Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez hasn’t been seen in months, but he’s still causing trouble for U.S. investors even from his sickbed.
The ailing leader of the oil-rich, hyper-inflationary, debt-ridden nation ordered a big devaluation in Venezuela’s currency, to take effect Wednesday — the fifth such devaluation of the bolivar in the last nine years.
Although analysts, economists and multinationals knew a cut in the currency was coming, that’s little solace to what it will do to sales and profits coming out of the South American nation.
The Venezuela currency will be slashed 32%, to 6.3 bolivars to the dollar from 4.3 — and one company has already warned on what it will do to results.
Colgate-Palmolive (NYSE:CL), the consumer products giant that makes everything from soap to toothpaste to pet food, derives about 5% of its sales from Venezuela. It was already getting hurt by price controls and restrictions on repatriating dividends.
Now the devaluation is going to take a bite out of earnings, too.
Colgate said Monday the new exchange rate will force it to take an aftertax charge of $120 million this year. The company will book a hit of 25 cents a share in the first quarter and then anywhere from 5 cents to 7 cents a share in each of the year’s remaining quarters.
Venezuela was already a being a bit of sand in Colgate’s gears. The company said the country’s truly epic economic problems weighed on regional results last quarter. Indeed, Colgate said worldwide sales excluding acquisitions would have been up more than 5% in the last three months of the year if the weight of Venezuela were stripped out.
And while Colgate was the first multinational to warn on the effects of the bolivar’s devaluation, it probably won’t be the last.
Other U.S. consumer products giants might also see effects. Procter & Gamble (NYSE:PG), a component of the Dow Jones Industrial Average, gets about 2% of its worldwide revenue from Venezuela, as does bleach and trash-bag maker Clorox (NYSE:CLX).
The pain from the devaluation will likely extend past makers of consumer goods, however. In the financial sector, Spanish banking giant Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria (NYSE:BBVA) derives about 9% of its revenue from Venezuela.
The retail sector won’t be spared, either. MercadoLibre (NASDAQ:MELI), the eBay (NASDAQ:EBAY) of Latin America, could also get hit. And Arcos Dorados (NYSE:ARCO), the world’s largest McDonald’s (NYSE:MCD) franchisee, has significant exposure to Venezuela.
U.S. investors may be hoping for the day that Chavez and the Bolivarian revolution are consigned to the dustbin of history — the idea being that Venezuela will somehow turn on a dime to follow more market-friendly policies.
But the bolivar’s devaluation should serve as a reminder that the president and his Chavista movement is very much alive and kicking — even if the Venezuelan economy is not.
As of this writing, Dan Burrows did not hold positions in any of the aforementioned securities.