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  #1  
Old 04-27-2010
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Arbitrage Bequia-style

A report from the field only tangentially related to sailing:

We've been anchored in Bequia for the last week or so (I lose track of the days in these latitudes) enjoying this wonderful island and awaiting a weather window that will facilitate the final passage of the season to Trinidad, where by mid-May BR will end up on the hard and the crew will be on a plane homeward bound.

During the week we've noticed the arrival and departure of numerous Venezeulan flagged "fishing boats". At times there have been five or six either at anchor or tied to the town dock. None of them have any visible fishing gear aboard. What could they be up to?

Question: what do humble fisherman from a socialist paradise to when they're off on a trip?

Answer: it ain't fishing! It's market arbitrage.

I learned today that one of these 70+ foot fishing boats has a fuel capacity of something north of 20,000 gallons of diesel. According to my source (to remain unnamed) fishermen can buy diesel in Venezeula for less than US$0.05 per gallon. No, the decimal was not misplaced -- that's five cents a gallon.

So, if you're a fisherman and you can pump 20,000 gallons of diesel into your boat for something around US$1000, when you head out to sea, do you go fishing? Hell no. You go to Bequia, where you pump your diesel into the tanks of the local ferry boats and local floating "distribution" vessels. Then, after a decent interval of 4-5 days at anchor you return home, where on clearning in you tell the local officials that you sold the catch in Grenada. You then proceed to the bank to deposit the profits from another successful "fishing" trip.

In Bequia the "distribution" vessels (work boats anchored in the harbor) sell diesel to the yachting community for the local equivalent of +/- US$4. (I don't know what the local ferry boat company pays). At that price the yachting community is buying fuel from the floating "distributors" a dollar or more below the price at a marina fuel dock.

Wiki defines "arbitrage" as follows:

In economics and finance, arbitrage (IPA: /ˈɑr.bɪˌtrɑːʒ/) is the practice of taking advantage of a price difference between two or more markets: striking a combination of matching deals that capitalize upon the imbalance, the profit being the difference between the market prices.

Seems to me the Venezeulan "fishermen" are doing just that. Capitalizing (not socializing, mind you) on a market imbalance.

Now one might ask, what causes this imbalance between the markets? Might it have something to do with subsidies on basic commodies Chavez provides to remain in power?

I wonder if El Jeffe, Hugo of the Red Shirt, realizes that the Venezeulan people, through the efforts of their hardworking fisher-folk, are helping subsidize the cruising lifestyle of rich capitalist yachties?

Devine justice? No a simplier explanation: corrumption! Where you find 8000% margins in relatively simple transaction, there's got to be a healthy dose of corruption in there somewhere.

But whoa!!!! Wait a minute! Didn't we leave international politics and high finance behind when we went sailing? Why worry about the cost of fuel and the economics of diesel distribution when the wind is free and Mount Gay is $10 a litre.

Forecast for the 140 mile run to Trini at the end of the week: 15-20 knots on the beam, seas 6-8 ft with a 8 second period. It will be a bit bouncy, but we should do it in under 20 hours easy with no need to burn diesel regardless of its price.
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Old 04-27-2010
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Sounds like something the major oil companies might want to try... Oh, wait, they already do...
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Old 04-27-2010
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Interesting, BR!

Good to hear from you, btw.. sounds like the trip's going pretty well. Bequia is one of our favourite stops too.

Shame you're giving Carriacou a pass, though.. charming spot too.
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Old 04-27-2010
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Nice post BR...
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Old 04-28-2010
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You're paying $10/ltr for Mount Gay? Isn't that double what it costs in Barbados? Sounds like another opportunity!
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Old 04-29-2010
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Paulk,

You forget -- Barbados lies 100 miles to windward! I'm not sure a 20 hour bash is worth $5/bottle. I don't drink that much!
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Old 04-29-2010
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BillyR,

Great story!

And good to hear from you, too. Hope all is well. - JRP
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