Here in Mexico the big midterm elections coming up in June are absorbing a lot of attention right now, but before we talk about that we just wanted to make some comments on a topic currently flying a bit under the radar: Lithium mines. The issue is, prior administrations granted a number of concessions to foreign private companies for the exploration and eventual production of lithium in Mexico, and a small number of these companies have been out in the desert scratching around in hopes of finding a viable mining site. Two things make this more important to Mexico now than it may have seemed a few years ago: First, a massive lithium deposit in the northern state of Sonora is being developed by foreign capital with plans to begin commercial production within two years; and second, Mexico is currently governed by a president who views the private sector — and particularly foreign companies — to be exploiters, thieves and enemies of the nation. Continue reading AMLO to lithium: My precious!
Mexico’s COVID-19 indicators have generally improved over the past month. The number of new cases per day has declined steadily compared to January, and the national rate of hospital bed occupation is down to 40%. Bed occupation is higher in the Mexico City area at 60%, however this is an improvement over the peaks of 90% reached in January. Mexico’s vaccination campaign is gaining speed after a poorly executed launch, however the number of vaccinations administered lags behind the average rate of most developed countries. (Data taken from Citibanamex Monitoreo de COVID-19, February 25, 2021)
ECONOMY AND INDUSTRY
- Retail sales in Mexico contracted 9.3% in 2020 with respect to the previous year, reaching their lowest level since 2014, according to data from the National Statistics Institute (INEGI). The only subsectors posting positive growth were online and catalog sales (52%) and health-related products (6%). (El Economista, February 25, 2021)
- Mexico’s construction industry was hit hard by the economic slowdown in 2020, contracting 17.5% on the year, according to data from the National Statistics Institute (INEGI). The drop-off is the steepest for the industry since 1995. (Reforma, February 12, 2021)
- Remittances from abroad to Mexico represented 3.8% of the country’s GDP in 2020, a record high. The total value of remittances to Mexico grew by over 10% last year with respect to the previous year. (El Economista, February 1, 2021)
We have commented before in this space about President López Obrador’s relentless campaign to dismantle the previous administration’s energy sector reform that cleared the way for participation by private companies. For us, the historic reform was akin to throwing open the door to an attic that had been locked for years with a dead body inside (Pemex, in this case) to finally let in fresh air. Most of the ham-fisted maneuvers by the president and his enablers in the Mexican Congress have been at least temporarily blocked by legal challenges, including at the Supreme Court level. Undeterred, Mr. López Obrador (AMLO) launched his latest and most ambitious salvo this past week, ramming through the Chamber of Deputies via fast-track a reform of the current electricity law granting advantages to the state-owned former monopoly Federal Electricity Commission (CFE) at the expense of privately financed electricity generation plants. Continue reading Retrograde electricity reform upsetting the neighbors