Footloose Pesos: Ecopetrol Signs $1.2bn Deal with Essar Oil, Central Bank Harnesses Currency

Ecopetrol, Colombia’s state-owned oil & gas giant, announced on August 15th that it plans to sell $1.2bn USD in crude petroleum to Essar Oil, an Indian energy firm, over the course of one year.

The Colombian energy company is the fourth largest oil & gas company in Latin America and accounts for 60% of Colombia’s production. According to company financial reports released in July, Ecopetrol’s total unconsolidated sales climbed from COP$13,868.4bn ($7.74bn USD) in 2011 to COP$14,796.0bn ($8.26bn USD) in 2012. Its earnings per share (COP$) jumped 6.0% in the same period.

The Financial Times reported that “Essar seems to be looking at diversifying crude sourcing away from Iran, and Latin America is one of their focus regions,” according to an analyst at SBI Capital. Essar’s renewed interest in Colombian oil reflects a recent boom, where production of crude has almost doubled over the past six years.

Foreign investment in Colombia’s oil industry moved from $278mil USD in 2003 to $4.3bn USD in 2011, reported The Economist. Since cultivating an increase in security coupled with a set of policies under former President Alvaró Uribe that opened up massive tracts of land for energy exploration, and increased capital with which to improve efficiency, Colombia has triggered a blossoming energy sector (though not without its problems of success). Hostility toward foreign investment shown by Bolivia, Ecuador, and Mercosur – Latin America’s other oil & gas leaders – add to Colombia’s benefit.

It should come as little surprise, then, that Finance Minister Juan Carlos Echeverry has recently deployed a tactic for slowing down the strengthening peso. The Colombian central bank plans to lift its buying of US Treasuries from $20mil USD per day to $40mil USD per day, reported Businessweek. Colombia’s currency intervention scheme is aimed at keeping prices attractive to foreign merchants as the country sniffs out more export accounts like Ecopetrol’s hopeful Indian deal.