexico’s 75-Year Oil Monopoly; Potentially country’s biggest overhaul since launch of Nafta

August 12, 2013 7:22 pm

Mexico opens up its energy sector

By John Paul Rathbone in Rio de Janeiro and Eduardo Garcia in Mexico City

President Enrique Peña Nieto has unveiled plans to change Mexico’s constitution and open up the country’s energy sector to foreign investors for the first time in 75 years, a move that could unleash billions of dollars of investment from oil majorsstruggling to find new resources elsewhere.

His proposal to loosen the grip on Mexican energy of Pemex, the state oil monopoly, and invite in companies such as ExxonMobil and Royal Dutch Shell, is potentially the country’s biggest overhaul since the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1994.“Mexico faces a historic opportunity,” Mr Peña Nieto said in a televised address from Los Pinos presidential palace in Mexico on Monday. “This profound reform can lift the standards of living for all Mexicans”.

Mr Peña Nieto said he will seek to change article 27 of the constitution, which forbids private sector contracts, and article 28, which limits Mexican energy to state-run institutions. The bill, which now goes to congress, will offer profit-sharing contracts rather than production-sharing contracts, he said.

“It’s a pretty solid proposal,” said Duncan Wood, director of the Wilson Centre’s Mexico Institute in Washington DC. “But it will be interesting to see how oil companies take to profit-sharing rather than production-sharing contracts as that may limit their ability to book reserves.” Generally, under US Securities and Exchange Regulation, a company must have a right to produced reserves in order to book them.

Mexico sits on reserves estimated at 115bn barrels of oil equivalent, comparable to Kuwait’s. Just over half its reserves are non-conventionals, including shale gas, and Pemex estimates that with the right investment and technology about 27bn barrels of deep sea crude could be added to the nation’s proven reserves.

All stages of Mexico’s energy chain – from production and refining to distribution – have remained the legal property of the Mexican people since 1938, when President Lázaro Cárdenas expropriated fields from US and British companies and changed the nation’s constitution.

Although the expropriation is a point of nationalist pride celebrated every March 18, the burden that Pemex faces of being the government’s cash cow – providing a third of government revenues – has led to years of under-investment. Pemex, with $100bn of revenues, is the world’s seventh-largest oil producer, but output has fallen by a quarter to under 2.6m barrels of oil a day over the past 10 years.

Mr Peña Nieto said the reform would reverse that decline, and “provide cheaper energy for all Mexicans”. He said the changes would allow Mexico to boost oil production to 3m bpd by 2018 and to 3.5m bpd by 2025. Gas production would also increase from 5.8bn cubic feet currently, to 8bn cubic feet by 2018 and 10.4bn cubic feet by 2025.

Mr Peña Nieto, seeking to deflate nationalist opposition and assuage national pride, quoted Cárdenas who 75 years ago said that his expropriation never forbade private-sector collaboration. “The spirit of this reform recovers the best of the past to conquer the future,” Mr Peña Nieto said.

The leftist Democratic Revolution party has said it will not support constitutional changes but Mr Peña Nieto’s ruling Institutional Revolutionary party and the conservative National Action party, which last month released its own more ambitious energy proposal, have enough votes between them to secure the two-thirds majority need in the Senate and in Congress to pass the reform.

Mr Peña Nieto said the plan would not see Pemex privatised via a stock market listing, and stressed that under the profit-sharing contracts he has proposed “all hydrocarbons will remain the property of the Mexican people”.


Timeline: the ebb and flow of state intervention in oilfields

1911: Mexico is the world’s fourth-largest producer of oil, with an output of 8m barrels a year compared with just 5,000 barrels 20 years earlier. Article 27 of the constitution of 1917 makes oil and other subsoil wealth the property of the nation.

1938: Pemex is formed by the president, Lazaro Cárdenas, following worker protests against foreign-owned oil companies, expropriating property from 17 companies.

1940: An addition is made to Article 27 prohibiting the granting of concessions to private companies. However, secondary laws still welcome private contracting and the sharing of profits in oil exploration and production.

1960: Another constitutional provision makes ownership of all natural resources “vested in the nation” and Mexico in essence closes off the energy sector and nationalises the electricity industry.

2004: Crude oil production peaks at 3.83m barrels a day.

2008: Attempts by president Felipe Calderón to ease restrictive energy laws are watered down after massive protests, and the change fails to attract investment from foreign companies. Pemex offers “integrated service contracts” with performance incentives but no sharing of risk when reactivating mature oilfields.

2012: Pemex discovers 500m barrels of crude oil in South Mexico – the biggest find of petroleum on land in the past decade.

Pena Nieto Submits Bill to End Mexico’s 75-Year Oil Monopoly

Mexico’s President Enrique Pena Nieto presented a bill to Congress today that would end a seven-decade state energy monopoly.

Pena Nieto plans to allow private companies such as Exxon Mobil Corp. and Chevron Corp. to pump crude for the first time since 1938 by changing articles 27 and 28 of the constitution, he told reporters today in Mexico City. Under the proposal, companies would receive a portion of profit within a risk-sharing model that would also allow them to book a percentage of reserves under U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission rules, said Deputy Energy Minster Enrique Ochoa.

The bill to loosen state-owned Petroleos Mexicanos’s grip on production and attract investment needed to reverse an eight-year output drop would be the economy’s biggest overhaul since the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1994. An even more aggressive proposal delivered last month by an opposition party increases Pena Nieto’s chances of pushing his bill through Congress, said Nomura Holdings Inc.

“The risk-sharing or profit-sharing contracts have a long-term economic interest that the SEC registers to define the percentage” that a company can use to book reserves from a project, Ochoa told reporters in Mexico City.

Pena Nieto, the 47-year-old former governor who returned the PRI party to power in December, opted for risk-sharing contracts similar to those used in Ecuador, Bolivia and Iran, rather than a concession model, Energy Minister Pedro Joaquin Coldwell said. The state would retain ownership of oil reserves.

Majors Interested

The government plans to split Pemex, as the state producer is known, into two units, as well as ending the state’s electricity generation monopoly. Mexichem SAB would invest as much as $500 million in power generation, Ricardo Gutierrez, head of the Mexican chemical maker, said in an interview in Mexico City after the proposal.

Exxon, Chevron, Royal Dutch Shell Plc and Repsol SA are among major producers that have expressed interest in Mexican oil fields. Pacific Rubiales Energy Corp., Latin America’s most valuable non-state crude producer, would consider investing in Mexico if the PRI’s bill succeeds, Chief Financial Officer Carlos Perez said in an Aug. 9 telephone interview.

“We welcome any decision by the government and people of Mexico to provide new opportunities for investments,” Kurt Glaubitz, a Chevron spokesman, said in an e-mail before today’s announcement.

Middle Ground

Exxon and Repsol declined to comment on the planned regulatory changes through their respective spokesmen, Patrick McGinn and Gonzalo Velasco. Shell referred a request for comment to a June 7 speech by Upstream Americas Director Marvin Odum, in which he referred to Mexico’s “enormous” potential and Shell’s “strong and growing” relationship with Pemex.

The National Action Party, or PAN, of Pena Nieto’s predecessor Felipe Calderon, wants to open the door to selling shares in Pemex. Jesus Zambrano, head of the Democratic Revolution Party, or PRD, whose candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador finished second to Pena Nieto in last year’s election, said on Aug. 8 the party opposes changing the constitution.

The PRI, which ruled Mexico for seven decades until 2000, may try to take the middle ground between the two positions, Benito Berber, a strategist for Nomura in New York, said by telephone before today’s announcement.

Bond Rally

Investors are gaining confidence that lawmakers will approve the bill. The yield on Mexico’s benchmark fixed-rate government peso debt due in 2024 has fallen 0.26 percentage point to 5.75 percent since July 30, the day before the PAN unveiled its energy proposal.

Pemex’s dollar-dominated notes due 2018 are the best-performing Latin American energy company debt this quarter with a 3.94 percent return, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The average return among more than 80 securities is 0.24 percent, the data show. Yields fell to 3.06 percent at 1:44 p.m. in New York from 3.09 percent at the end of last week.

Pena Nieto has also promised fiscal changes to wean the government off revenue from Pemex, which can’t invest enough in its own operations because of a tax burden that funds about a third of the federal budget.

Since Nafta, Mexico has become one of the world’s most open trading economies. Even so, many industries are still dominated by single groups, such as billionaire Carlos Slim’s America Movil SAB in mobile-phone service and Comision Federal de Electricidad, or CFE, in electricity.

Both Pemex and CFE will remained fully state owned under the government’s proposal.

Tax Collection

The President has already achieved legislative success with the Pact for Mexico, an accord signed between the PRI, PAN and PRD on Dec. 2, the day after he took office. The accord has helped pass an education bill to make teachers more accountable for performance and a law to spur increased competition in the telecommunications industry. It also set a goal of improving tax collection and transparency in spending.

Oil at all stages of production, refining and distribution has been the legal property of the Mexican people since 1938, when then-President Lazaro Cardenas seized fields from U.S. and British companies and changed the nation’s charter. The expropriation is celebrated every March 18 and trumpeted as a point of pride in schoolchildren’s textbooks.

Mexico has the biggest proven oil reserves in Latin America after Venezuela and Brazil, with 13.87 billion barrels, and shale-gas resources that may be as high as 460 trillion cubic feet, according to data compiled by Pemex.

The state-owned company says that with the proper investments and technology, about 27 billion barrels of crude in the deep waters can be added to the nation’s proven reserves.

Protests Called

The PRD wants to maintain the state’s exclusive right to oil refining, preventing private companies from entering the process, Luis Sanchez, a PRD senator, said in a speech in Guadalajara Aug. 3. Zambrano told reporters Aug. 8 that the party is against oil concessions.

“It’s absolutely unacceptable that we would give up part of our territory in a concession,” Zambrano said. “It’s giving up the future of our country.”

Lopez Obrador, who left the PRD following his election loss to found his own movement, said people who offer natural resources to foreigners are “traitors” and has called for supporters to protest in Mexico City’s main square next month.

Marcelo Ebrard, the former mayor of Mexico City who leads the Progress Movement within the PRD, has called for a national energy referendum and said in an interview that Pemex’s tax burden can be lessened and its autonomy increased without constitutional changes.

Constitutional Change

This isn’t the first time a Mexican leader has tried to reform Pemex. Under PRI President Ernesto Zedillo, Pemex tried to sell some assets in 1995, only to pare back the plan amid opposition from members of his own party.

President Vicente Fox, or the PAN party, replaced Pemex’s politician-staffed board in 2001 with businessmen, including Slim. The board was dismantled two months later amid accusations by lawmakers that it was unconstitutional.

PRI lawmakers defeated an attempt by Calderon to open the nation’s refining and distribution projects to outside partners. Calderon was able to win approval for private companies to operate fields under incentive-based contracts.

Opposition from within the PRD is unlikely to derail the energy proposal if the PAN and PRI reach an agreement. The two parties, with the PRI-allied Green Party, would control more than the two thirds each of the lower house and Senate needed to pass a constitutional change.

“The government can now present something closer to the PAN proposal than to the PRD proposal, but they can say they’re offering a moderate position,” Duncan Wood, director of the Mexico Institute at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, said by telephone before today’s announcement. “They can really say they are representing the interests of the Mexican people.”

To contact the reporters on this story: Eric Martin in Mexico City at; Adam Williams in San Jose, Costa Rica at

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (, the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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