April 17, 2012 in Nation/World

Argentina’s president moves to renationalize oil company

Almudena Calatrava Associated Press
 
Associated Press photo

Argentina’s President Cristina Fernandez announces a bill to renationalize YPF.
(Full-size photo)

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina – In a bold move to gain control of Argentina’s energy reserves, President Cristina Fernandez pushed forward a bill to renationalize the country’s largest oil company on Monday despite fierce criticism from abroad and the risk of a major rift with Spain.

In a national address, Fernandez said the legislation put to Congress would give Argentina a majority stake in oil and gas company YPF by taking control of 51 percent of its shares currently held by Spain’s Repsol.

Both Repsol and Spain strongly oppose the move and have warned that it could turn Argentina into an international pariah.

YPF is vital for Argentina’s energy future, especially after its recent find of huge unconventional oil and natural gas reserves. But the company is under pressure from Fernandez’s government to raise output while its shares have plunged in recent months on fears of possible state intervention. Argentina this year expects to import more than $10 billion worth of gas and natural liquid gas to address an energy crisis even though it is an oil-producing nation.

“We are the only country in Latin America, and I would say in practically the entire world, that doesn’t manage its own natural resources,” Fernandez said. She said her proposal “is not a model of statism” but “the recovery of sovereignty.”

Critics blame the government for an energy shortage and high gasoline prices. But Fernandez said the shortage is the result of Repsol’s “emptying” of YPF, and that Argentina had a deficit of $3 billion last year partly due to energy imports.

Argentines gathered in Buenos Aires’ main square shouting slogans, waving national flags and carrying banners supporting the government takeover. YPF was privatized in the 1990s. Repsol’s subsidiary in Argentina holds 57 percent of YPF’s shares.

Analysts said the planned takeover risks alienating foreign investors and prompting retaliation from Spain’s government.

“It is a bad decision,” said Emilio Apud, a former Argentine energy secretary who now works as a consultant. “It gives the Argentine government a bad image” and will discourage investment, he said.

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