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Exclusive: Venezuela seeks $4 billion China loan, $2 billion Chevron credit - sources

Workers stand in front of a drilling rig at an oil well operated by Venezuela's state oil company PDVSA in Morichal July 28, 2011. REUTERS/C
Workers stand in front of a drilling rig at an oil well operated by Venezuela's state oil company PDVSA in Morichal July 28, 2011. REUTERS/C

By Marianna Parraga

CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuela's government and state oil company PDVSA are in urgent talks over a long-expected $6 billion in loans from China and U.S. energy giant Chevron that would help relieve the nation's strained finances, sources close to the discussions said.

Oil Minister Rafael Ramirez said this week that PDVSA had no plans to issue any more dollar-denominated bonds, confounding widespread speculation that one was planned to address a chronic shortage of dollars for local businesses.

That has left the government in the OPEC member seeking other forms of financing, amid pressure to order a devaluation of its currency that would ease the pressure on its cash flow by providing more bolivars for every dollar of oil sales.

Its top priority is a deal agreed last year with China Development Bank for a $4 billion loan this year.

Venezuela has borrowed $36 billion from China in recent years - repaid with oil shipments - making Beijing the single biggest foreign source of funding for the country's socialist government, according to finance ministry data.

But a source close to the talks told Reuters that the Chinese team wanted to toughen the terms of the deal.

"The Chinese have introduced a clause that the Venezuela team decided to reject," the source said, without describing the proposed change. "That was holding things up until recently, but they are coming to an agreement on the amendment."

Meanwhile, a PDVSA team is negotiating a private loan of $2 billion with U.S. oil company Chevron , the source said, adding that the proposed credit is intended to be used to increase crude production at the two companies' joint venture, Petroboscan, in western Venezuela.

Another source with knowledge of those discussions said PDVSA had proposed to Chevron that the deal reached in 2012 - a 13-year repayment term with an interest rate of Libor plus 4.5 points - be substantially revised. That suggestion met strong resistance from Chevron, the source said.

PDVSA and the government declined to comment on the talks, and Chevron didn't immediately respond to a request for comment. The Chinese embassy in Caracas did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

PRESSURE ON PARTNERS

A lack of investment, especially in western regions of South America's biggest crude exporter, has led to falling output at the mature fields since 2009.

Since the end of 2010, the government has been putting pressure on partners in some 20 joint ventures to find extra funding to raise output, and threatening to cancel their permits if they fail. Petroboscan is 60 percent controlled by PDVSA and pumps 115,000 barrels per day.

The current debt negotiations may be more fraught than they would have been, due to the uncertainty around the absence of President Hugo Chavez, who has not been seen since having cancer surgery in Cuba on December 11.

PDVSA and the government declined to comment on the talks, and Chevron didn't immediately respond to a request for comment. The Chinese embassy in Caracas did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In 2011, Venezuela and PDVSA issued a combined $17.5 billion in global bonds, adding to the high-performing notes that are among the world's most widely-traded emerging market debt.

But issuance dropped to $3 billion last year as Venezuela boosted sales of local-market bonds and lawmakers voted to double the arrangement with China Development Bank so that the government could borrow up to $8 billion at any one time.

Venezuelan business leaders complain about growing economic imbalances that they say have been caused by insecurity, bad policies and the uncertainty surrounding Chavez's absence.

Many argue that a currency devaluation is long overdue, to make exports more competitive and spur domestic industries.

Vice President Nicolas Maduro said last weekend that Chavez had taken a series of major economic decisions "to strengthen exports", feeding rumors that a devaluation was imminent.

Instead, the government has unveiled a series of moves that boost the amount of dollars available to the central bank, as well as make it easier for local businesses to access the hard currency they need to buy imports.

(Writing by Daniel Wallis; Editing by Kieran Murray and W Simon)

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