Pemex, the nation’s ubiquitous oil monopoly, owes more than it’s worth.

It seems positively unbelievable that a company that employs nearly 150,000 mostly well paid people, and whose main product, crude oil, rose in price by 20 percent during the first quarter, has a net worth in the red.

In its quarterly report to the stock market this week, Pemex indicated that its crude exports of the Mexican mix averaged US$92 per barrel, an increase of 29 percent over the first quarter 2010 average.

From crude exports, of which 80 percent go to the U.S. market, peso- denominated revenues advanced 14.6 percent to 352 billion pesos, equivalent to US$30.6 billion. That translates into just over 3.9 billion pesos per day, every day of the quarter.

It’s worth noting that this year’s federal budget contemplates an average oil price of US$57.5 per barrel, which means that with rising crude prices, the windfall for Mexico’s finances is far beyond last year’s most optimistic predictions.

In practice, however, the windfall does little for Pemex and for new exploration and production plans, since most of the extra income goes to taxes, to disaster relief schemes and to state governments that provide nil accountability of how the monies are spent.

As of the close of the first quarter, total liabilities reach 1.515 trillion pesos (about US$131.74 billion), against total assets of 1.404 trillion pesos, or about US$122.08 billion.

Obviously, and it has been stated repeatedly for decades, there is something inherently wrong about the Pemex legal framework as well as its business model, not to even mention the heavy load that the Oil Workers Union represents in terms of cost and as a source of unending corruption.

I won’t even get into the thorny issue of the low per-worker productivity of Pemex as compared to other oil companies, because it’s downright depressing. What can you do when the government’s standard argument for such low productivity is that Pemex actually performs a social service in employing as many people as it does, double or triple the industry’s norm?

One thing that is not politically correct is to compare Pemex to Brazil’s Petrobras. At this juncture, Pemex still produces more crude than Petrobras, but if current trends hold, the Brazilian firm, which took off the moment it allowed private capital, will surpass Pemex sometime next year.

It’s worth recalling that only a decade ago, in 2001, the total Pemex output of close to three million barrels per day was 2.5 times that of the then state-owned Brazilian company.

The biggest difference, however, is in both companies’ net worth. This week in the New York Stock Exchange, the market value of Petrobras reached US$242 billion, against the Pemex red ink of US$9 billion. During that period, Petrobras shares have grown 5.4 times, which translates into an average annual growth of 17 percent.

The Brazilian oil success story is based fundamentally on the fact that the government open up to foreign investments, as well as technological alliances, particularly for deep-water exploration and extraction. While the government has control of the company, it actually owns less than 40 percent of the stock outstanding, with the other 60 percent is split among local investors with 20 points, and foreign investors with the remaining 40 points.

If there’s something to be learned from Mexico’s recent legislative fiasco, in which partisanship and inter-party squabbles blocked one and all reform bills, it would be that the country is farther than ever from energy reform, which essentially means that the Pemex downhill is likely to continue for years.