Oil market prices are slowly increasing due to expectations of possible developments for vaccines against COVID-19, in addition to the agreements announced by the European Union to revive the economy in the Eurozone.
OIL PRICE: WTI AND BRENT (JULY 2020)
At the close of the European markets1 on Friday, July 24, Brent and WTI were trading at $43.62 and $41.41 a barrel, respectively, up by 66% and 109% from their May values, when OPEC+ cuts took effect.
The recovery of the WTI reference has been slower, although on Monday, July 20, it started to rise, rising by 1% more than the previous Monday, with the marker quoting at 40.81 dollars a barrel. This recovery has been affected by the high uncertainty due to the unprecedented increase in COVID-19 cases in the United States which, on Friday July 17, registered 71,000 new infections in one day.
On Thursday, July 23, the OPEC basket traded at $44.62 per barrel, a stable increase of a 4% rise from the close on Friday, July 17.
OPEC BASKET PRICE
Multiple announcements regarding advances in biotechnology by the world’s biggest economic powers gave a positive boost to market prices earlier this week, in anticipation of possible relief from the pandemic.
This news also was also behind the increase in the WTI reference, which on Tuesday, 21 July stood at $41.92 a barrel, although this value is still 31% below the prices recorded in January 2020.
On the other hand, tensions increasing between the United States and China, combined with the increase in oil inventories in both countries, maintain an environment of instability in the oil market that slows down price recovery, especially for WTI.
From June onwards, the main price markers have stabilized above 40 dollars a barrel, while OPEC+ cuts have managed to push prices up from the April collapse values to above the 40-dollar-a-barrel threshold, around which they have remained, with slight fluctuations. However, the price is still quite far from the values the markers used to have prior to the COVID-19 crisis, when the Brent and WTI were quoted at 69 and 61 dollars a barrel, respectively.
This behavior indicates that, although the cuts in production have been a fundamental factor in the process of stabilizing the physical foundations of the market on the supply side, by removing overproduction, the deep deterioration of the economy and the consequent lack of demand, coupled with the high levels of inventories built with cheap oil, especially in the U.S., China and India, will keep the price recovery slow, at least for the rest of the year and probably in 2021 as well.
The OPEC+ voluntary cuts remain in place, with OPEC’s estimate of world crude oil production for 2020 standing at 81.21 million barrels per day2 (MMBD), while the International Energy Agency (IEA) 3 and the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) 4 estimate world production to stand at 86.26 MMBD and 90.8 MMBD, respectively.
OPEC presents more cautious forecasts for the global recovery in production, which for 2018 and 2019 recorded approximately 94 MMBD; this would represent a 14% reduction in global supply by 2020 according to the organization, mainly due to the historic cuts agreed by OPEC+.
GLOBAL OIL PRODUCTION
ACTUAL 2019 AND ESTIMATES 2020
In its report on international trade5, the country’s Statistics Authority reported on 23 July that the value of oil exports in May 2020 fell by 65% compared to the same month in 2019; further analyses attribute this decline to the price war6 waged by the Saudis and the Russians in April 2020. The loss of $12 billion would be motivating Saudi Arabia to consider privatizing state assets in the areas of health, education, and water utilities over the next five years, the Saudi finance minister said7 at a conference.
Saudi Arabia is currently the largest oil producer among OPEC countries; therefore, production cuts have meant a significant sacrifice in its oil production of 7.5 million barrels per day, compared to its production levels in April, when it reached 11.6 million barrels per day.
EFFECTS ON WTI PRICES IN RELATION TO SAUDI ARABIAN PRODUCTION (2001-2020)
An analysis published by EIA highlights that changes in crude oil production in Saudi Arabia, the main OPEC producer, directly influence WTI crude oil prices. As this graph shows, the EIA notes that OPEC member countries have managed to influence the markets through production agreements, thus reducing supply and recovering the price, a process led by Saudi Arabia, which has the largest production capacity in the organization.
Oil production in the United States has been the most affected by the collapse of prices in March-April, after the record levels of production recorded in February 2020, when it reached 13.10 MBD and placed the U.S. as the largest oil producer.
At the G20 meeting in April 2020, Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette announced8 that the U.S. estimates a drop of 2 MBD in production by the end of the year, which would mean 11 MBD at the end of 2020. This coincides with EIA’s estimates of 11.6 MBD9.
According to the EIA’s weekly report «This Week in Petroleum»10, as of July 17, a production of 11.10 MBD was recorded in the U.S., an increase of 1% in relation to July 10, when it recorded 11 MBD.
This increase of 100,000 barrels per day in the U.S. is the first increase in production since February, when it was shown to be gradually falling, and it highlights a rebound in production in the Gulf of Mexico, which was interrupted in June by Tropical Storm Cristobal.
Baker Hughes’ latest report11 on the North America Rotary Rig Count shows that, as of 24 July, there are 181 active oil drilling rigs in the U.S., one more than the previous week; there is a stable situation with regard to the rate of decline in the number of rigs, and levels are still far from the 682 rigs that existed before the COVID-19 crisis.
To date, the number of people infected by COVID-19 has reached 15.2 million worldwide12, while the number of deaths has risen to 628,000 and 8.76 million people have recovered.
The United States continues to lead in the statistics of infected people, registering 26% (3.93 million) of the total number of cases worldwide, and 23% of the deaths worldwide (142,000), in a context of a continuous rebound in the southern states that proceeded to reopen.
President Donald Trump acknowledged13 on Tuesday 21 July that the pandemic «…will get worse before it gets better.» He also encouraged the use of face masks, a change of opinion that, according to analysts14, is in response to unfavorable results15 in surveys on the U.S. administration’s management of the pandemic.
Brazil ranks second in terms of the number of people infected (2.22 million) and killed (82,000), with reports of the expansion16 of COVID-19 towards the country’s inland, where the capacities to combat the pandemic are weaker. President Jair Bolsonaro has again tested positive17 and at least two of his ministers are also positive18.
The list of the 10 countries most affected by COVID-19 includes India, Russia, South Africa, Peru, Mexico, Chile, the United Kingdom and Iran. The Director of the WHO’s Emergency Programme, Mike Ryan, stated19 on 22 July that «…the Americas is clearly still the major hot spot… and [COVID-19 presence is] …beginning to accelerate in Africa… and [there are] worrying trends in southern Europe and the Balkans”.
Announcements related to the development of effective COVID-19 vaccines increased significantly this week.
According to a note published by Deutsche Welle20 on July 21, the vaccine developed by the University of Oxford and the multinational pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca appears to be safe and to activate an immunity reaction against the coronavirus. Although it is a preliminary study, it has generated enough optimism for the British government to order 100 million doses of the vaccine, which will be sold at cost worldwide.
China also announced21 progress this week on its vaccine, developed by CanSino Biologics Inc. (where one of the main shareholders is the multinational Eli Lilly), and the Army Research Unit, which authorized the testing of the vaccine on military personnel.
The Mexican Foreign Ministry reported22 on July 22 that at a meeting of foreign ministers from Argentina, Barbados, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Mexico, Panama, Peru, Trinidad and Tobago and Uruguay, the Chinese foreign minister had offered «…a US$1 billion credit to support access by Latin American and Caribbean countries to a vaccine against COVID-19 once it is ready.»
According to a note from the Tass agency23, Russia announced encouraging results from tests being carried out by the Ministry of Defense and the Gamalei Institute for Scientific Research in Epidemiology and Microbiology, stating that «…the first domestic vaccine against… the coronavirus is ready.»
Similarly, the United States’ government announced an agreement24 with the multinational company Pfizer for the purchase of 100 million doses of the vaccine it is developing with the German company BioNTech and the U.S. company Moderna.
These vaccines are some of the 160 (according to the World Health Organization-WHO25) that are being researched and developed in various countries, which has generated positive reactions26 in the stock markets and in oil prices in recent weeks.
After complicated negotiations, European Union (EU) leaders reached an agreement27 on Tuesday, 21 July on the economic stimulus plan to address the crisis generated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The agreed common fund is 750 billion euros.
The plan includes 390 billion in direct aid -which favors countries hit hardest by the pandemic, like Spain and Italy- and 360 billion in credits payable up to 2058, with conditions if the recipient country does not comply with the rules. Analysts indicate28 that the agreement allocates 30% to climate protection and that the programs should contribute to the emissions-cutting goals in the Union.
On Wednesday, July 22, the U.S. government gave the Chinese government 72 hours to cease29 the activities of its consulate in Houston, Texas, «…to protect U.S. intellectual property and the private information of Americans. President Trump declared30 that «it was always possible» to order the closure of more consulates. The Chinese government called it31 «a political provocation» and on July 24 asked the United States to close its consulate in the southwestern city of Chengdu.
Since 2019, the United States has been sanctioning Chinese officials, state agencies and companies on charges of espionage. Furthermore, this situation is compounded by the end32 of the U.S. preferential trade treatment towards the Hong Kong Administrative Region, so that the same punitive tariffs33 as those applied to mainland China could be applied by the United States to the region.
These sanctions further rarify the possibilities of recovery of the global economy in the short term, as they are framed in the trade war between the United States and China, the first and second economies of the world, respectively, as well as the largest consumers and importers of oil in the world, respectively. The untimeliness of the sanctions, especially for the U.S., still immersed in the consequences of the spread of the pandemic, seems to indicate that they are more attributable to the purposes of the U.S. electoral agenda than to any other factor.
India’s Secretary of Economic Affairs, Tarun Bajaj, declared34 on July 23 that the country will not be able to meet its budget estimates, so that 2020 «…may be a lost year»; he also indicated a V-shaped recovery, with improvements in taxes and agriculture.
Despite the massive aid and financial stimulus approved by the White House, the Congress and the Fed, the U.S. economy continues to be impacted by the effects of COVID-19, which, far from being controlled, continues to expand throughout the country. In response, U.S. congressmen -including Republicans- are preparing to consider35 discussion of new stimulus measures to alleviate the effects of the crisis on the economy and employment, which would include the extension of a ban on evictions of federal housing tenants, wage tax cuts, stimulus checks and supplemental unemployment insurance payments.
With regard to requests36 for unemployment benefits, on July 18, they amounted to 1.4 million, 109,000 more than the previous week.
U.S. UNEMPLOYMENT CLAIMS
The increase in unemployment claims37 shows the impact of the upturn in COVID-19 and the slowdown or halt in reopening in the states.
The reopening of mobility in the European Union has an impact on the revival of trade activities among the countries of the Union. The agreement reached in Brussels generates optimism in the market, which entails an increase in the demand for oil in the region, although this is always linked to the further behavior of the COVID-19 outbreaks.
China and India show no signs of increasing or maintaining the level of demand they held in the second quarter of the year. China took advantage of low prices in April to significantly increase its storage in June. India, for its part, has been experiencing a new wave of COVID-19 infections since the end of last week, which has caused it to backtrack on opening up its economy.
Oil consumption in Europe is expected to increase in the second half of 2020, following the agreement reached this week in Brussels38.
The EU economy had been showing progress since the beginning of July, with the reopening of tourism activity. The activation of the financial package offers a more solid projection in the recovery of oil demand in European Union countries.
In China, the demand for oil will not maintain in July the record levels presented in the last three months39, when 11.39 MMBD of oil entered in May and 12.9 MMBD in June, with the refineries processing up to 14 MBD in that period and supplying a demand that exceeded 16 MMBD of oil.
In information presented by Bloomberg, imports are expected to fall from this month and for the rest of 2020, due to the large amount of crude oil that was stored40 between April and June.
An increase in COVID-19 cases was recorded during the third week of July41, forcing the authorities to take further measures to restrict mobility and commercial activities, which generated a setback in the recovery of the demand for oil that had been taking place since May. Fuel consumption (diesel and gasoline) fell by 15% this month compared to June.
According to EIA’s weekly report, crude oil imports into the United States averaged42 5.9 MMBD as of July 17, a 6% increase over the week ending July 10. According to the agency, the increase in imports is due to a slight reactivation in refining activities.
VARIATION IN CRUDE OIL IMPORTS
(2018 – 2019 vs. 2019 – 2020)
Crude oil imports in the U.S. in 2020 fell by 13% (1 MMBD) and 31% (2.8 MMBD), compared to the same period in 2018 and 2019, respectively, due to high levels of crude oil production in 2019, to the high inventory levels and to a fall in global demand that reduced refining activities.
In the last two weeks the EIA showed an increase in refining activities43; however, due to high levels of storage of refined products, the EIA estimates that there would be no major changes in relation to crude oil processing levels.
Oil storage in China reaches 244.8 million barrels of oil, according to a report by Oil Chem China44, an oil analysis agency; this corresponds to 69% of the storage capacity of this country.
INCREASING OIL INVENTORIES IN CHINA
(December 2016 – June 2019)
The main reason of this storage level, according to the Chinese Customs Agency, has been the 20% increase in crude oil imports in order to purchase shipments at low prices.
Regarding storage in India, it was revealed that on July 17, Dharmendra Pradhan, India’s oil and natural gas minister, held a virtual meeting with U.S. secretary of energy Dan Brouillette to advance negotiations to store oil in U.S. strategic reserves, after investing in buying cheap crude oil during the of previous months’ drop in prices.
In the United States, commercial oil storage, as of July 17, increased by 1% to 536 million barrels, mainly in the Cushing, Oklahoma, and the Gulf Coast areas, which increased by 4% and 2%, respectively.
OIL STORAGE UNITED STATES AND COVERAGE DAYS 2019-2020
Coverage days increased this week to 37.7 days, a slight 0.3% increase from the previous week, when the coverage days declined for the fourth consecutive week, after 41 days of coverage at the end of May. Coverage days are now 46% higher than the same time in 2019.
A report45 by S&P Global Platts of July 22, states that the East Coast and Gulf Coast have been the regions most affected by high inventory levels; their current capacity is 64.7% and 63.1%, respectively. The Cushing Region in Oklahoma, with a capacity of approximately 90 MMBD, is now at 63.2%.
INVENTORY LEVELS BY REGION
The report highlights that, despite the progressive increases in inventories, in the week of July 17 the strategic reserves fell by 2,000 barrels, due to the increase in production that week, the first since February 2020.
As we referred to in our Oil Report last week, the situation of the oil industry in Venezuela is facing a terrible crisis that is hindering all its operational capacities.
OPEC, in its last monthly report46, indicated that the country’s production fell in June, reaching 356 thousand barrels of oil per day, due to the deterioration of the operational conditions of the company from 2014, as a result of poor management, political persecution against workers, disinvestment, and the handing over of operational areas and infrastructure to third parties.
Venezuela’s crude oil production is at the levels of 80 years ago, deepening the economic, political, and social crisis that this OPEC member country, whose main source of income is the oil industry, is going through.
Gasoline reserves in free fall
PDVSA’s National Refining System has an installed capacity of 1.3 million barrels per day. The volume processed in 2014 was 1.15 million barrels a day, reaching 89% of its capacity that year.
VENEZUELA’S REFINING SYSTEM
In gasoline alone, the national system processed 329,000 barrels per day in 2014, representing 28% of all products in the refining system.
Nowadays, after a period of political interventions, removal of managers and diversion of investment and maintenance resources initiated from 2014 onwards, the national refining system is working at just 10% of its capacity, as referred to in our previous Oil Report.
The national market continues to suffer from a severe lack of fuel supply in the midst of the current health crisis, when fuel is needed the most, despite successive announcements by the government that they had reactivated the refinery system.
By 2014, 633,000 barrels a day were supplied from the country’s refining systems to satisfy all domestic demand, and 404,000 barrels a day were available for export. Today, the government has had to resort to importing fuels to try to supply a depressed domestic market whose demand is estimated at only 130,000 barrels a day.
COLLAPSE OF VENEZUELA’S REFINING SYSTEM
The production capacity of Venezuela’s refineries fell from 915 thousand barrels per day in 2015 to 135 thousand barrels per day in January 2020, as explained in previous Oil Reports, representing an 85% reduction in five years.
Currently, when national production barely reaches 356 thousand barrels a day of oil and around 30 thousand barrels a day of fuel, only 5% of the national demand, which by 2014 was 663 thousand barrels a day, is met. Only the barrels of some fuel shipments sent from abroad are available to supply the domestic market; this is a clear sign of PDVSA’s destruction.
On July 17th, Argus Media published47 information on the limited gasoline reserves Venezuela currently has, particularly in the Cardón refinery, which is part of the Paraguaná Refining Complex (CRP).
The CRP has a nominal capacity of 971,000 barrels per day, comprised by the capacity provided by Amuay Refinery, with 645,000 barrels per day, and by the Cardón Refinery, with 310,000 barrels per day (both located on the Paraguaná Peninsula, Falcón State), and the Bajo Grande Refinery, with 16,000 barrels per day, in the state of Zulia.
The volume of crude oil processed in 2014 reached 638,000 barrels per day, of which 206,000 barrels per day were gasoline and naphtha; 66% of CRP products were destined to supply the domestic market and 34% to export.
According to the information published by Argus Media, the Cardón refinery had until July 15, 2020, 15 thousand barrels of 91 octane gasoline and 1.8 thousand barrels of 95 octane gasoline, as a result of the shipment received by the end of May from Iran. The firm says that the inventories of additives needed to mix the little gasoline produced in Venezuela were also exhausted.
As we have pointed out on many occasions, the secrecy and lack of transparency imposed by the government turns all public management, and information, including that of Petróleos de Venezuela, into a “black box”, making it necessary to resort to secondary and unofficial sources.
The situation in the supply of Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) is similar to that of gasoline: 89% of the population depends on the supply of gas for domestic consumption in cylinders, the «bombonas,» and to obtain them they must be registered in waiting lists48 with a time for delivery of at least one month.
In 2014, the total availability of natural gas for the nation was 7,516 MMPCD, of which 70% was destined for internal consumption by PDVSA 9for injection into deposits, fuels, among others). In addition, 2.3% was transformed into LNG and 28% was delivered to the domestic market.
Venezuela’s domestic and commercial gas service, which is a public service for PDVSA Gas Comunal intended to guarantee the national supply, had six years ago 65 LPG filling plants out of the 91 plants distributed throughout the country, and a fleet of 403 truck cabins (“chutos”), 287 cisterns and 2334 trucks for the dispatch of bulk gas cylinders, which supplied 4.6 million families monthly.
But currently the main gas processing and liquid extraction plants in the country are paralyzed, the government handed over the management of PDVSA Gas Comunal to federal state governments, which through private operators impose their prices and their own distribution systems and use the concept of «bodegones» (dollar-only informal stores), that is, the gas is sold only to consumers who can pay in foreign currency.
Nowadays, domestic consumption is estimated at 50 thousand barrels of LPG and production is barely 20 thousand barrels per day, so there is a high unmet demand. The population has had to resort, especially in the interior of the country, to the use of firewood for domestic consumption.
The “Ayacucho” Oil Tanker
By 2014, PDVSA’s own and contracted fleet reached 83 shipping vessels49, of which 28 were its own tankers. Among them was the oil tanker «Ayacucho«, the first vessel with VLCC (Very Large Crude Carrier) characteristics to be built for Venezuela50, which was received by PDVSA in October 2013.
The subsidiary CV-Shipping, contracted to deliver the VLCC “Ayacucho”, was also responsible in 2011 for the construction of three other VLCCs, which were delivered in 2014 and named by PDVSA as «Junín,” «Carabobo«, and «Boyacá.” These four Venezuelan tankers, which operate the Venezuela-Asia route, each had the capacity to transport 2 million barrels of oil. In 2014, VLCCs flying the Venezuelan flag transported more than 23 million barrels of oil.
However, at the present time the tanker “Ayacucho” was handed over to private operators and was renamed «Máximo Gorki» and now sails with the ships «Boyacá«, «Junín«, and «Carabobo» under the Singapore flag51. PDV Marina workers denounced52 that the active ships are being transferred to the National Institute of Aquatic Spaces (INEA), an autonomous entity of the Venezuelan State, which would be handing over, according to the workers, 50% of the PDV Marina organization to a private company. Since March 10, INEA’s president, Navy Captain César Romero, was also appointed president of PDV Marina.
Moreover, the suezmax tankers «Río Arauca«, «Río Caroní«, «Río Orinoco«, and «Río Apure» are now under the flag of the Marshall Islands53, a country where three shipping companies are also registered; these companies were sanctioned54 by the United States from June 2nd until July 2nd for transporting Venezuelan crude oil55.
On May 11, 2020, within the framework of PDVSA’s privatization plan, developed by the oil company’s Supervisory Commission, the company PDV Puertos S.A. was created by decree56 to administer all activities related to maritime trade in oil and oil products and to replace PDV Marina, and to allow private participation (through the granting of licenses or permits) in all the company’s operations, as established in article 4, sections C and D of PDV Puertos’ Constitutive Act. Likewise, article 2, section D, authorizes the company to sell assets, such as oil tankers, barges, and tugboats, which represents the de facto surrender of the national oil industry assets.
Workers at El Palito refinery, the Puerto La Cruz refinery, the refining center Centro Refinador Paraguaná, PDV Marina, the fields of Morichal, Anaco, Petrocedeño, Guaraguao, the Costa Oriental Division, the Costa Oriental del Lago docks, and Costa Afuera, have raised their voices in protest denouncing the precarious working conditions, low wages, lack of social security, lack of personal protection equipment, persecution at work, and the use of State forces to attack and imprison workers. All of this is happening without any discussion of the Collective Petroleum Convention (CCP), which has expired since October 2019.
On October 11, 2018, the Venezuelan Ministry for the Social Process of Labor signed57 the Memorandum-Circular 2792, which links the workers’ rights to the decisions of a Commission created by the government itself; also, all minimum wages established in the Collective Bargaining Agreements are equalized (but downwards) with the minimum wage decreed by the national government. With these actions, the labor and social rights won by Venezuelan oil workers in decades of struggle were suppressed.
The Collective Petroleum Convention expired in October 2019 and PDVSA has shown no intention of renewing it. Since 2018, the oil worker is subject to a salary’s balancing factor known as “90/30”, which defines the salary tables and eliminates the payment of overtime and night shift bonuses, payment for worked shifts, and the hourly-payment system granted to the PDV Marina personnel.
The Contributive System for the Protection of Health (Spanish abbreviation: SICOPROSA) was taken off the oil worker’s benefits. However, even though SICOPROSA was destroyed, this service continues to be deducted from the worker’s salary. Just seven years ago, this healthcare system of Petróleos de Venezuela offered both the worker and their direct family members the support of an important network of health centers belonging to the oil industry, including primary care centers and state-of-the-art hospitals, in addition to agreements with private clinics that guaranteed timely medical assistance to the worker in terms of preventive medicine and emergencies.
Since 2016, the terrible situation of the canteens that PDVSA has in its administrative and operational areas has contributed to the deterioration in the nutrition of the workers, who have to wait up to two hours in a queue to be able to access a plate of food without nutrients, and who are subject to control over the amount of food they eat. In contrast to this situation, the food delivery business managed by external suppliers operates smoothly, especially in the areas where joint ventures operate and in La Campiña administrative headquarters.
Besides the indolence in which the Venezuelan oil industry has been immersed by the government, there is also lack of motivation among the workers, who for the past seven years have been deprived of the contractual benefits that they have been entitled to, with the deterioration of their working conditions in economic, social security, and personal matters, in addition to the atmosphere of internal political persecution that has led to the imprisonment of hundreds of workers and has caused the exodus of more than 30,000 workers, technicians and engineers since 2016.
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