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Sempra Not Worried About Argentina Gas Utility Investments
Argentina’s scrambled economy that has drawn front-page attention from some major U.S. financial news media so far does not worry San Diego-based Sempra Energy, which has significant interest in two natural gas utilities.
A Dec.12 court rollback of government-mandated retail rate hikes caused concerns to surface earlier this week and evoke comparison to California’s energy crisis of 2000-2001 that was precipitated by regulators keeping retail rates frozen while wholesale power costs soared for the state’s major utilities.
A San Diego-based Sempra spokesperson said the recent Argentine court decision to reverse 9% electricity and 7% gas rate increases was just “one” step in a longer process that is still not fully played out. “Ultimately, we think the Argentine government will allow rate increases to protect the investors in its energy companies.”
International business reports out of Argentina earlier in the month characterized the court’s action as a negative blow to the mostly foreign-owned utilities in Argentina. The Argentine utilities in November convinced the government that rate increases were needed to maintain service levels in the wake of the currency devaluation last January, which is said to have reduced by 70% the peso’s value against the U.S. dollar.
The International Monetary Fund has pressed Argentina for broader rate rises during nearly a year of aid talks, according to a Reuters wire report out of Argentina that characterized the IMF talks as “stagnated.” The government-passed retail rates increases were greeted very negatively with consumers that are battling extreme inflation through the country.
Along with Sempra, the major foreign firms operating Argentine telecommunication and energy utilities are Spain’s Telefonica, Telecom Italia, France Telecom, Electricite de France, and Britain’s BG Group.
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