The major news services are reporting that the Argentina has served a 10 days eviction notice on Latam Airlines Group (Latam) to vacate its Buenos Aires hanger. According to the reports there does not seem to be any legal reason for the eviction. Commentators do not think that the two-year old airline has breached the terms of the rental agreement. Upon being questioned about the eviction notice airport officials state that its issuance was motivated by national interests concerns. I think it is clear that this action is another attempt to bully an international company that is more competitive than its Argentine counterpart. Latam executives promise legal action if the eviction is actually carried out. Any lawsuit file in Argentina’s court will probable not be successful.
The eviction notice demands the removal of the continent’s largest air carrier from its hanger at Buenos Aires airport. Though the actual terms of the rental agreement have not been made public its is generally known that the airline pays $20,000 monthly for
the hanger. The company invested about 5 million dollars into refurbishing and maintaining the facility. The rental agreement runs until 2023. It is not clear if the rental agreement has any options, though I would believe that it does have a procedure for extending itself.
We would be correct in concluding that this is the latest attempt by President Fernandez to strip a foreign company of some of its assets without compensation or due process. Remember how Repsol was treated a year ago? As unsettling as this action is I do not think that this action should cause Chevron’s Argentina subsidiary to pause drilling in the Vaca Muerte shale-oil fields. The American company should not pause its operations or reconsider its in-country strategy. I am sure that Chevron executives understand that their development-agreement would not prevent Argentina from taking precipitous actions like those taken against LaTam. Analyzing this incident in the larger context of Argentina’s economic and financial policies, I believe that the country continues to make decisions that are politically popular, but have disastrous consequences on the economy. Chevron’s posturing itself for an Argentina economic collapse is a wise strategy.
The government’s eviction of Latam is being undertaken to bolster its economically challenged state-owned airlines, Aerolineas Argentina (AA.) Latam competes directly with AA on domestic and, to a lesser degree, international routes. Most airline industry experts say that the Latam simply offers superior service at a more competitive price on the domestic routes than Argentina’s premier carrier.
AA began operations in the early 20’s as a state-owned carrier. Over the years the airline never proved itself as a profitable and well-run entity. In 1990 the struggling airline went private. By the end of the decade AA was hemorrhaging cash and losing millions every year. Finally,in 2001 the company declared bankruptcy. There had been extended periods of time when the carrier’s planes did not streak across the skies. Not surprising; after assuming office President Fernandez nationalized a second time the airlines amid a spirit of nationalism and self-political interests. Just like other rationalizations of businesses or industries, Argentina has not established any record of successful turnarounds. The nationalized businesses are anything but models of success and efficiency.
Argentina is now determined to improve the brand of its flagship carrier. AA has undertaken a campaign to re-brand itself so that citizens see a different and vibrant company. Yet, under the slick advertisements and government rhetoric is a company on economic life support. In my opinion the average Argentine who is struggling to support a descent station in life will sooner or later blame the government for his or her economic woes. People will open their eyes and simply conclude that Latam is a better run company than AA. These same citizens will conclude that Chevron is a better run and financed company than their country’s state-run oil company.
Argentina, for political reasons, attempts to control market forces in favor of its businesses. In January 2012 fifteen foreign airlines executives were called to a meeting with Home Trade Secretary Guillermo Moreno. The Secretary proposed (demanded) that the airlines reduce their overseas US dollars remittances. Specifically he requested that the airlines use local suppliers and contract services to support their in country operations. Clearly, if local businesses could provide a reliable and cost effective product the airlines would be inclined to contract the businesses. Yet, though this is not the fact, most foreign airlines would rather not be subjected to Argentina’s chaotic and unpredictable economic policies. Since Argentina cannot earn foreign reserves it is trying to legislate the creation of the hard currency it craves.
Also,the foreign airline executives understand that even if their companies have a legal agreements with Argentine businesses the government could step in to alter, amend or abrogate the agreement without offering any compensation. Just like Chevron; the foreign airlines believe that their patience with the present Argentina government will be rewarded when President Fernandez’s economic policies are ultimately rejected and a new government comes to power.