Tag: Natural Gas (page 1 of 5)

The U.S. Is Crushing Its Clean Energy Forecasts

Paris, schmarish…

In a February 2007 report, the United States Department of Energy made thirty-year predictions for the country's energy usage and production. As Statista's infographic below shows, using data from the non-profit international environmental pressure group Natural Resources Defense Council, these forecasts have so far been smashed.

Infographic: The U.S. Is Smashing Its Clean Energy Forecasts | Statista

You will find more statistics at Statista

Martin Armstrong details that actual CO2 emissions in 2016 have undercut the 2006 predictions by 24 percent.

In terms of the energy mix, power generated from coal was 45 percent beneath the forecast while clean(er) alternatives natural gas and wind/solar power saw overshoots of 79 and 383 percent, respectively.

Renewable energy infrastructure is also expanding at a much faster rate than was thought ten years ago. 2006's prediction for installed solar was a massive 4,813 percent shy of the 2016 reality. The U.S now also has installed wind capacity of 82 gigawatts, 361 percent more than had been hoped for.

In fact, energy consumption in total was also 17 percent lower than expectedwhich is odd and perhaps a better indication of the recovery-less recovery's reality?

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Keystone XL Pipeline Shut Down After 5,000-Barrel Spill In South Dakota

Well this is awkward.  After months/years of protests targeting the Keystone XL pipeline from environmentalists worried about oil spills, TransCanada has now been forced to shut down the pipeline following…drum roll please…a 5,000 barrel oil spill in South Dakota.  According to The Hill, the pipeline was taken offline at 6am this morning following a leak that was discovered about 35 miles south of a pumping station in Marshall County, South Dakota.

Workers took the Keystone oil pipeline offline on Thursday after it spilled 5,000 barrels of oil in rural South Dakota, officials said.

 

A TransCanada crew shut down the pipeline at 6 a.m. Thursday morning after detecting an oil leak along the line, the company said. The leak was detected along a stretch of the pipeline about 35 miles south of a pumping station in Marshall County, South Dakota.

 

TransCanada estimates the pipeline leaked 5,000 barrels of oil, or about 210,000 gallons, before going offline. The company said it’s working with state regulators and the Pipelines and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration to assess the situation.

 

The South Dakota Department of Environment and Natural Resources heard about the leak at about 10:30 a.m. Thursday, ABC affiliate KSFY reported.

For those who aren’t familiar with the project, the 1,179 mile Keystone XL pipeline links Canada’s Alberta oil sands to U.S. refineries.  While a portion of the pipeline has been operating, part of it has still not been approved by state regulators.

Here is the statement on the incident posted by TransCanada earlier this morning:

At approximately 6 a.m. CST (5 a.m. MST) today, we safely shut down the Keystone pipeline after we detected a pressure drop in our operating system resulting from an oil leak that is under investigation.

 

The estimated volume of the leak is approximately 5,000 barrels. The section of pipe along a right-of-way approximately 35 miles (56 kilometres) south of the Ludden pump station in Marshall County, South Dakota was completely isolated within 15 minutes and emergency response procedures were activated.

 

The safety of the public and environment are our top priorities and we will continue to provide updates as they become available.

As you may recall, former President Barack Obama opposed the completion of the pipeline, but the Trump administration granted a permit for it in March. That said, Nebraska state regulators still need to approve the project in their state and a decision was expected from the Nebraska Public Service Commission next week….somehow we suspect that decision might be delayed.

The five members of the Nebraska Public Service Commission will vote on a proposed order for the Keystone XL pipeline on Nov. 20, the agency announced on Monday, though it didn’t detail what that decision might be.

 

Approval from the Nebraska commission is one of several tasks facing Keystone XL developer TransCanada, which hopes to build the pipeline and deliver oil from Alberta, Canada, to the Gulf of Mexico.

 

TransCanada reapplied for its Nebraska permit in February, putting the decision in the hands of the Public Service Commission. It applied to follow the same route bisecting Nebraska that the state’s governor approved in 2013, before President Obama rejected federal permits for the pipeline.

Ironically, Trump touted the Keystone XL pipeline as “the greatest technology known to man or woman” when he approved it back in March…oops.

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UBS Reveals The Stunning Reason Behind The 2017 Stock Market Rally

It’s 2018 forecast time for the big banks. With Goldman unveiling its seven Top Trades for 2018 earlier, overnight it was also UBS’ turn to reveal its price targets for the S&P in the coming year, and not surprisingly, the largest Swiss bank was extremely bullish, so much so in fact that its base case is roughly where Goldman expects the S&P to be some time in the 2020s (at least until David Kostin revises his price forecast shortly).

So what does UBS expect? The bank’s S&P “base case” is 2900, and notes that its upside target of 3,300 assumes a tax cut is passed, while its downside forecast of 2,200 assumes Fed hikes in the face of slowing growth:

We target 2900 for the S&P 500 at 2018 YE, based on EPS of $141 (+8%) and modest P/E expansion to 20.6x.

 

Our upside case of S&P 500 at 3300 assumes EPS gets a further 10% boost driven by a 25% tax rate (+6.5%), repatriation (+2%) and a GDP lift (+1.6%), while the P/E rises by 1.0x. Downside of 2200 assumes the Fed hikes as growth slows, the P/E contracts by 3x and EPS falls 3%. Congress is motivated to act before midterm elections while the Fed usually reacts to slower growth; so we think our upside case is more likely.

Why is UBS’ base case so much higher than what most other banks forecast? According to strategist Keith Parker, the reason is a “Valuation disconnect”: Higher rates are priced in, while higher expected growth is not. He explains:

We model the S&P 500 P/E based on select macro drivers. The S&P P/E is 5x below the model implied level, which points to solid returns. More specifically, the 2.8% Fed rate target is priced in (worth 1.3x) but higher analyst expected 3-5yr growth is not (worth 3.7x). The P/E has been 2-4x above the implied level at the end of each bull market and the model has been a good signal for forward S&P returns (20-25% correlation). High-growth (most expensive) and deep-value (cheapest) stocks are cheap on a relative basis; the price for perceived safety is high. We focus on risk-adjusted growth + yield.

On the earnings side, this is how UBS bridges its 2018 rise to 141:

Following the 2014-16 earnings recession, S&P 500 EPS returned to growth in 2017 on the back of improved economic momentum globally, a commodity recovery, and rising margins. While a tax plan would significantly impact our growth assumptions, our base case EPS forecast excludes any tax upside given the degree of legislative uncertainty.

 

For 2018, we expect the earnings recovery to continue and forecast 8.3% EPS growth, driven by solid economic growth, offsetting margin drivers and higher interest rates. To control for the volatility and different drivers for certain sectors, we model financials and energy separately, with a buyback tailwind applied at the index level (1% assumed in 2018). 

 

We forecast S&P ex Financials & Energy earnings to grow 7% in 2018. Top-line growth is a function of 2.2% US real GDP and 3.8% RoW GDP growth, a relatively stable USD, and slightly higher growth in intellectual property products (“IPP” or tech) plus business equipment spending (less structures spending). Margins are adversely impacted by rising unit labor costs of 1.9% and boosted by a 1% improvement in productivity, with a negative net effect. Finally, flat US GDP growth means that earnings do not benefit much from operating leverage.

 

We expect Financials earnings to grow 7%, with return on assets improving on the back of a rising 3m Libor rate to 2.2% by YE 2018, two Fed hikes in 2018, a stable financing spread (delta between total bond market and Financials OAS spreads) and no rise in delinquencies (modelled using change in unemployment).  Asset growth is estimated using a beta of 1.35 to US real GDP growth.

 

We expect Energy sector earnings to continue to rebound, growing 28%. Energy accounts for less than 4% of total projected S&P 500 net income. Given the inherent volatility in earnings over recent years, we model sales growth as a function of oil and natural gas, which explains 97% of the sector’s top-line growth. We assume that margins recover as D&A and other overhead is leveraged

Here we have some bad news for UBS: none of the above will happen, for one simple reason – the driver of earnings growth in 2017, China’s record credit injections, has slammed shut, and if anything is now in reverse. This is bad news not only for China of course, but for fungible global markets, all of which are reliant on the world’s biggest marginal creator of crerdit in the financial system, Beijing. And, as we discussed yesterday, starting, well, two weeks ago, China is in active deleveraging mode. 

The implications for corporate profits will be adverse.

* * *

Yet as we stated at the beginning, none of the above is surprising, or even remotely remarkable: it’s just another bank’s forecast, and with the benefit of hindsight one year from today, we will have some laughs at its morbid, late cycle optimism.

What is very striking, however, is an little noticed analysis from UBS inside the projection, which seeks to explain where virtually all the market upside in 2017 has come from. In a statement that one would never hear on CNBC, or any other financial medium, as it destroys the narrative of new money entering the market, UBS argues that the entire 2017 rally was just one giant short squeeze! In its own words:

Short covering fuelled the YTD rally; retail and foreign should continue to buy. YTD US equity ETF+MF flows have been -$17bn as short covering in stocks and ETFs of $83bn has supported the rally.

 

 

And as the shorts get decimated, the final buyer emerges before the whole house of cards comes crashing down: the retail investor. Some more details:

US equity demand model: short covering has fuelled the 2017 rally

 

We have developed a simple model of US equity demand, from the major sources of potential buying using higher frequency data. Figure 101 shows the cumulative “demand” since 2010, and the broad US equity market has tracked the measure well. Since the beginning of the year, US equity ETF+MF flows have been -$17bn as short covering in stocks and ETFs of $83bn has supported the rally (Figure 102). We see the rally transitioning to the next phase where inflows into MFs and ETFs need to take over with short interest as a % of market cap near the lows.

 

 

Retail and foreign buyers drive the last phase of a bull market. Following on the point above that flows to MFs and ETFs need to take over, we find that the retail and foreign buyer are typically the marginal buyer during the last phases of a bull market (Figure 103). Indeed, we see that US households have been increasing their ownership of US equities (ex MFs, ETFs, pensions), which has happened at the end of prior cycles. Additionally, the foreign buyer stopped selling and could start becoming a net buyer, with Asia money flow the key with ~$40tr sitting in M2.

 

In UBS’ most bizarre admission, the Swiss bank also notes that “the last part of a bull market is typically fuelled by retail and foreign money, which has been the case of late.” And yet, even more inexplicably, UBS believes that there is enough “dry powder” behind the short squeeze to push the market to not just 2,900 but potentially 3,300.

Which, if UBS is right, means that there will be a lot of suicidal shorts in the coming months as the world’s biggest short squeeze proceeds to its inevitable conclusion. But the worst news is for the last bagholder left: Joe and Jane Sixpack, aka US retail investors, as institutions dump all their equity holdings to the last bid remaining, something JPM first warned about in February when it wrote that “Institutions, Hedge Funds Are Using The Rally To Sell To Retail” and which everyone appears to have forgotten.

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U.S. SHALE OIL PRODUCTION UPDATE: Financial Carnage Continues To Gut Industry

SRSrocco

By the SRSrocco Report,

As the Mainstream media reports about the next phase of the glorious U.S. Shale Oil Revolution, the financial carnage continues to gut the industry deep down inside the entrails of its horizontal laterals.  The stench of fracking fluid must be driving shale oil advocates utterly insane as they are no longer able to see the financial wreckage taking place in these companies quarterly reports.

This weekend, one of my readers sent me the following Bloomberg 45 minute TV special titled, The Next Shale Revolution.  If you are in need of a good laugh, I highly recommend watching part of the video.  At the beginning of the video, it starts off with President Trump stating that the U.S. has become an energy exporter for the first time ever.  Trump goes on to say, “that powered by new innovation and technology, we are now on the cusp of a new energy revolution.”  While I have to applaud Trump’s efforts for putting out some positive and reassuring news, I wonder who is providing him with terribly inaccurate energy information.

I would kindly like to remind the reader; the United States is still a NET IMPORTER of oil.  We still import nearly six million barrels of oil per day, but we export some finished products and a percentage of our shale oil production.  Thus, we still import a net of approximately three million barrels per day of oil.

A few minutes into the Bloomberg video, both Pioneer Resources Chairman, Scott Sheffield, and Continental Resources CEO, Harold Hamm, explain how advanced technology will revolutionize the shale oil industry and bring down costs.  I find that statement quite hilarious as Continental Resources and Pioneer continue to spend more money drilling for oil and gas then they make from their operations.  As I stated in a previous article, Continental Resources long-term debt ballooned from $165 million in 2007 to $6.5 billion currently.  So, how did advanced technology lower costs when Continental now has accumulated debt up to its eyeballs?

Of course… it didn’t.  Debt increased on Continental Resources balance sheet because shale oil production wasn’t profitable… even at $100 a barrel.  So, now the investor who purchased Continental bonds and debt are the Bag Holders.

Regardless, while U.S. oil production continues to increase at a moderate pace, there are some troubling signs in one of the country’s largest shale oil fields.

Shale Oil Production At the Mighty Eagle Ford Stagnates As Companies’ Financial Losses Mount

It was just a few short years ago that the energy industry was bragging about the tremendous growth of shale oil production at the mighty  Eagle Ford Region in Texas.  At the beginning of 2015, Eagle Ford oil production peaked at a record 1.7 million barrels per day (mbd).  Currently, it is nearly 500,000 barrels per day lower.  According to the EIA – U.S Energy Information Agency’s most recently released Drilling Productivity Report, oil production in the Eagle Ford is forecasted to grow by ZERO barrels in December:

The chart above suggests that the companies drilling and producing oil in the Eagle Ford spent one hell of a lot of money, just to keep production flat.  Even though the shale oil producers were able to bring on 88,000 barrels per day of new oil, the field lost 88,000 barrels per day due to legacy declines.  We need not take out a calculator to understand production growth at the Eagle Ford is a BIG PHAT ZERO.

Here are the five largest shale oil and gas producers in the Eagle Ford where:

  1. EOG Resources
  2. ConocoPhillips
  3. BHP Billiton
  4. Chesapeake Energy
  5. Marathon Oil

The company that doesn’t quite fit in the energy group above is BHP Billiton.  BHP Billiton is one of the largest base metal mining companies in the world.  Unfortunately for BHP Billiton, the company decided to get into U.S. Shale at the worst possible time.  BHP Billiton bought shale oil properties when prices were high and eventually had to liquidate when prices were low.  A Rookie mistake made by supposed professionals.  I wrote about this in my article; DOMINOES BEGIN TO FALL: BHP Chairman Says $20 Billion Shale Investment “MISTAKE.”

I decided to take a look at the current financial reports published by the five companies listed above.  The largest player in the Eagle Ford is EOG Resources.  I went to YahooFinance and created the following Cash Flow table for EOG:

In the latest quarter (Q3 2017), EOG reported $961 million in cash from operations.  However, the company spent $1,094 million on capital (CAPEX) expenditures and another $96 million in shareholder dividends.  Applying simple arithmetic, EOG spent $229 million more on CAPEX and dividends than it made from its operations.  Maybe someone can tell me how advanced technology is bringing down the cost for EOG.

The next largest player in the Eagle Ford is ConocoPhillips.  If we look at ConocoPhillips net income at its different business segments, we can see that the company isn’t making any money producing oil and gas in the lower 48 states:

While ConocoPhillips enjoyed a $103 million profit in Alaska, it suffered a $97 million loss in the lower 48 states.  Thus, the third largest oil company in the U.S. isn’t making any money producing oil and gas in the majority of the country.  According to the data, ConocoPhillips produced twice as much oil and gas in the lower 48 states then what they reported in Alaska, but the company still lost $97 million.

The third largest company producing oil in the Eagle Ford is BHP Billiton.  Instead of providing financial results, I thought this chart on BHP Billiton’s Return On Capital Employed was a better indicator of how bad their U.S. Shale assets were performing.  If we look at the right-hand side of the chart, BHP Billiton’s shale oil resources have become one hell of a drag on the company’s asset portfolio:

While BHP Billiton is enjoying a healthy positive Return On Capital Employed on most of its assets, shale oil resources are showing a negative return.  Furthermore, the company makes a note to above stating, “Detailed plans to improve, optimize or EXIT.”  I would bet my bottom Silver Dollar that their decision will end up “EXITING” the wonderful world of shale energy, with the sale of their assets for pennies on the dollar.

Moving down the list to the next shale company, we come to Chesapeake.  While Chesapeake is the country’s second-largest natural gas producer, the company has been losing money for more than a decade.  Unfortunately, the situation hasn’t improved for Chesapeake as its current financial statement reveals the company continues to burn through cash to produce its oil and gas:

Chesapeake’s net cash provided by its operating activities equaled $273 million for the first three-quarters of 2017.  However, the company spent a whopping $1,597 million on drilling and completion costs (CAPEX).  Thus, Chesapeake spent $1.3 billion more on producing its oil and natural gas Q1-Q3 2017 than it made from its operations.  Again, how is advanced technology making shale oil and gas more profitable?

If it weren’t for the asset sale of $1,193 million, Chesapeake would have needed to borrow that money to make up the difference.  Regrettably, selling assets to fortify one’s balance sheet isn’t a long-term viable business model.  There are only so many assets one can sell, and at some point, in the future, the market will realize those assets will have turned into worthless liabilities.

Okay, we finally come to the fifth largest player in the Eagle Ford…. Marathon Oil.  The situation at Marathon isn’t any better than the other companies drilling and producing oil in the Eagle Ford.  According to the companies third-quarter report, Marathon suffered a $600 million net income loss:

Again, we have another example of an energy company losing a lot of money producing shale oil and gas.  You will notice how high Marathon’s Depreciation, depletion, and amortization are in both the third-quarter and nine months ending on Sept 30th.  While some may believe this is just a tax write off for the company… it isn’t.  Due to the massive decline rate in producing shale oil and gas, PLEASE SEE the FIRST CHART ABOVE on the EAGLE FORD GROWTH OF ZERO, these companies have to write off these assets as it represents the BURNING of CASH.

For example, Marathon reported cash from operations of $1,487 million for Q3 2017.  However, it spent $1,305 million on CAPEX and $128 million on dividends for a total of $1,433 million.  Thus, Marathon actually enjoyed a small $53 million in positive free cash flow once dividends were deducted.  But, that is only part of the story.  If we go back to 2005 when the oil price as about the same as it is today, Marathon was reporting quarterly profits, not losses.

In the first quarter of 2005, Marathon earned a positive $324 million in net income.  It also reported a $258 million net income gain in 2004, even at a much lower oil price of $38 a barrel versus the $48-$50 during Q3 2017.  So, the Falling EROI – Energy Returned On Invested is killing the profitability of shale oil and gas companies today, whereas they were making profits just a decade ago.

Now, I didn’t provide any data on the other shale oil fields in the U.S., but production continues to increase in several regions, especially in the Permian.  However, one of the largest players in the Permian, Pioneer Resources, isn’t making any money either.  If we look at their financials, we can see that Pioneer continues to spend more money on CAPEX than they are receiving from cash from operations:

In all three quarters in 2017, Pioneer spent more money on capital expenditures than it made from its operating activities.  Pioneer spent $400 million more on CAPEX spending than from its operations for the first nine months of 2017 ending on Sept 30th.  So, here is just another example of a U.S. shale oil producer who partly responsible for the rising production in the Permian, but it still isn’t making any money.

Now, some investors or readers on my blog would say that the situation will get better when the oil price continues towards $60, $70 and then $80 a barrel.  Well, that would be nice, but I believe we are heading towards one hell of a market crash.  Even though some economic indicators are looking rosy, this market is being propped up by a massive amount of debt and the largest SHORT VIX trade in history.  When the markets start to go south as the massive VIX TRADE reverses… well, watch out below.

Thus, as the markets crash, the oil price will head down with it.  Unfortunately, this will be the final blow to the U.S. Shale Oil Ponzi Scheme and with it… the notion of Energy Independence forever.

Check back for new articles and updates at the SRSrocco Report.

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Canada Builds $300 Million Highway To Nowhere, But Is There A Hidden Agenda?

A new $300-million first of its kind ‘permanent’ highway will officially open in the Northwest Territories of Canada on Wednesday.

This will be the first time in Canada’s history that the national highway system will be linked to all coasts. The completion of the four-year project is said to connect the tiny Arctic coastal town of Tuktoyaktuk with the rest of the communities to provide better transportation for residents.

We think there could be another reason why Canada would build a highway to nowhere.

As explained by one citizen in the video below, the new route is called ‘road to resources’, it’s where major reserves of oil and gas reside, and at one time inaccessible due to poor infrastructure. 

The all-season 137-kilometer highway is the first of its kind that connects Inuvik to Hamlet of Tuktoyaktuk. The traditional route to Tuktoyaktuk involved ice roads in the winter, but as the seasons changed those roads were inaccessible. In the summer, the only way to travel north was by plane, which made it difficult to transport goods. The new road will be a game changer and its size indicates heavy machinery can be transported north, such as oil and gas platforms.

Darrel Nasogaluak, mayor of the Northwest Territories hamlet of Tuktoyaktuk, said the permanent road is “something that’s been on the community’s want list for 40 years.” Nasogaluak might want to take back that statement in a few years, as what we expect the Canadian government could flood the region with oil and gas exploration teams.

According to Yahoo Canada News, 

The idea of a Canadian arctic road has resurfaced periodically within different levels of government, but in 2013, the federal government committed to paying two-thirds of the $300-million cost as one of four Canada 150 signature infrastructure projects.

Tuktoyaktuk is located in the Inuvik Region of the Northwest Territories with 898 in total population.

According to the narrative that has been pitched by the Canadian government and press, the expanded roadways will serve as an economic lifeline to the region. Yes, this is true, but it will come at the expense of large corporations depleting natural resources.

This was once tried in the 1970s during the fuel crisis in the United States. Large corporations piled into the region in search of oil and natural gas. After the crisis, the cost of production became too expensive and oil and gas platforms were left offshore of Tuktoyaktuk.

Wally Schumann, N.W.T. Minister of Industry, Tourism and Investment, spoke with the Legislative Assembly of the Northwest Territories last month providing an outlook of extreme optimism of Canada’s first permanent road to the Arctic coast.

He also said, “progress to construct the Inuvik Tuktoyaktuk Highway is exciting to observe. Once complete, Northerners will have contributed to fulfilling a vision of Canada connected by road from coast-to-coast-to-coast”. Schumann’s eagerness to nation build a $300 million road to nowhere leaves us questioning: what is the real agenda at play?

For the residents of Tuktoyaktuk the road has been pitched as an economic savings of $1.5 million per year or $1,500 per citizen in transportation costs. Many in the area see what’s coming and have already started preparing for the economic boom as explained by CTVNews:

The local bed and breakfast has added rooms. Tuk is developing RV parking sites and public facilities such as toilets.

Doing the math: $300 million / 898 citizen of Tuktoyaktuk comes out to be around $334,000.00 per citizen.

That is an astonishing number the Canadian government is willing to spend on a town to nowhere, nevertheless help 898 citizens travel more economically in all four seasons.

We stand by our claim there is an underlying agenda in play and the Canadian government along with the corporations that follow are more interested in natural resource exploration.

 As we find out, CBC News confirms our thoughts:

The Inuvialuit Regional Corporation (IRC) is seeking federal funding to study the feasibility of developing gas fields along the Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk Highway.

 

The IRC has long known about the fields, and is hopeful the new highway and advancements in technology will make the gas reserves more economical.

 

The IRC represents Inuvialuit from the communities of Aklavik, Inuvik, Paulatuk, Sachs Harbour, Tuktoyaktuk, and Ulukhaktok, Northwest Territories.

Bottomline: Canada’s nation building involves building a very expensive road to nowhere, and we must fill in the blanks and understand the true agenda at play confirmed by CBC News is to ‘develop gas fields along Tuktoyaktuk Highway’…

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Are Electric Cars As Clean As They Seem?

Authored by Zainab Calcuttawala via OilPrice.com,

Tesla’s unveiling of its mass market Model 3 sparked a global interest in making electric vehicles the next big thing in automobile manufacturing. But can the category’s green agenda keep up with its metal and recycling needs?

The concept of bunking the traditional engine for a non-gas guzzling counterpart has been here for decades, but creating an ecosystem for battery charging and bringing vehicle costs down was a challenge for decades.

The sheer force of Elon Musk’s vision is building the infrastructure needed to sustain millions of electric cars in the United States, Europe, and elsewhere. Most major manufacturers have joined the enthusiasm to ditch old-school engines to construct the international fleet of tomorrow.

But this new step doesn’t solve all of the world’s environmental pollution issues related to transportation. The extraction of rare earth minerals, the disposal of lithium-ion batteries, and the sourcing of the energy that powers charging stations are all issues that plague the future of the green argument for electric vehicles.

As Wired notes in an article from last year, electric vehicles are most efficient when they’re light. That way, they need minimal energy to transport their valuable cargo. In search for a light material to carry and conduct batteries, scientists discovered the power of lithium – a highly conductive metal that adds little burden to the vehicle’s frame.

Discovered in 1817, this key ingredient is mostly extracted from deposits in the United States, Chile, and Australia. The most cost-effective method for lithium processing involves pumping salt-rich waters into special evaporation ponds that eventually produce lithium chloride. Then, a special plant adds sodium carbonate to turn the former lithium chloride into lithium carbonate, a white powder.

The whole process requires power, which more often than not is sourced from fossil fuels, not renewables or nuclear energy. This is similar to the issue electric-car charging stations face when evaluating the efficiency of their establishments in eliminating pollution from the environment. In most parts of the U.S., if the stations source their electricity from the grid, they’re just increasing demand for fossil fuels since coal, oil, and natural gas power the majority of the country anyway. Some states, like California, are obvious exceptions because of their heavy investments in green energy, but for the most part, the pattern holds.

Moreover, lithium batteries need proper facilities in order to be recycled once they reach the end of their lifespan. Tesla’s Gigafactory, which promises to produce the electric car manufacturer’s batteries in an environmentally conscious way, says it will lead a program to recycle the hardware responsibly.

“The challenge that we have with recycling these rare metals is enormous,” author David Abraham, from The Elements of Power, says, “because the products that we have now use metals in such a small quantity that it’s not economic to recycle.”

But larger batteries should make a more convincing argument to start responsive recycling programs. Reusing the metal resources in these devices will lower the emissions and mining of rare minerals from the planet, paving the way for a healthier environmental report for future electric vehicles.

“The more batteries that are out there, in various devices, the more interest there is in figuring out how to recycle them or to recapture rare earth metals [from them],” electric car advocate Chelsea Sexton told Wired.

It truly has become a demand issue. As electric cars become increasingly popular, more services will be needed to deal with their production and disposal, accelerating the development of the vehicle category’s branding as the technology of tomorrow’s green Earth.

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Northeast Facing Record-Low Temperatures As Polar Vortex Returns; Nat Gas Prices Soar 700%

The return of the dreaded polar vortex is battering much of the eastern US this week, sending temperatures well into freezing territory and close to record lows – a phenomenon that could persist for much of the week leading up to Thanksgiving.

According to the New York Post, record-low temperatures are forecast for Friday and Saturday, with nighttime and early-morning mercury dipping into the 20s.

The temperature dropped into the 20s in some places in the northeast last night, and could sink as low as 21 degrees fahrenheit on Saturday, according to AccuWeather forecasts.

The record low for November 10 was 27 degrees in 1914. The high Saturday will be 37 to 43 degrees – up from the predawn low of about 24 degrees. The record low for November 11 was 29 degrees, set in 1933.

The forecast calls for 50 degrees on Monday, setting off eight straight days with high temps of at least 50, AccuWeather said.

The forecasting service added that signs are pointing toward a shift of the polar vortex that may cause snow, rain and other hazardous weather conditions like icy roads in some parts of the Northeast.

Right now, a cold snap is bringing an abrupt November reality check to most of the eastern US that will persist for the rest of the Veterans’ Day weekend. As Accuweather explains, the weather pattern will become even more interesting later in the week because it will feature a meteorological phenomenon called “the Greenland block”.

This pattern consists of relatively high pressure wind pattern near greenland that forces the polar jet stream to move sharply south toward the eastern US.

"Model forecasts have been pretty consistent and increasingly strong with the -NAO," said Dr. Todd Crawford, chief meteorologist with the Weather Company, an IBM Business.

Crawford said the strength of this upcoming Greenland block/negative NAO would be about a "90th percentile event for late November.” In early to mid-November, it’s far more rare.

 

 

The first snow.

A post shared by ??? (@jinyanran927) on

Nov 10, 2017 at 10:10am PST

 

While the pattern is of relatively high confidence, there are some impacts we're more confident about and others that remain uncertain this far out in time.

One near certainty in this pattern is another series of plunges of colder air deep into the Midwest and East by the weekend before Thanksgiving.

If the weather pattern holds, it’d be impossible to rule out a powerful snowstorm arriving just in time for the Thanksgiving travel season. Indeed, snow is already falling in the Chicago area.

However, none of this is certain – yet. It’s merely just something to keep an eye on, Accuweather’s meteorologists said.

* * *

The unseasonably cold weather is, of course, another boon for the energy market, with natural gas prices in New England soaring 700% this week as refineries braced for the uptick in demand.

According to Accuweather, the heating season is starting off with a frigid start, which has boosted prices of spot gas for Boston and other cities in the region eightfold this week to $8.0195 per million British thermal units Thursday on ICE, their highest level since Jan. 6. Regional power prices also jumped. Boston's low on Friday was around 20 degrees Fahrenheit – 17 degrees below normal.

 

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“Lull Before The Storm” – Will China Bring An Energy-Debt Crisis?

Authored by Gail Tverberg via Our Finite World blog,

It is easy for those of us in the West to overlook how important China has become to the world economy, and also the limits it is reaching. The two big areas in which China seems to be reaching limits are energy production and debt. Reaching either of these limits could eventually cause a collapse.

China is reaching energy production limits in a way few would have imagined. As long as coal and oil prices were rising, it made sense to keep drilling. Once fuel prices started dropping in 2014, it made sense to close unprofitable coal mines and oil wells. The thing that is striking is that the drop in prices corresponds to a slowdown in the wage growth of Chinese urban workers. Perhaps rapidly rising Chinese wages have been playing a significant role in maintaining high world “demand” (and thus prices) for energy products. Low Chinese wage growth thus seems to depress energy prices.

(Shown as Figure 5, below). China’s percentage growth in average urban wages. Values for 1999 based on China Statistical Yearbook data regarding the number of urban workers and their total wages. The percentage increase for 2016 was based on a Bloomberg Survey.

The debt situation has arisen because feedback loops in China are quite different from in the US. The economic system is set up in a way that tends to push the economy toward ever more growth in apartment buildings, energy installations, and factories. Feedbacks do indeed come from the centrally planned government, but they are not as immediate as feedbacks in the Western economic system. Thus, there is a tendency for a bubble of over-investment to grow. This bubble could collapse if interest rates rise, or if China reins in growing debt.

China’s Oversized Influence in the World

China plays an oversized role in the world’s economy. It is the world’s largest energy consumer, and the world’s largest energy producer. Recently, it has become the world’s largest importer of both oil and of coal.

In some sense, China is the world’s largest economy. Usually we see China referred to as the world’s second largest economy, based on GDP converted to US dollars. Economists use an approach called GDP (PPP) (where PPP is Purchasing Power Parity) when computing world GDP growth. When this approach is used, China is the world’s largest economy. The United States is second largest, and India is third.

Figure 1. World’s largest economies, based on energy consumption and GDP based on Purchasing Power Parity. Energy Consumption is from BP Statistical Review of World Energy, 2017; GDP on PPP Basis is from the World Bank.

Besides being (in some sense) the world’s largest economy, China is also a country with a very significant amount of debt. The government of China has traditionally somewhat guaranteed the debt of Chinese debtors. There is even a practice of businesses guaranteeing each other’s debt. Thus, it is hard to compare China’s debt to the debt level elsewhere. Some analyses suggest that its debt level is extraordinarily high.

How China’s Growth Spurt Started

Figure 2. China’s energy consumption, based on data from BP Statistical Review of World Energy, 2017.

From Figure 2, it is clear that something very dramatic happened to China’s coal consumption about 2002. China joined the World Trade Organization in December 2001, and immediately afterward, its coal consumption soared.

Countries in the OECD, whether they had signed the 1997 Kyoto Protocol or not, suddenly became interested in reducing their own greenhouse gas emissions. If they could outsource manufacturing to China, they would be able to reduce their reported CO2 emissions.

Besides reducing reported CO2 emissions, outsourcing manufacturing to China had two other benefits:

  • The goods being manufactured in China would be cheaper, allowing Americans, Europeans, and Japanese to buy more goods. If more “stuff” makes people happy, citizens should be happier.
  • Businesses would suddenly have a new market in China. Perhaps the people of China would start buying goods made elsewhere.

Of course, a major downside of moving jobs to China and other Asian nations was the likelihood of fewer jobs elsewhere.

Figure 3. US Labor Force Participation Rate, as prepared by Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.

In the early 2000s, when China started competing actively for jobs, the share of people in the US workforce started shrinking. The drop-off in labor force participation did not level out until mid-2014. This is about when world oil prices began to fall, and, as we will see in the next section, when China’s growth in average wages began to fall.

Another downside to moving jobs to China was more CO2 emissions on a worldwide basis, even if emissions remained somewhat lower locally. CO2 emissions on imported goods were not “counted against” a country in its CO2 calculations.

Figure 4. World carbon dioxide emissions, split between China and Rest of the World, based on BP Statistical Review of World Energy, 2017.

At some point, we should not be surprised if countries elsewhere start pushing back against the globalization that allowed China’s rapid growth. In some sense, China has lived in an artificial growth bubble for many years. When this artificial growth bubble ends, it will be much harder for China’s debtors to repay debt with interest.

China’s Rapid Wage Growth Stopped in 2014

Rising wages are important for making China’s growth possible. With rising wages, workers can increasingly afford the apartments that are being built for them. They can also increasingly afford consumer goods of many kinds, and they can easily repay debts taken out earlier. The catch, however, is that wage growth cannot get ahead of productivity growth, or the price of goods will become too expensive on the world market. If this happens, China will have difficulty selling its goods to others.

China’s wage growth seems to have slowed remarkably, starting in 2014.

Figure 5. China’s percent growth in average urban wages. Values for 1999 based on China Statistical Yearbook data regarding the number of urban workers and their total wages. The percentage increase for 2016 was estimated based on a Bloomberg Survey.

This is when China discovered that its high wage increases were making it uncompetitive with the outside world. Wage growth needed to be reined in. Its growth in productivity was no longer sufficient to support such large wage increases.

China’s Growth in Energy Consumption Also Slowed About 2014 

If we look at the annual growth in total energy consumption and electricity consumption, we see that by 2014 to 2016, their growth had slowed remarkably (Figure 6). Their growth pattern was starting to resemble the slow growth pattern of much of the rest of the world. Energy growth allows an economy to increasingly leverage the labor of its workforce with more energy-powered “tools.” With low energy growth, it should not be surprising if productivity growth lags. With low productivity growth, we can expect low wage growth.

Figure 6. China’s growth in consumption of total energy and of electricity based on data from BP Statistical Review of World Energy, 2017.

It is possible that the increased rate of electricity consumption in 2016 is related to China’s program of housing migrant workers in unsalable apartments that took place at that time. The fact that these apartments were otherwise unsalable was no doubt influenced by the slowing growth in wages.

This decrease in energy consumption most likely occurred because the price of China’s energy mix was becoming increasingly expensive. For one thing, the mix included a growing share of oil, and oil was expensive. The proportion of coal in the mix was falling, and the replacements were more expensive than coal. There was also the issue of the general increase in fossil fuel prices.

Lower Wage Growth in China Likely Affected Fossil Fuel Prices

Affordability is the big issue with respect to how high fossil fuel prices can rise. The issue is not just buying the oil or coal or natural gas itself; it is also being able to afford the goods made with these fuels, such as food, clothing, appliances, and apartments. If wages were depressed in the developed countries because of moving production to China, then rising wages in China (and other similar countries, such as India and the Philippines) must somehow offset this problem, if fossil fuel prices are to remain high enough for extraction to continue.

Figures 7 and 8 (below) show that oil, natural gas, and coal prices all started to slide, right about the time China’s urban wages growth began shrinking (shown in Figure 5).

Figure 7. Oil and natural gas prices, based on BP Statistical Review of World Energy data.

Figure 8. Coal prices between 2000 and 2016 from BP Statistical Review of World Energy. Chinese coal is China Qinhuangdao spot price and Japanese coal is Japan Steam import cif price, both per ton.

The lower recent increases made China’s urban wage growth look more like that of the US and Europe. Thus, in 2014 and later, Chinese urban wages present much less of a “push” on the growth of the world economy than they had previously. Without this push of rising wages, it becomes much harder for the world economy to grow very rapidly, and for it to have a very high inflation rate. There is simply not enough buying power to push prices very high.

It might be noted that the average Chinese urban wage increases shown previously in Figure 5 are not inflation adjusted. Thus, in some sense, they include whatever margin is available for inflation in prices as well as the margin that is available for a greater quantity of purchased goods. Because of this, these low wage increases may help explain the recent lack of inflation in much of the world.

Quite likely, there are other issues besides China’s urban wage growth affecting world (and local) energy prices, but this factor is probably more important than most people would expect.

Can low prices bring about “Peak Coal” and “Peak Oil”?

What does a producer do in response to suddenly lower market prices–prices that are too low to encourage more production?

This seems to vary, depending on the situation. In the case of coal production in China, a decision was made to close many of the coal plants that had suddenly become unprofitable, thanks to lower coal prices. No doubt pollution being caused by these plants entered into this decision, as well. So did the availability of other coal elsewhere (but probably at higher prices), if it is ever needed. The result of this voluntary closure of coal plants in response to low prices caused the drop in coal production shown in Figure 8, below.

Figure 8. China’s energy production, based on data from BP Statistical Review of World Energy, 2017.

It is my belief that this is precisely the way we should expect peak coal (or peak oil or peak natural gas) to take place. The issue is not that we “run out” of any of these fuels. It is that the coal mines and oil and gas wells become unprofitable because wages do not rise sufficiently to cover the fossil fuels’ higher cost of extraction.

We should note that China has also cut back on its oil production, in response to low prices. EIA data shows that China’s 2016 oil production dropped about 6.9% compared to 2015. The first seven months of 2017 seems to have dropped by another 4.2%. So China’s oil is also showing what we would consider to be a “peak oil” response. The price is too low to make production profitable, so it has decided that it is more cost-effective to import oil from elsewhere.

In the real world, this is the way energy limits are reached, as far as we can see. Economists have not figured out how the system works. They somehow believe that energy prices can rise ever higher, even if wages do not. The mismatch between prices and wages can be covered for a while by more government spending and by more debt, but eventually, energy prices must fall below the cost of production, at least for some producers. These producers voluntarily give up production; this is what causes “Peak Oil” or “Peak Coal” or “Peak Natural Gas.”

Why China’s Debt System Reaches Limits Differently Than Those in the West

Let me give you my understanding regarding how the Chinese system works. Basically, the system is gradually moving from (1) a system in which the government owns all land and most businesses to (2) a system with considerable individual ownership.

Back in the days when the government owned most businesses and all land, farmers farmed the land to which they were assigned. Businesses often provided housing as part of an individual’s “pay package.” These homes typically had a shared outhouse for a bathroom facility. They may or may not have had electricity. There was relatively little debt to the system, because there was little individual ownership.

In recent years, especially after joining the World Trade Organization in 2001, there has been a shift to more businesses of the types operated in the West, and to more individual home ownership, with mortgages.

The economy acts rather differently than in the West. While the economy is centrally planned in Beijing, quite a bit of the details are left to individual local governments. Local heads of state make decisions that seem to be best based on the issues they are facing. These may or may not match up with what Beijing central planning intended.

Historically, Five-Year Plans have provided GDP growth targets to the various lower-level heads of state. The pay and promotions of these local leaders have depended on their ability to meet (or exceed) their GDP goals. These goals did not have any debt limits attached, so local leaders could choose to use as much debt as they wanted.

A major consideration of these local leaders was that they also had responsibility for jobs for people in their area. This responsibility further pushed them to aim high in the amount of development they sought.

Another related issue is that sales of formerly agricultural land for apartments and other development are a major source of revenue for local governments. Local leaders did not generally have enough tax revenue for programs, without supplementing their tax revenue with funds obtained from selling land for development. This further pushed local leaders to add development, whether it was really needed or not.

The very great power of local heads of state and their administrators made these leaders tempting targets for bribery. Entrepreneur had a chance of getting projects approved for development, with a bribe to the right person. There has been a recent drive to eliminate this practice.

We have often heard the comment, “A rising tide raises all boats.” When the West decided to discourage local industrialization because of CO2 concerns, it gave a huge push to China’s economy. Almost any project could be successful. In such an environment, local rating agencies could be very generous in their ratings of proposed new bond offerings, because practically any project would be likely to succeed.

Furthermore, without many private businesses, there was little history of past defaults. What little experience was available suggested the possibility of few future defaults. Wages had been rising very rapidly, making individual loans easy to repay. What could go wrong?

With the central government perceived to be in control, it seemed to make sense for one governmental organization to guarantee the loans of other governmental organizations. Businesses often guaranteed the loans of other businesses as well.

Why the Chinese System Errs in the Direction of Overdevelopment

In the model of development we are used to in the West, there are feedback loops if too much of anything is built–apartment buildings (sold as condominiums), coal mines, electricity generating capacity, solar panels, steel mills, or whatever else.

In China, these feedback loops don’t work nearly as well. Instead of the financial system automatically “damping out” the overcapacity, the state (or perhaps a corrupt public official) figures out some way around what seems to be a temporary problem. To understand how the situation is different, let’s look at three examples:

Apartments. China has had a well-publicized problem of  building way too many apartments. In about 2016, this problem seems to have been mostly fixed by local governments providing subsidies to migrant workers so that they can afford to buy homes. Of course, where the local governments get this money, and for how long they can afford to pay these stipends, are open questions. It is also not clear that this arrangement is leading to a much-reduced supply of new homes, because cities need both the revenue from land sales and the jobs resulting from building more units.

Figure 9 shows one view of the annual increase in Chinese house prices, despite the oversupply problem. If this graph is correct, prices have increased remarkably in 2017, suggesting some type of stimulus has been involved this year to keep the property bubble growing. The size of an apartment a typical worker can now afford is very small, so this endless price run-up must end somewhere.

Figure 9. Chinese house price graph from GlobalPropertyGuide.com.

Coal-Fired Power Plants. With all of the problems that China has with pollution, a person might expect that China would stop building coal-fired power plants. Instead, the solution of local governments has been to build additional power plants that are more efficient and less polluting. The result is significant overcapacity, in total.

May 2017 article says that because of this overcapacity problem, Beijing is forcing every coal-fired power plant to run at the same utilization rate, which is approximately 47.7 % of total capacity. A Bloomberg New Energy Finance article estimates that at year-end 2016, the “national power oversupply” was 35%, considering all types of generation together. (This is likely an overestimate; the authors did not consider the flexibility of generation.)

Beijing is aware of the overcapacity problem, and is cancelling or delaying a considerable share of coal-fired capacity that is in the pipeline. The plan is to limit total coal-fired capacity to 1,100 gigawatts in 2020. China’s current coal-fired generating capacity seems to be 943 gigawatts, suggesting that as much as a 16% increase could still be added by 2020, even with planned cutbacks.

It is not clear what happens to the loans associated with all of the capacity that has been cancelled or delayed. Do these loans default? If “normal” feedbacks of lower prices had been allowed to play out, it is doubtful that such a large amount of overcapacity would have been added.

If China’s overall growth rate slows to a level more similar to that of other economies, it will have a huge amount of generation that it doesn’t need. This adds a very large debt risk, it would seem.

Wind and Solar. If we believe Darien Ma, author of “The Answer, Comrade, Is Not Blowing in the Wind,” there is less to Beijing’s seeming enthusiasm for renewables than meets the eye.

According to Ma, China’s solar industry was built with the idea of having a product that could be exported. It was only in 2013 when Western countries launched trade suits and levied tariffs that China decided to use a substantial number of these devices itself, saving the country from the embarrassment of having many of these producers go bankrupt. How this came about is not entirely certain, but the administrator in charge of wind and solar additions was later fired for accepting bribes, and responsibility for such decisions moved higher up the chain of authority.

Figure 10. China current view of solar investment risk in China. Chart by Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

Ma also reports, “Officials say that they want ‘healthy, orderly development,’ which is basically code for reining in the excesses in a renewable sector that has become yet another emblem of irrational exuberance.”

According to Ma, the Chinese National Energy Administration has figured out that wind and solar are still about 1.5 and 2.5 times more expensive, respectively, than coal-fired power. This fact dampens their enthusiasm for the use of these types of generation. China plans to phase out subsidies for them by 2020, in light of this issue. Ma expects that there will still be some wind and solar in China’s energy mix, but that natural gas will be the real winner in the search for cleaner electricity production.

Viewed one way, we are looking at yet another way Chinese officials have avoided closing Chinese businesses because the marketplace did not seek their products. Thus, the usual cycle of bankruptcies, with loan defaults, has not taken place. This issue makes China’s total electricity generating capacity even more excessive, and reduces the profitability of the overall system.

Conclusion

We have shown how low wages and low energy prices seem to be connected. When prices are too low, some producers, including China, make a rational decision to cut back on production. This seems to be the true nature of the “Peak Coal” and “Peak Oil” problem. Because China is reacting in a rational way to lower prices, its production is falling. China is already the largest importer of oil and coal. If there is a shortfall elsewhere, China will be affected.

We have also given several examples of how the current system has been able to avoid defaults on loans. The issue is that these problems don’t really go away; they get hidden, and get bigger and bigger. At some point, all of the manipulations by government officials cannot hide the problem of way too many apartments, or of way too much electricity generating capacity, or of way too many factories of all kinds. The postponed debt collapse is likely to be much bigger than if market forces had been allowed to bring about earlier bankruptcies and facility closures.

Chinese officials are now talking about reining in the growth of debt. There is also discussion by heads of Central Banks about raising interest rates and selling QE securities (something which would also tend to raise interest rates). China will be very vulnerable to rising interest rates, because of stresses that have been allowed to build up in the system. For example, many mortgage holders will not be able to afford the new higher monthly payments if rates rise. If interest rates rise, factories will find it even harder to be profitable. Some may reduce staff levels, to try to reach profitability. If this is done, it will tend to push the system toward recession.

We likely now are in the lull before the storm. There are many things that could push China toward an energy or debt crisis. China is so big that the rest of the world is likely to also be affected.

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Trump Slams China For Unfair Trade But Praises XI, Blames Predecessors; Unveils $250BN In Deals

President Trump held a press conference with one of the most powerful people in the world and the event was…  underwhelming. It didn’t last long, the two stood fairly far apart at their lecterns and afterwards ignored questions from reporters (presumably in case one asked Xi about press freedoms again). In brief, we were informed about improving Sino-US relations, progress being made on the trade balance and co-operation on the North Korean issue and both leaders said it was a great success. On another sensitive subject, Xi’s asserted that the Pacific Ocean is big enough for both countries.

Here is how the press conference was characterised by the South China Morning Post (SCMP).

Trade and North Korea predictably topped the bill, but they also discussed security cooperation and the relationship between their citizens. The joint press conference lasted less than 15 minutes, with both leaders staying on-script to speak about further cooperation on a range of bilateral issues, from security on the Korean peninsula to Sino-US trade tensions. Both heralded the trip as a success. The joint press conference ends, with both leaders ignoring shouted questions from reporters. Journalists were told ahead of the conference that they would not be allowed to ask questions, after a New York Times reporter embarrassed Xi during Barack Obama’s 2014 visit with a question about press freedom in China.

In one of the more memorable statements by Trump, the US President said China is taking advantage of American workers and American companies with unfair trade practices, but he blamed his predecessors in the White House rather than China for allowing the massive U.S. trade deficit to grow.

“Right now, unfortunately, it is a very one-sided and unfair [relationship]. But – but – I don’t blame China. After all, who can blame a country for taking advantage of another country for the benefit of its own citizens? I give China great credit. But in actuality I do blame past administrations for allowing this out of control trade deficit to take place and to grow. We have to fix this because it just doesn’t work … it is just not sustainable.”

Speaking alongside President Xi Jinping on Thursday at a briefing in Beijing, Trump’s words were in contrast to what he said was a "very good chemistry" between the two leaders as they announced $250 billion in investment deals, many of which came in the form of tentative agreements

Below are some of the “key” moments from SCMPs live feed during this underwhelming press conference.

  • Xi says Trump’s China trip is a success, and China is willing to further promote the development of Sino-US relations
  • Xi said it is necessary to have continued in-depth of discussion on trade and lessen restrictions on the investment environment.
  • Xi says the two also discussed the need to strengthen United Nations peacekeeping operations, as well as joint counter-terrorism efforts in places such as the Middle East and Afghanistan.
  • Xi tells the press conference he has told Trump that The Pacific Ocean is big enough to accommodate both China and the United States.
  • Xi says he explained the outcome of the recently concluded Communist Party congress to Trump.
  • Trump thanks Xi for the welcoming ceremony this morning, describing the Forbidden City as “majestic.”
  • “Your people are also very proud of you,” Trump said, as he congratulates Xi for the “successful” 19th party congress last month.
  • Trump said he looks forward to building an “even stronger relationship” between China and the US, as well as further exchanges between the people of their nations.
  • Trump said the two discussed bilateral trade issues such as forced technology transfers, market access, and the “chronic imbalance” in trade.
  • On North Korea, Trump says China has agreed to step up economic pressure until the Kim regime gives up its nuclear ambitions.

The subject of North Korea had seen Trump at his most firm with his Chinese hosts earlier in the day, as The Guardian reports.

“But time is quickly running out. We must act fast, and hopefully China will act faster and more effectively on this problem than anyone…China can fix this problem easily and quickly and I am calling on China and your great president to hopefully work on it very hard. I know one thing about your president: if he works on it hard it will happen. There is no doubt about it.”

The main focus, however, was always going to be the trade issue. What surprised us was Trump’s about turn on blaming China for the trade deficit, to blaming previous governments in his own country. Perhaps he was simply overwhelmed by the (apparent) warmth of the welcome he received from Xi and the rest of the Chinese leadership.

Excuse our cynicism, but we suspect that the Chinese appreciated that Trump would need something to “show” (or tweet) on the trade issue…and that’s what he was given. The highlight of Trump’s visit to Beijing, which is grabbing the headlines, is obviously the $253 billion of trade deals (see below) which were signed during Trump’s visit. With Trump having spent the best part of two years, before and after his election, lambasting China for the trade deficit, Xi played “Mr Nice Guy” on trade. Indeed, this is precisely what we expected, see our preview of Trump’s visit “Will Xi Offer Trump A Small Victory On Trade As Cover For His Longer-Term Ambitions” here.  However, as the BBC noted.

They also announced the signing of $250bn (£190bn) worth of business deals during Mr Trump's visit, although it is unclear how much of that figure is past deals being re-announced or simply the potential for future deals.

Bloomberg was equally sceptical.

The White House has unveiled a slew of agreements with China as President Donald Trump seeks to address an imbalance in trade. While Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross boasted a total of $250 billion in business deals, it’s unclear how one gets to that figure. Many of them weren’t broken out into separate valuations, while a large number were in the form of nonbinding memoranda of understanding or involved agreements with existing Chinese partners.

As we noted in our preview and still stand by.

…our suspicion is that Xi’s plan is to offer a “victory” to Trump with regard to reducing the trade gap, but only a small one. Meanwhile, China will continue with its longer-term “Mackinder-esque” plan to integrate the Eurasian continent via its “One Belt, One Road Plan” and undermine the dollar by accumulating gold and steadily increasing non-dollar trade. If it wasn’t for the small matter of China’s horrendous credit bubble, the US would have an even weaker hand.

Below Bloomberg looks into the $253 billion of trade deals and tries to make sense of the winners and losers.

The White House has unveiled a slew of agreements with China as President Donald Trump seeks to address an imbalance in trade. While Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross boasted a total of $250 billion in business deals, getting to that figure may require some fuzzy math. Many of the deals weren’t broken out into separate valuations, while a large number were in the form of non-binding memoranda of understanding or involved agreements with existing Chinese partners.

 

Boeing Co.’s $37 billion aircraft order consists mostly of previously agreed deals, according to officials with knowledge of the matter. An agreement involving Cheniere Energy Inc. was presented at the signing ceremony as worth $11 billion, though neither company involved announced the value. Other pacts are stretched over lengthy periods, such as a 20-year shale gas and chemical project in West Virginia.

Still, the wave of deals signals the potential for an easing of tensions between the two countries, in addition to an increase in trade for products ranging from helicopters to beef. Here are highlights of what’s been disclosed so far:

  • Energy

Alaska Gasline Development Corp.: a joint agreement to advance a liquefied natural gas project in Alaska, involving the state of Alaska, Sinopec, China Investment Corp. and Bank of China Ltd. The project has been in discussion for years, and Alaska Gasline applied for federal approval for the development in April. Exxon Mobil Corp., ConocoPhillips, BP Plc and TransCanada Corp. have been involved in the effort, but have distanced themselves since estimating in 2012 that it would cost as much as $65 billion and take more than a decade to construct.

Air Products & Chemicals Inc.: the industrial gases company and state-owned Yankuang Group Co. intend to form a joint venture to build and operate an air separation, gasification and syngas clean-up system for a $3.5 billion coal-to-syngas production facility. Air Products is currently a supplier to the first phase of the project. Earlier this year, Air Products scrapped its plan to acquire China’s Yingde Gases Group Co. after a private-equity firm swooped in.

  • Transportation

Boeing: China Aviation Supplies Holding Co. agreed to buy 300 aircraft worth about $37 billion before discounts that are customary in the industry for large orders. Boeing didn’t disclose how many are new orders. The state has previously placed large orders through a centralized buyer before dividing them up among its airlines and leasing companies. Chinese airlines have been on a plane-buying spree amid a projection for the country to overtake the U.S. as the largest air-travel market possibly in as soon as in five years.

General Electric Co.: Juneyao Airlines ordered GEnx engines for its Boeing 787 fleet and ICBC Leasing ordered LEAP-1B engines for Boeing 737 MAX aircraft. The list prices for the two deals totaled $2.5 billion. GE also said it signed a cooperation agreement with China Datang Group to provide the Chinese company with gas turbines and other products and services.

Honeywell International Inc.: contract with Spring Airlines Co., the Chinese budget carrier that flies over 130 routes with a fleet of Airbus A320 planes. The U.S. company is a supplier for the C919, a new single-aisle plane being produced by state-owned Commercial Aircraft Corp. of China Ltd.

Bell Helicopter: the subsidiary of Textron Inc. signed an agreement to sell 50 of its helicopters to Reignwood International Investment Group Co. The company had already ordered 60 choppers, according to Bell Helicopter.

Ford Motor Co.: Ford gave financial details of an electric-vehicle alliance with China’s Anhui Zotye Automobile Co. that was first announced in August. The companies will invest 5 billion yuan ($754 million) to develop the cars they’ll sell under a new brand unique to the Chinese market. Ford has said at least 70 percent of its own Ford-brand vehicles sold in China will offer electric or hybrid propulsion by 2025.

  • Agriculture

Beef and Pork: JD.com Inc. agreed to buy $1.2 billion of beef from the Montana Stock Growers Association and pork from Smithfield Foods Inc. over the next three years, as part of a deal by the Chinese online retailer to import $2 billion of U.S. goods over that period.

The beef portion, about $200 million, would signal a big increase in the appetite for red meat among Chinese consumers, as shipments remain low due to the limited supply that meets requirements. According to China’s Customs General Administration, the country imported 2.3 billion yuan of beef last year.

The pork deal may not be much help creating jobs at Smithfield’s U.S. factories: The company can’t sell made-in-America sausage, ham and bacon to Chinese consumers because China prohibits imports of processed meat, CEO Kenneth Sullivan said in an interview in March. Smithfield parent WH Group opened an 800 million-yuan factory in central China in 2015 to produce American-style packaged meat products.

Archer-Daniels-Midland Co.: memorandum of understanding with state-owned COFCO Group for the export of U.S. soybeans into China.

  • Financial

Goldman Sachs Group Inc.: China’s sovereign wealth fund and Goldman Sachs announced a fund to help invest as much as $5 billion in American companies that have existing or potential business connections with China. State-backed China Investment Corp.’s role in the fund could complicate investments in American companies, after the Trump administration in September rejected a China-led takeover of a U.S. chipmaker on national-security grounds. Moreover, Goldman Sachs may only be able to contribute 3 percent of the fund because of U.S. rules regarding banks’ private-equity investments.

  • Technology

Qualcomm Inc.: non-binding MOUs with Chinese smartphone vendors Xiaomi, Oppo and Vivo – all of them current customers – to sell approximately $12 billion in semiconductors over three years. The San Diego-based chip company’s China sales of $14.6 billion accounted for 65 percent of its revenue for the fiscal year ended Sept. 24.

  • Industrial

DowDuPont Inc.: memorandum of understanding between Dow Chemical and Beijing Mobike Technology Co. to cooperate on developing lighter-weight and more environmentally friendly bicycles. The two companies began working together last year, the official China Daily reported Tuesday.

Caterpillar Inc.: cooperative framework agreement with newly formed China Energy Investment Corp. — a combination of Shenhua Group Corp., the nation’s largest coal miner, and China Guodian Corp., one of its top-five power generators. The pact “outlines future agreements” for sales and rentals of Caterpillar mining equipment and other products and services, the U.S. company said in a statement. Honeywell International: an MOU with Oriental Energy Co. to cooperate on five propane dehydrogenation projects in Chinese cities. Honeywell announced in May that two Oriental Energy subsidiaries had licensed its technology to begin producing propylene.

 

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Wilbur Ross Responds To Accusations He Hid Ties To Putin-Linked Firm

After the latest offshore tax investigative bombshell called the “Paradise Papers” – a sequel to last year’s Panama Papers – revealed yesterday that Trump’s Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross had indirect business ties with two Russian oligarchs, as well as Vladimir Putin’s son-in-law, the secretary who has found himself in hot water over more alleged backroom deals with Russia, rebutted those claims and told CNBC that he was totally transparent about his holdings, and all pertinent disclosures were made on his version of Form 278, the main financial disclosure form for the executive branch.

“That’s totally wrong. It was disclosed on the form 278 which is the financial disclosure form, in my case, three times,” Ross said. He also told a reporter that “the fact that (Sibur) happens to be called a Russian company does not mean there’s any evil in it,” Reuters reported. The millions of documents mostly originate from a Bermuda-based legal services provider that works on offshore investments.

“A company not under sanction is just like any other company, period. It was a normal commercial relationship and one that I had nothing to do with the creation of, and do not know the shareholders who were apparently sanctioned at some later point in time,” Ross told CNBC.

One of SIBUR’s owners is Gennady Timchenko, a Russian billionaire who is considered part of Putin’s inner circle, according to NBC. Since 2014, Timchenko has been barred by the Treasury Department from entering the United States, according to the news agency. A second SIBUR owner is another Putin associate, Leonid Mikhelson, whose other company, Novatek, was placed on Treasury sanctions list in 2014, NBC noted. A third shareholder in SIBUR, and its deputy chairman, is Kirill Shamalov, husband of Vladimir Putin’s daughter, Katerina Tikhonova, the BBC reported.

Separately, Sibur said on Monday that it had no direct dealings with Wilbur Ross and that its ties to its partners were not in breach of sanctions imposed on Russia over the Ukraine crisis as they’ve made all necessary checks for any possible sanctions violations and none were found. In a statement, the Russian company  said that in the first half of this year, Sibur spent $15.9 million on services provided by Navigator, or 2.8% of Sibur’s overall expenditure on logistics. It said Navigator was never a sole contractor for shipping Sibur’s petrochemical products.

More from the statement:

All negotiations and meetings were held solely by Sibur management and solely with management of those companies (which were shipping Sibur’s liquefied petroleum gas) and without shareholders’ involvement. In connection with the introduction in 2014 of sanctions with regard to one of the company’s shareholders, our counter-parties conducted all necessary checks into whether there were any restrictions on working with Sibur. No such restrictions were found. Sibur expresses its surprise at the politically-charged interpretation in certain media publications of regular commercial activities, over many years, which from the outset were reflected in the company’s published accounts.

The Paradise Paper leaks revealed Ross has investments in Navigator Holdings, which earns millions a year transporting oil and gas for Sibur. Two major Sibur shareholders have been sanctioned by the US: Russian billionaire Gennady Timchenko, who has at least 12 companies connected to him. The Russian natural gas company, Novatek, belonging to Leonid Mikhelson. Another key Sibur shareholder is President Vladimir Putin’s son-in-law, Kirill Shamalov, who holds a 3.9% stake in the firm. And while Kirill isn’t subject to sanctions, his father, Nikolai, is. The US imposed sanctions on Russia after pro-Russian forces helpd annex Crimea in 2014. Others were imposed in the waning days of the Obama presidency amid mass hysteria surrounding Russia’s attempts to allegedly hack the US election – a narrative that is still unfolding.

Initial reports about the Paradise Papers claimed that Ross didn’t disclose to Congress the full details of his holdings before he was confirmed in late February. According to the leaks, he retains a financial interest in Navigator Holdings via a number of companies in the Cayman Islands, some of which he did disclose at the time of his confirmation.

For his part, Ross has denied reports that he failed to make the necessary disclosures before Congress.

The ties were disclosed in the so-called “Paradise Papers,” a mass of documents leaked to German newspaper Suddeutsche Zeitung and reported Sunday. Zeitung, along with the ICIJ and a handful of other newspapers around the globe, helped disseminate reports about the Panama Papers in early 2016 after a reporter at Zeitung was leaked a massive trove of documents from an unnamed source.

Ross dismissed any suggestion that he considered resigning from his position as commerce secretary when the news broke Sunday night. “No, that is a silly question. There is nothing wrong with anything that was done,” Ross said.

* * *

Responding to the documents, the U.S. Department of Commerce said in an initial statement Sunday that Ross “was not involved with Navigator’s decision to engage in business with SIBUR, a publicly-traded company, which was not under sanction at the time and is not currently.”

“Moreover, Secretary Ross has never met the Sibur shareholders referenced in this story and, until now, did not know of their relationship,” the statement said, adding: “The Secretary recuses himself from matters focused on transoceanic shipping vessels, but has been supportive of the Administration’s sanctions against Russian and other entities.”

Read Ross’s Form 278 below:

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Paradise Papers: Massive New Leak Exposes Tax-Haven Secrets, Links Wilbur Ross To Russia

One year after the Panama Papers revealed billions in assets are held in offshore "tax haven" accounts by some of the world's most powerful and wealthy individuals, on Sunday a huge new leak of financial documents disclosed by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) – a global network that won the Pulitzer Prize this year for its work on the Panama Papers – and its 94 media partners has revealed how the powerful and ultra-wealthy, including the Queen's private estate, secretly invest vast amounts of cash in offshore tax havens. Of particular interest for the US media will be the discovery that Donald Trump's commerce secretary, Wilbur Ross, is shown to have a stake in a firm dealing with Russians sanctioned by the US, including Vladimir Putin's immediate family, which Ross failed to clearly disclose prior to his confirmation.

The leak, dubbed the Paradise Papers, contains 13.4 million documents, mostly from the Bermuda-based offshore finance law firm, Appleby, has been investigated by 95 media groups, with the findings released today.  The records expand on the revelations from the leak of offshore documents that spawned the 2016 Panama Papers investigation. The new files shine a light on a different cast of underexplored island havens, including some with cleaner reputations and higher price tags, such as the Cayman Islands and Bermuda.

The year-long investigation exposes offshore interest and activities of more than 120 politicians and world leaders. That includes ties between Russia and U.S President Donald Trump’s billionaire commerce secretary Wilbur Ross. It also highlights the offshore activities of another 12 Trump allies.

 

The Paradise Papers' key findings summarized:

  • Reveals offshore interests and activities of more than 120 politicians and world leaders, including Queen Elizabeth II, and 13 advisers, major donors and members of U.S. President Donald J. Trump
  • Exposes the tax engineering of more than 100 multinational corporations, including Apple, Nike and Botox-maker Allergan
  • Reveals tax haven shopping sprees by multinational companies in Africa and Asia that use shell companies in Mauritius and Singapore to reduce taxes
  • Shines a light on secretive deals and hidden companies connected to Glencore, the world’s largest commodity trader, and provides detailed accounts of the company’s negotiations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo for valuable mineral resources
  • Provides details of how owners of jets and yachts, including royalty and sports stars, used Isle of Man tax-avoidance structures

That said, as the BBC admits, "the vast majority of the transactions involve no legal wrongdoing."

The BBC reports that as with last year's Panama Papers leak, the documents were obtained by the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, which called in the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) to oversee the investigation. Sunday's revelations form only a small part of a week of disclosures that will expose the tax and financial affairs of some of the hundreds of people and companies named in the data.

The most detailed revelations emerge in decades of corporate records from the white-shoe offshore law firm Appleby and corporate services provider Estera, two businesses that operated together under the Appleby name until Estera became independent in 2016. At least 31,000 of the individual and corporate clients included in Appleby’s records are U.S. citizens or have U.S. addresses, more than from any other country. Appleby also counted clients from the United Kingdom, China and Canada among its biggest sources of business.

Nearly 7 million records from Appleby and affiliates cover the period from 1950 to 2016 and include emails, billion-dollar loan agreements and bank statements involving at least 25,000 entities connected to people in 180 countries. Appleby is a member of the “Offshore Magic Circle,” an informal clique of the planet’s leading offshore law practices. The firm was founded Bermuda and has offices in Hong Kong, Shanghai, the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands and other offshore centers. Appleby has a well-guarded 100-year reputation and has avoided public scrapes through a mixture of discretion and expensive client monitoring.

Appleby, for example, is one link in a chain of offshore actors who helped sports stars, Russian oligarchs and government officials to purchase jets, yachts and other luxury items. The offshore experts helped Arkady and Boris Rotenberg, two Russian billionaires and childhood friends of President Putin, buy jets worth more than $20 million in 2013. U.S authorities blacklisted the Rotenbergs in 2014 for their support of “Putin’s pet projects” and for having banked “high price contracts” through the Russian government. Appleby cut its ties with the brothers but, in one case, received approval from the Isle of Man government nearly two years after sanctions were imposed to disburse fees to keep one of the brothers’ companies on the business register. The Rotenbergs did not reply to Süddeutsche Zeitung’s requests for comment. Clients prize Appleby for its expertise, efficiency and global network of professionals. Its peers repeatedly crown it Offshore Law Firm of the Year.

But decades of private documents also show that even one of the offshore industry’s brightest stars has hidden shortcomings: accepting questionable clients and failing to monitor multimillion-dollar money flows.

The leaked files also include documents from government business registries in some of the world’s most secretive corporate havens in the Caribbean, the Pacific and Europe, such as Antigua and Barbuda, the Cook Islands and Malta. One-fifth of the world’s busiest secrecy jurisdictions are represented in these databases.

* * *

Many of the stories focus on how politicians, multinationals, celebrities and high-net-worth individuals use complex structures of trusts, foundations and shell companies to protect their cash from tax officials or hide their dealings behind a veil of secrecy.  In the United States, the the Appleby files show how Ross, Trump’s commerce secretary, has used a chain of Cayman Islands entities to maintain a financial stake in Navigator Holdings, a shipping company whose top clients include the Kremlin-linked energy firm Sibur. Among Sibur’s key owners are Kirill Shamalov, Putin’s son-in-law, and Gennady Timchenko, a billionaire the U.S. government sanctioned in 2014 because of his links to Putin. Sibur is a major customer of Navigator, paying the company more than $23 million in 2016. When he joined Trump’s Cabinet, Ross divested his interests in 80 companies. But he kept stakes in nine companies, including the four that connect him to Navigator and its Russian clients. These revelations come against a backdrop of growing concerns about hidden Russian involvement in U.S. political affairs.

Among the key stories being released on Sunday are:

  • Wilbur Ross, Trump's commerce secretary, shares business interests with Vladimir Putin’s immediate family, and he failed to clearly disclose those interests when he was being confirmed for his cabinet position
  • About £10m ($13m) of the Queen's private money was invested offshore
  • Justin Trudeau's close adviser, Stephen Bronfman, helped move huge sums offshore
  • A key aide of Canada's PM has been linked to offshore schemes that may have cost the nation millions of dollars in taxes, threatening to embarrass Justin Trudeau, who has campaigned to shut tax havens
  • Lord Ashcroft, a former Conservative party deputy chairman and a significant donor, may have ignored rules around how his offshore investments were managed. Other papers suggest he retained his non-dom status while in the House of Lords, despite reports he had become a permanent tax resident in the UK

How is the Queen involved?

The BBC reports that the Paradise Papers show that about £10m ($13m) of the Queen's private money was invested offshore. It was put into funds in the Cayman Islands and Bermuda by the Duchy of Lancaster, which provides the Queen with an income and handles investments for her £500m private estate. There is nothing illegal in the investments and no suggestion that the Queen is not paying tax, but questions may be asked about whether the monarch should be investing in offshore finance. There were small investments in the rent-to-buy retailer BrightHouse, which has been accused of exploiting the poor, and the Threshers chain of off-licences, which later went bust owing £17.5m in tax and costing almost 6,000 people their jobs.

The Duchy said it was not involved in decisions made by funds and there is no suggestion the Queen had any knowledge of the specific investments made on her behalf. The Duchy has in the past said it gives "ongoing consideration regarding any of its acts or omissions that could adversely impact the reputation" of the Queen, who it says takes "a keen interest" in the estate.

The records show that as of 2007, the queen’s private estate invested in a Cayman Islands fund that in turn invested in a private equity company that controlled BrightHouse, a U.K. rent-to-own firm criticized by consumer watchdogs and members of Parliament for selling household goods to cash-strapped Britons on payment plans with interest rates as high as 99.9 percent.

Wilbur Ross' Russian connection

Of bigger impact to the US news cycle will be the revelation that Trump's commerce secretary, Wilbur Ross has retained an interest in a shipping company, Navigator Holdings, which earns millions of dollars a year transporting oil and gas for a Russian energy firm whose shareholders include Vladimir Putin's son-in-law and two men subject to US sanctions.

The leaked files showed a chain of companies and partnerships in the Cayman Islands through which Ross has retained his financial stake in Navigator.

As NBC details, Ross — a billionaire industrialist — retains an interest in a shipping company, Navigator Holdings, that was partially owned by his former investment company. One of Navigator’s most important business relationships is with a Russian energy firm controlled, in turn, by Putin’s son-in-law and other members of the Russian president’s inner circle.

In Ross’s case, the documents give a far fuller picture of his finances than the filings he submitted to the government on Jan. 15 as part of his confirmation process. On that date, Ross, President-elect Donald Trump’s choice for commerce secretary, submitted a letter to the designated ethics official at the department, explaining steps he was taking to avoid all conflicts of interest. That explanation was vital to his confirmation, because Ross held financial interests in hundreds of companies across dozens of sectors, many of which could be affected by his decisions as commerce secretary. Any one of them could represent a potential conflict of interest, which is why the disclosures, by law, are supposed to be thorough.

“The information that he provided on that form is just a start. It is incomplete,” said Kathleen Clark, an expert on government ethics at Washington University in St. Louis. “I have no reason to believe that he violated the law of disclosure, but in order … for the Commerce Department to understand, you’d have to have more information than what is listed on that form.”

 

Ross, through a Commerce Department spokesperson, issued a statement saying that he recuses himself as secretary from any matters regarding transoceanic shipping, and said he works closely with ethics officials in the department “to ensure the highest ethical standards.”

 

The statement said Ross “has been generally supportive of the Administration’s sanctions of Russian” business entities. But the statement did not address the question of whether he informed Congress or the Commerce Department that he was retaining an interest in companies that have close Russian ties.

In his submission letter to the government, Ross pledged to cut ties with more than 80 financial entities in which he has interests.

However, NBC News claims that the documents seen by the news organization along with a careful examination of filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission, "tell a different story than the one Ross told at his confirmation. Ross divested most of his holdings, but did not reveal to the government the full details of the holdings he kept."

In his letter to the ethics official of the Commerce Department, Ross created two lists: those entities and interests he planned to get rid of and those he intended to keep. The second list consisted of nine entities, four of which were Cayman Islands companies represented and managed by the Appleby law firm, which specializes in creating complex offshore holdings for wealthy clients and businesses. The Wilbur Ross Group is one of the firm’s biggest clients, according to the leaked documents, connected to more than 60 offshore holdings.

The four holdings on the list of assets that Ross held onto were valued by him on the form as between $2.05 million and $10.1 million. These four, in turn, are linked through ownership chains to two other entities, WLR Recovery Fund IV DSS AIV L.P. and WLR Recovery Fund V DSS AIV L.P., which were listed in Ross’ financial disclosure prior to confirmation, but were not among the assets he declared he would retain. According to an SEC filing, those entities hold 17.5 million shares in Navigator, which constitutes control of nearly one-third of the shipping firm.

The value of Ross’ investment could change substantially by the time the funds that hold Navigator shares wind up – and holds a significant upside. If the funds performs well enough, the general partnerships in which he is invested stand to receive 20 percent of the entire funds’ profits. In addition, Ross has reported billions in assets to Forbes magazine that did not appear on his government disclosure forms, which he later told the magazine he had placed in trusts that benefit his family members.

Ross started investing in Navigator in 2011, when WL Ross & Co. acquired a 19.4 percent stake, and his firm was granted two seats on Navigator’s board, one of which Ross filled himself early the next year. A few months later, with a bankruptcy court judge’s approval, WL Ross acquired a block of shares from the bankrupt financial services firm Lehman Brothers, becoming Navigator’s majority shareholder. In November 2013, Navigator went public. Shares that WL Ross had bought for about $8 each were put on the market at $19. Afterward Ross bragged at a conference for shipping investors that the investment had been “a home run.” Ross stepped down from Navigator’s board in November 2014 after he became vice chairman of the struggling Bank of Cyprus, which was well known for its dealings with Russian oligarchs. His Navigator board seat was taken by Wendy Teramoto, managing director and partner of WL Ross & Co., who left in 2017 to become Ross’ chief of staff at the Commerce Department.

“The disclosure requirements weren’t written with Wilbur Ross in mind,” said Kathleen Clark, “and I don’t think adequately provide the public or a government ethics official with an understanding of the wide variety of financial interests that he has.”

 

“You look at all of these names,” Clark said, referring to the financial entities, “and they actually look like a code. And what we actually have to do is find — in a sense — a code that decrypts what these names mean and what these companies actually do.”

She added the way the companies were listed was deliberately vague. “I would say this gives the appearance of transparency,” she said, referring to Ross’s disclosure documents. “It’s sort of fake transparency in a sense.”

The complexity of the offshore structures adds legal and reputational distance and obscures the full extent of Ross’s business relationships even as it allows him to profit from them, according to tax and ethics experts consulted by ICIJ.

The Office of Government Ethics, which is responsible for executive branch oversight, approved Ross’s arrangement, and it was left almost entirely unchallenged by the Senate.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said members of Congress who were part of Ross’ confirmation hearings were under the impression that Ross had divested all of his interests in Navigator. Furthermore, he said, they were unaware of Navigator’s close ties to Russia.

“I am astonished and appalled because I feel misled,” said Blumenthal. “Our committee was misled, the American people were misled by the concealment of those companies.” Blumenthal said he will call for the inspector general of the Commerce Department to launch an investigation.

A look at Navigator’s annual reports reveal an apparent conflict of interest. Navigator’s second-largest client is SIBUR, the Russian petrochemical giant. According to Navigator’s 2017 SEC filing, SIBUR was listed among its top five clients, based on total revenue for the previous two years. In 2016, Navigator’s annual reports show SIBUR brought in $23.2 million in revenue and another $28.7 million the following year. The business relationship has been so profitable that in January, around the time Ross was being vetted for his Cabinet position, Navigator held a naming ceremony for two state-of-the-art tankers on long-term leases to SIBUR.

One of the owners of SIBUR is Gennady Timchenko, a Russian billionaire on the Treasury Department’s sanctions list. He has been barred from entering the U.S. since 2014 because authorities consider him a Specially Designated National, or SDN, who is considered by Treasury to be a member “of the Russian leadership’s inner circle.”  The Treasury Department statement said that Timchenko’s activities in the energy sector “have been directly linked to Putin” and that Putin had investments with a company previously owned by Timchenko, as well as access to the company’s funds.

Daniel Fried, who was the State Department sanctions coordinator under President Barack Obama, said the connection to Timchenko’s interests should have raised alarm bells. “I would think that any reputable American businessman, much less a Cabinet-level official, would want to have absolutely no relationship — direct, indirect — … with anybody of the character and reputation of Gennady Timchenko,” Fried said. “I just don’t get it.”

Another major SIBUR shareholder is Leonid Mikhelson, who, like Timchenko, has close ties to the Kremlin. One of his companies, Novatek, Russia’s second-largest natural gas producer, was placed on the Treasury’s sanctions list in 2014.

Included in the Appleby documents are details of an internal discussion that resulted in the law firm dropping Mikhelson as a client in 2014, over concerns regarding his financial affiliations. “I would say to anybody who asked,” said Fried, “treat SDNs as radioactive. Stay away from them.

A third shareholder of SIBUR – and deputy chairman of the board – is Kirill Shamalov, husband of Vladimir Putin’s daughter, Katerina Tikhonova. After the wedding, Shamalov’s meteoric rise to wealth led him to own as much as 21.3 percent of SIBUR’s stock until April, when he sold off around 17 percent for a reported $2 billion.

“It’s a new generation which is currently being prepared and groomed… to inherit whatever power and wealth Putin's team has accumulated over the past years,” said Vladimir Milov, a former deputy energy minister in Putin’s government who is now working with the opposition. Milov also said companies like SIBUR are often the way sanctioned Kremlin insiders have to keep doing business despite restrictions. 

 

The Commerce Department statement said Ross never met Timchenko, Mikhelson, or Shamalov. It said he was not on the board of Navigator in March 2011 when the ships in question were acquired, and said Sibur was not under U.S. sanctions now or in 2012 when the charter agreement with Navigator was signed. The statement said Ross was on the board of Navigator from 2012 to 2014, and that no funds managed by his company ever owned a majority of Navigator’s shares.

Fried said he has no doubt of the connections between SIBUR and the Kremlin. “If any senior official of the U.S. government, much less a Cabinet secretary … had any business dealings with sanctioned individuals, direct or indirect,” he said, “I would be appalled.”

The news comes at a time when every relationship between the Trump administration and Russia is closely scrutinized: Richard Painter, the chief White House ethics lawyer during the George W. Bush administration, said there needs to a close examination of whether Ross’ testimony to the Senate violated perjury laws. Painter also said Ross must recuse himself from all Russia-related matters because of the SIBUR connection.

“Secretary Ross cannot participate in any discussion or decision-making or recommendation about sanctions imposed on Russia or on Russian nationals when he owns a company that is doing business with Russian nationals who are either under sanctions or who could come under sanctions in any future sanctions regime,” Painter said. “That would be a criminal offense for him to participate in any such matter.”

On Nov. 30, 2016, hours after being nominated as commerce secretary, Ross celebrated at Gramercy Tavern, an upscale Manhattan restaurant, an event hosted by Navigator Holdings. According to Bloomberg Businessweek, he and Butters arrived early at the chandeliered private room and had a conversation. “Your interest is aligned to mine,” Butters recalled Ross saying, according to Bloomberg. “The U.S. economy will grow, and Navigator will be a beneficiary.”

Butters told Bloomberg that as other guests arrived and tucked into sherry-sauce sea bass and pear buckle, they took turns congratulating Ross. “It was like – we have a chance now,” Butters told Bloomberg. “We have a chance to make some differences.”

(Much more on Ross' questionable business dealings can be found here)

* * *

In the ICIJ report, the consortium has put together the following infographic revealing what it calls "The Influencers", or 13 Trump advisers, donors and cabinet members:

U.S. President Donald Trump vowed to fight the power of global elites and told voters he would put "America First." But surrounding Trump are a number of close associates who have used offshore tax havens to conduct business. Scroll through their offshore stories

* * *

The Paradise Papers also show  Stephen Bronfman, Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau’s adviser and close friend, teamed up with Liberal Party stalwart Leo Kolber and Kolber’s son to quietly move millions of dollars to a Cayman trust. They reveal that Bronfman was involved in the movement of millions of dollars to offshore havens. Stephen Bronfman, heir to the Seagram fortune, who was instrumental in Trudeau’s successful bid for the leadership of the Canadian Liberal party in 2013 and the premiership two years later, engaged through his family investment business in a complex web of entities in the US, Israel and the Cayman Islands. Multimillion-dollar cashflows between the three jurisdictions might legally have avoided taxes in the US, Canada and Israel.

The leaked documents unveil a close relationship between two wealthy families who collaborated to shift millions of dollars to the Cayman Islands. On one side were the Bronfman family, inheritors of the Seagram distillery fortune in Montreal. On the other side was the Cayman Islands-based trust of Leo Kolber, a former Canadian senator and powerhouse within the Liberal party Trudeau now leads.

* * *

Other royals and politicians with newly disclosed offshore ties include Queen Noor of Jordan, who was listed as the beneficiary of two trusts on the island of Jersey, including one that held her sprawling British estate; Sam Kutesa, Uganda’s foreign minister and a former U.N. General Assembly president, who set up an offshore trust in the Seychelles to manage his personal wealth; Brazil’s finance minister, Henrique de Campos Meirelles, who created a foundation in Bermuda “for charitable purposes”; and Antanas Guoga, a Lithuanian member of the European Parliament and professional poker player, who held a stake in an Isle of Man company whose other shareholders included a gambling mogul who settled a fraud lawsuit in the United States.

In addition to disclosures about politicians and corporations, the files reveal details about the financial lives of the rich and famous – and the unknown. They include Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen’s yacht and submarines, eBay founder Pierre Omidyar’s Cayman Island investment vehicle, and music star Madonna’s shares in a medical supplies company. Pop singer and social justice activist Bono – listed under his full name, Paul Hewson – owned shares in a company registered in Malta that invested in shopping center in Lithuania, company records show. Other clients listed their occupations as dog groomer, plumber and wakeboard instructor.

Madonna and Allen did not reply to requests for comment. Omidyar, whose Omidyar Network donates to ICIJ, discloses his investment to tax authorities, a spokeswoman said. Bono was a “passive, minority investor” in the Malta company that closed down in 2015, a spokeswoman said.

* * *

Glencore

One of Appleby’s top corporate clients was Glencore PLC, the world’s largest commodity trader. The files contain decades of deals, emails and multimillion-dollar loans to bankroll ventures in Russia, Latin America, Africa and Australia. Glencore was such an important client that it once had its own room within Appleby’s offices in Bermuda.

Company board meeting minutes document how Glencore representatives leaned on Daniel Gertler, an Israeli businessman with high-level friends in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, to help seal a deal for a valuable copper mine. Glencore lent millions to a company, widely believed to belong to Gertler, described in a U.S. Department of Justice inquiry as a conduit for bribes. Gertler and Glencore were not named in the case.

Glencore said its background checks on Gertler were “extensive and thorough.” The Justice Department investigation “does not constitute evidence of anything against Mr. Gertler,” his lawyers said, adding that he “rejects absolutely any allegations of wrongdoing or criminality by him.” No loans were used improperly or for inappropriate purposes, Gertler’s lawyers said.

(Much more on Glencore here)

* * *

A full list of the politicians implicated in the Paradise Papers can be found here.

* * *

Summarizing much of the data contained in the Paradise Papers, is the following brief primer from the BBC revealing "how to hide your cash in 5 easy steps":

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3 Potential OPEC Deal Killers

Authored by Zainab Calcuttawala via OilPrice.com,

The Middle East isn’t yet ready to agree on the future of OPEC’s output reduction deal as the bloc’s November 30 summit approaches, during which the cartel is set to decide on the depth and length of the cuts one year from their initial approval.

Here are the three key geopolitical issues wreaking havoc on the region’s ability to collectively raise the price of oil.

1. The Trump Administration’s Ongoing Iran Nuclear Deal Drama

From the day that Donald Trump declared he would run for president, he made it clear that he is firmly against the current deal with Tehran to reintegrate Iran’s economy into the international community in exchange for a smaller and monitored nuclear energy program. He believes the plan gives up too much leverage on the American side for the furthering of U.S. foreign policy objectives in the Middle East.

Earlier this month, Trump officially decertified the nuclear deal, which doesn’t do much in the way of dismantling the agreement, but does give Congress leeway to authorize further sanctions against Iran.

Tehran’s oil and gas industry needs global economic integration in order to fund social services and ensure a prosperous future for the Iranian people. Though Secretary of State John Kerry made his rounds reassuring European nations that their firms would not be hit by American sanctions by investing in Iran’s fossil fuel industry, Kerry’s replacement in the Trump administration has made no such promises.

What Secretary of State Rex Tillerson did do is issue a statement supporting Iran’s technical compliance to the deal, despite the president’s explicit decertification of it.

The uncertainty surrounding the U.S. sanctions on Iran leads to uncertainty regarding OPEC’s third largest oil producer’s ability to contribute to or maintain oil output. Tehran’s participation in the oil game has been contingent upon the success of the nuclear deal since January 2016. New sanctions from a Republican congress could undo much of the progress made by engaging the economic pariah.

2. Iraq’s Intense Struggle with Kurdistan

The Kurdistan independence referendum last month caused Baghdad to take over key oil fields formerly controlled by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). A fraction of former output (half, or less than half, by most measures) is currently flowing through a pipeline in the area due to a deal between the Iraqi government and the Kurdish KAR group.

Last weekend, Iraqi authorities said they increased oil exports from the southern Basra region by 200,000 barrels per day to make up for a shortfall from the northern Kirkuk fields. But this doesn’t promise future output rebuttals if the KRG or its Peshmerga decide to strike back to regain its oil might. A significant loss in output from OPEC’s No. 2 producer could cause an unexpected spike in oil prices, which is what Saudi Arabia, the bloc’s leader, craves.

3. A Gulf Blockade Entering its Sixth Month

Despite its standing as top exporter of liquefied natural gas, Qatar is not a significant oil producer. The geopolitical impact of the Gulf’s economic blockade against Doha, however, could have significant geopolitical consequences as it enters into its sixth month with no end in sight. Instead of limiting its ties to Iran, Qatar has spent its political capital strengthening ties with the Shi’ite nation, which rivals Saudi Arabia politically and economically. Escalating tensions between the Gulf and Qatar will further increase the angst between Iran and Saudi Arabia, impacting the future of Iran as a political player and as a major oil producer.

*  *  *

This trio of major regional disputes plaguing the Middle East heavily involve the top three oil producers in the bloc. Iran has been in economic recovery mode since sanctions were lifted back in January, while Iraq’s stability over the course of 2016 and most of 2017 had allowed production to rise steadily.

With the trajectory of future output for the neighboring nations unclear, it remains to be seen whether the bloc will find it necessary to tighten quotas. After all, if the production cannot be summoned due to tangential political issues, there may be no need to limit it directly.

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The World’s New Reserve Currency? Everything You Need To Know About PetroYuan

Earlier this week, we pointed out that the 'PetroYuan' is on the verge of becoming reality with Graticule's Adam Levinson noting that the birth of a yuan-denominated oil contract will be a “huge story” in the fourth quarter, and will be a “wake up call” for investors who haven’t paid attention to the plans.

As a reminder, nothing lasts forever…

Judging by the interest in the topic, investors are less informed than many believed and so the different teams within Société Générale Cross Asset Research examine what this contract would mean for the global oil markets and for the internationalisation of the yuan – if it gets off the ground.

 

Part 1 The proposed yuan-denominated crude oil futures contract

  • Why is a yuan-denominated Chinese crude futures contract interesting to think about?  Why is it potentially significant?
  • Would yuan-denominated Chinese crude futures affect the physical markets?
  • Has China actually proposed changing its crude buying from USD to yuan?
  • What about the crude producers and exporters?
  • How much non-USD crude trade currently exists?
  • If small volumes don’t change how the oil market operates, how big would the volumes have to be to make a difference?
  • Is there another commodity that trades in multiple currencies at different exchanges that we can learn lessons from?

Part 2 Another step towards currency internationalisation?

  • Why does China want to introduce a yuan-denominated crude oil futures contract? 
  • How can the yuan succeed in becoming a reserve currency?
  • What does the status of an international currency mean for the yuan?
  • What will an internationalised yuan mean to China’s FX reserves?

*  *  *

Part 1: The proposed yuan-denominated crude oil futures contract

In November 2013, the Shanghai International Energy Exchange (INE) was established. Fully owned by the Shanghai Futures Exchange, the INE began efforts to offer an alternative crude oil futures contract to the global oil markets. After four years, these efforts are continuing. The proposed contract is for medium sour crude oil, is physically deliverable, and – most significantly – would be denominated in yuan.

We begin with the oil markets.

Why is a yuan-denominated Chinese crude futures contract interesting to think about? Why is it potentially significant?

Such a contract would be a tool that would make it possible for crude exporters selling to Chinese refiners to hedge their sales in yuan. This could help any future effort by China to import crude using yuan; on the other side of the coin, it could also help any future effort by various crude exporters to sell crude in a currency other than USD. 

In the abstract, the potential volumes are large, which is why this is worth thinking about.  China is the world’s biggest crude importer, with net imports in January-July 2017 of 8.4 Mb/d (and trending higher); the second biggest crude importer is the US, with net imports of 7.2 Mb/d in January-July 2017 (and trending lower). 

To put this into context, according to the IEA, in 4Q17, global product demand will be 98.5 Mb/d and global crude demand will be 82.2 Mb/d (including refinery runs and direct burn).  Crude trade is much less, at 42.4 Mb/d in 2016, according to the BP Statistical Review; this excludes crude that is produced and consumed in the same country. In other words, Chinese net crude imports account for over 10% of the global crude market and almost 20% of global crude trade. 

Would yuan-denominated Chinese crude futures affect the physical markets?

No, not at all. That’s not what this is about – there would be no impact on physical supply (like the example of natural gas – see below). In theory, if this were to happen, it would purely be about pricing. The global oil markets are denominated almost entirely in USD, so it is interesting to think about that landscape changing.

Has China actually proposed changing its crude buying from USD to yuan?

No. In recent years, there has been occasional general talk from China of moving away from the USD for purchases of crude oil and other commodities; however, we are not aware of any serious or concrete proposal on the table to start buying crude in yuan any time soon. That said, it is worth acknowledging that most Chinese crude buying is done by three large stateowned oil companies. Therefore, if it so chooses, the Chinese government certainly has the ability to push such an agenda; similarly, the government has the ability to push the use of INE crude futures for hedging crude in yuan.

What about the crude producers and exporters?

This is an important question to ask because it’s not just about what the Chinese want. As with any commercial transaction, both the buyer and the seller need to agree. In the case of crude oil, they need to agree on the volume, price, type and quality of crude as well as the delivery date and delivery location, among other things. However, the currency is almost always the USD – that is not a point of negotiation.

Over the years, including 2017, major crude producers such as Iran, Russia and Venezuela have talked about selling and exporting crude in non-dollar currencies. The reasons have been general geopolitical tensions with the US and Europe, and more specifically, oil-related sanctions; the use of non-dollar currencies may offer a way to circumvent oil-related sanctions, at least partially.  

Hypothetically, if China were to have serious talks with Iran, Russia and Venezuela about importing crude and paying in yuan, that would be important because it would add another dimension to the geopolitical analysis. If sanctioned countries could simply side-step the measures by selling crude in yuan or other non-dollar currencies, it would mean that the risk of supply disruptions and potential upside risk for oil prices would be reduced.

How much non-USD crude trade currently exists?

It is very difficult to make an accurate and confident estimate. Again, depending on the political context, talk of non-dollar crude trade from the countries mentioned above comes and goes, and sometimes some deals are done more for political and public relations purposes than for anything else. 

Our “guesstimate” is that such volumes probably amount to no more than 300-350 kb/d out of the 82.2 Mb/d global crude market noted above. For reference, to put that in terms of physical crude trade, 5 VLCC-size tankers each month carrying 2 Mb each would equal 333 kb/d. We would consider that, or its equivalent in smaller vessels, to be a generous estimate. We would consider 10 VLCCs or equivalent each month, or 666 kb/d, to be an extreme upside estimate but highly unlikely. This excludes barter arrangements and loans-for-crude deals. China lent Russia large sums of money after the global financial crisis in 2008-2009 in exchange for longterm crude supply deals; more recently, China had such an arrangement with Venezuela.

The bottom line, in our view, is that actual crude trade paid in cash but not using USD has never amounted to more than a few token cargoes. Importantly, when this does happen, the entire transaction and negotiation of the price is done in USD as usual, with pricing done the normal way; for example, both Urals and Dubai, which are key marker crudes in their own right, are priced as differentials to Brent. The only difference when a non-USD currency is used is that a last step is added, where the amount for the invoice is converted from USD into a different currency.

If small volumes don’t change how the oil market operates, how big would the volumes have to be to make a difference?

The question is really: what is the tipping point? How much non-USD crude trade does there need to be for the entire negotiation to take place in yuan, or rubles, or euros?  In other words, what does it take for price discovery and price formation to take place not in USD but in another currency?

The short answer is that we don’t know. But something on the order of 7-8 Mb/d of crude trade seems to be a sensitive level from a practical standpoint. How do we come up with this?  It’s simple: we are thinking about Saudi Arabia. Saudi crude exports have averaged 7 Mb/d through the first eight months of this year; in 2016, before the current OPEC cuts took effect, they averaged 7.6 Mb/d. The 7-8 Mb/d range works out to 16-19% of the 42.4 Mb/d global traded crude volumes.

Our view is that physical efforts to shift global crude trade away from US dollars seem doomed to failure unless the Saudis fully participate. Usually in matters of pricing, the other Middle East exporters follow the lead of the Saudis, so there is a “double whammy” effect and the volumes could start to increase quickly.

In this context, the warming relationship between Saudi Arabia and Russia becomes more interesting, too. Could the two countries cooperate on this in the same way they’ve cooperated on cutting production this year, in order to stabilise prices? Perhaps. That would add even more volumes because Russia is the second-biggest crude exporter in the world.  According to the BP Statistical Review, Russian crude exports averaged 5.5 Mb/d in 2016.

However, the geopolitics of oil quickly gets complicated. Why would the Saudis want to do something (like encourage non-USD crude trade) that would benefit Iran? This is always true, but is even more true now at a time when US-Iran tensions are ramping up and the US is threatening to re-impose oil sanctions on Iran. Also, why would the Saudis want to do something that would diminish the value of their currency, which is pegged to the USD, their huge USD reserves, and other USD-denominated assets?

If it would take the Saudis to make a real fundamental change in moving the oil markets away from a sole reliance on the USD to a multiple currency market, from a Saudi perspective, the arguments “against” are at least as strong as the arguments “in favour”. In short, we are sceptical of Saudi support for such a move.

Rather than support from Saudi Arabia or a cooperative effort between Saudi Arabia and Russia, a more realistic and higher-probability scenario would be a move to non-USD crude exports led by Russia on its own or perhaps a cooperative effort between Russia and Iran – with China being the key crude buyer, using yuan, in all the scenarios. Without the inclusion of Saudi Arabia and other Middle East exporters such as the UAE, Kuwait and Iraq, the volumes involved with Russia and Iran would be much less; this would make a fundamental change in oil price formation away from USD slower and more difficult but not impossible.

Is there another commodity that trades in multiple currencies at different exchanges that we can learn lessons from?

The answer to this question is yes and the best example is natural gas. The point of making this comparison is that ultimately different denominated prices in the same underlying commodity do not affect the physical balances but do influence trade flows, arbitrage and market analysis.

The US natural gas market is the largest regional market in the world (IEA estimates it alone represented 21% of total global gas demand) and is almost entirely priced in USD (AECO, Canada’s most liquid supply point, prices in CAD/GJ). The US LNG market (imports and exports) are also denominated in USD.

The global LNG market is heavily indexed to USD as well, but that is due to the dominance of oil indexation in long-term LNG sales agreements; the USD dominance of the global LNG market thus reflects the dominance of USD in oil prices.

In Europe (which represents 13% of total global gas demand according to IEA estimates), there are two main natural gas price points. In the UK, the National Balancing Point (NBP) – the hub of UK gas trading – is denominated in GB pounds and pence/therm. In the Netherlands, the hub of natural gas trading is known as Title Transfer Facility (TTF), and this contract is in euros and euro cents per MWh. Recently, there has been an observed shift in the dominance of these price points regionally; critically, this is a function of the physical characteristics of the market rather than the currency used or the exchange rate.

Historically, NBP was the most liquid point and also the price structure included in European LNG sales contracts, making it the dominant global representation of the European market. Recently, however, TTF has seen an increase in liquidity (increased open interest) and has become increasingly reflective of the physical continental European market. Factors such as the higher carbon price in the UK, which has an impact on gas competitiveness/pricing within the regional power generation stack, the declining trend of the UK production profile, and the region’s increased dependence (seasonal switching) on the Interconnector pipeline between the UK and continental Europe have all contributed to the reduced ability of NBP to reflect the wider European market; hence the rise of TTF. Importantly, it is the changes in the physical market that have changed the competitive landscape among TTF and NBP, and it has little to nothing to do with the different exchange rates (although Brexit may have decreased NBP’s popularity).

The existence of varying price structures in the global natural gas market is a critical comparison to make for oil, which has the potential to see a rise in pricing in currencies other than the USD. It is important to emphasise that even with multiple price structures, global natural gas trading behaviour is dominated by physical market conditions. At the same time, there is sometimes an influence from fluctuations in exchange rates, making analysis of flows, arbitrage, and trading somewhat more complicated; however, supply and demand dynamics are not fundamentally affected.

Part 2: Another step towards currency internationalisation? 

Why does China want to introduce a yuan-denominated crude oil futures contract? 

The Chinese government wants the yuan to become an international currency. This means that it wants the yuan to be used widely in international transactions (a settlement currency), to be adopted as a pricing currency for goods and services in global markets (an invoicing currency), and to be considered as a store of value by international investors (an investing currency). The goal of internationalisation also goes hand in hand with the profile objective for the yuan to obtain a reserve currency status since these two are highly correlated. While it is currently unclear (or too early to discern) whether China is aiming for the yuan to become the reserve currency – dethroning the dollar – Chinese policymakers are certainly eyeing the yuan as one of the major reserve currencies.

China has been working much harder on this project since 2009. The process has moved at varying speeds depending on capital account pressures, domestic asset prices and growth considerations, but much progress has been made (see the timeline on the next page). A quarter of China’s exports and imports are settled in yuan, although most of them are still invoiced in other hard currencies.

The proposed yuan-denominated crude oil futures contract to be listed on the Shanghai International Energy Exchange (INE), fully owned by the Shanghai Futures Exchange, is another step on the road to promote internationalisation and erode the USD hegemony in the global financial system. While over the years, there have been some relatively small volumes of oil traded in non-USD currencies, including the yuan (as discussed in the oil section above), the value of oil is still priced in dollars. One of the main impacts of the proposed new crude futures contract, and presumably one of the intentions behind the proposal, is that by providing a yuandenominated financial hedging tool for crude oil, this will likely help to promote the appeal of the yuan as a pricing currency in global oil trade.

From the Chinese policymakers’ perspective, China should arguably have a bigger say in the pricing of commodities since it has become the biggest consumer of many of them. Also, the petro-dollar system seems to be a successful model to imitate: first, the yuan would be more widely accepted by natural resource exporters, and in turn, these exporters could invest their yuan revenues (as FX reserves) into yuan-denominated financial assets.

How can the yuan succeed in becoming a reserve currency?

To improve the yuan’s chances of becoming an international and reserve currency, the main areas of development would be strengthening the institutional framework, fully opening the capital account to foreign residents, allowing market forces to play a greater role and establishing and managing a policy framework that alleviates the risk of crisis over an extended period.

China technically joined the reserve currency club when the IMF added it to the SDR basket in September 2016. The narrow definition of a reserve currency is for currencies used for international trade and willing to be held by other central banks as part of their reserves. On these narrow criteria, China has achieved what few currencies have been able to do.

Realising “true” reserve status and supplanting or even meaningfully competing with the USD in the global financial system is a very high hurdle that will take time (maybe 10-20 years) and require further enhancements in various areas. A broader set of criterion (listed below) of a reserve currency highlights the enormous challenges that China faces:

Medium of exchange. Entities outside China would need to widely adopt the RMB for transactional purposes (i.e. trade settlement). The yuan trade/investment settlement, the offshore yuan market and the Belt & Road Initiative (BRI) would need to be promoted. China is making steady strides in this area, with now 25% of China’s cross-border transactions settled by yuan. According to the SWIFT, however, the yuan share in international payments has not been able to advance and has hovered around 2% since late 2014.

 

Store of value. Individuals, companies and central banks would need to have faith in the currency as able to preserve wealth. About 60 central banks now hold some RMB assets in their portfolios, but this amount only represented 1% of total global reserves at the end of 2016.

 

Liquidity and market access. To become widely accepted, a currency would need to have high liquidity with foreigners having unencumbered access to local financial markets. China has created numerous schemes for global investors to access its equity and bond markets, but it is only a start, with foreign investors’ share in onshore capital markets at merely 2%. Further liberalising the capital account for foreign residents would be a necessary condition.

 

Institutional framework. Ultimately, confidence in the legal, regulatory and policy framework would need to be paramount for foreigners to hold large quantities of the currency. The current (USD) and previous (GBP) dominant global reserve currencies already had these qualities before attaining their status.

In many ways, China is working in reverse order – pushing internationalisation before the others condition are in place. Critically, policy priorities would need to be reoriented. It will be a challenge for China to meaningfully challenge the USD’s dominance, but it is not insurmountable over the next 10-20 years provided China takes steps in opening up (full capital account convertibility), giving up control of markets and strengthening and improving transparency in its legal, regulatory and policymaking framework.

What does the status of an international currency mean for the yuan?

Before the reserve currency status can support the yuan, the yuan may have to continuously prove itself as a stable currency to boost its status as a reserve currency. We think that the fundamental factors of economic growth, debt risk and interest rate differentials will continue to play dominant roles in the yuan’s FX trends over the medium term.  
A quick check of the history of the four major currencies – the dollar, euro, yen and sterling – since the 2000s suggests a visible and positive correlation between a currency’s traded weighted performance and its share in global FX reserves. However, correlation does not necessarily mean causality, and the causality can go both ways.

For instance, in the case of the yen and sterling, however, changes in their valuations look to have led their changing popularity among global reserve managers. The strength of the yen between 2009 and 2013 did not attract significantly more reserve inflows right away, probably because of the lacklustre economic development at the time. Sterling only started to gain a share in global reserves in 2003 despite its persistent strength since late 1990s.

For the yuan, we observe that the pace of yuan internationalisation was faster during the phase of currency appreciation or stability and slower when the yuan depreciated. This came despite the continuous policy efforts.

For the past seven years, USD/CNY has moved surprisingly closely with US-China yield differentials, and in the past three years the correlation of CNY to broad dollar moves has increased. Contrary to popular belief, the CNY shows few idiosyncratic tendencies and rather behaves in a similar manner to other EM/G10 currencies.

No matter what happens, the correlation between the CNY and the USD could remain high. The simple fact is that the correlation across most currencies is high over the cycle given that many top-down macro factors tend to drive FX over the medium term. 

The CNY may, however, play an increasing role in leading currency cycles, just as the USD does now. This would mean an increasing importance of Chinese data, monetary and fiscal policy in affecting global currency trends.

What will an internationalised yuan mean to China’s FX reserves?

The project of yuan internationalisation comprises currency liberalisation, capital account open-up and domestic capital market deepening. Liberalising the currency implies that the central bank will intervene less and less in the currency market, and a relatively stable level of FX reserves is therefore most consistent with the goal of making the yuan an international currency. 

Indeed, Chinese policymakers have repeatedly expressed their commitment to making the yuan a more flexible currency, freer from direct currency interventions by the central bank. However, it is also a stated goal for the yuan to maintain relatively stability against a basket of China’s major trade partners’ currencies. These two goals are only compatible when there is no major depreciation (or appreciation) pressure on the yuan resulting from major outflow (or inflow) pressure. 

China’s FX reserves can recover this year after the $1tn drop over the previous 2.5 years because the yuan has managed to stabilise against the dollar and a basket of currencies. The yuan’s stability should be a function of 1) dollar weakness, 2) capital controls and 3) China’s stable growth this year. These three factors will likely be the main drivers of the trend in China’s FX reserves over the next few years. While there remains much uncertainty around the dollar, it seems that Chinese policymakers have honed the skill of capital controls. This ought to reduce the risk of sharp declines in FX reserves going forward.

In the meantime, we think the chance of China persistently increasing its FX reserves is also limited unless the weak dollar trend continues and accelerates. The relationship with the US is one factor, and domestically there will likely remain strong demand from Chinese households and corporates for investment diversification if China continues to rely on rapid debt growth and money creation to sustain its economic model (see Anatomy of China's outflows). As the developments in 2015 and 2016 proved, such capital outflow pressure could outweigh the support from a decent current account surplus for the yuan.

What will the yuan’s internationalisation mean to global FX reserves?

China’s share of global reserve portfolios should increase over time. Depending on whether it achieves true reserve currency status in the eyes of foreign participants, that share will be either low (5%), high (25%) or very high (25%+). 

Emerging market central banks still need a significant amount of dollars to undertake intervention assuming their currency regimes are not fully flexible, and a precautionary stockpile is desired to manage balance of payments shocks. Against all EM currencies, except most notably the CEE euro bloc, the dollar is by far the most widely traded and liquid FX cross. Virtually all intervention is done in USD crosses, and one prerequisite for central banks to shift their anchor currency to the RMB would be CNY crosses that are tradable without underlying dollar transactions being required. For instance, while EUR/CNY is quoted and traded onshore through the CFETS, it requires dealers to facilitate the trade through two separate transactions (USD/CNY and EUR/USD). The sheer size of the Chinese economy, growing global financial linkages and increasing RMB trade settlement will see a shift in this direction over time, but it will be a very long and slow process. Products such as the proposed yuan-denominated crude oil futures contract will help to marginally speed up the progression. 

Reserves can be divided into two broad categories: precautionary and excess. The precautionary portion needs to be in liquid assets to meet demand for foreign currency/dollars on short notice and mitigate balance of payments stress. Currently, these are mostly held in US government bonds or deposits, followed by European bonds, then UK, Japan, Canada and Australia down the list. China is below these. Gold is liquid but somewhat lower on the scale compared to deposits or government bonds, so there are natural limitations to how much central banks would hold. 

The excess portion of reserves can be invested in anything, and central banks have an excess globally. Central banks have undertaken various diversification efforts over the past few decades, with the share of euros in global reserve portfolios for example having increased from 20% in 2002 to 27% in 2008 before falling back to 20% in 2016. Central banks have been more active in holding commodity currencies (CAD and AUD) over the past five years.  
Russia has been buying a lot of gold. To do this, it either sells existing USD or other currency holdings, or when it intervenes and accumulates dollars it then diverts the currency to gold instead of treasuries. If central banks have excess reserves or do not want to accumulate more dollars, they could hold gold instead. 

The proposed yuan-denominated crude oil futures contract reduces the need to use dollars for the transaction, but it does not change the outcome or address the fundamental question: do central banks want/need USD or yuan? They could have bought yuan previously. The proposed yuan-denominated crude oil futures contract does not make it an easier process. But for those countries subject to sanctions, it might be attractive. According to the 4Q16 IMF COFER report (link), foreign central banks held USD85bn in allocated reserves in the CNY (or 1% of global reserves). Total foreign holdings of Chinese bonds amounted to USD135bn, according to ChinaBond, suggesting the vast majority of holdings are from central banks.

If reserve manager allocations to the RMB doubled over the next five years, and if those inflows were spread out evenly over the period, they would amount to roughly USD6bn per quarter (or another USD100bn). While not insignificant, that is still a drop in the ocean compared to other balance of payments components. However, if reserve manager allocations reached the weighting of the JPY in allocated global reserves (4%), the inflows could be closer to USD500bn over five years. An allocation equivalent to the euro (around 20% of global) reserves could see nearly USD1.5trn in inflows.

It could be challenging for the CNY to reach a high weight if global reserves are not rising. In 2002-2008, when central banks were diversifying into euros, global FX reserves were rising sharply and a significant portion of the growth in reserves was due to China. During this period, central banks were buying dollars through intervention (in an attempt to keep their currencies weaker than otherwise) and with some of those newly acquired dollars they decided to diversify their holdings and buy euros. However, in the absence of a strong increase in global FX reserves going forward, it would present a significantly higher hurdle for reserve managers to diversify into the CNY. It would require active diversification out of other currency holdings (i.e. sell existing dollar assets) to acquire the CNY.

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Can Trump Drive A Wedge Between Saudi-Russian Alliance?

Authored by Zainab Calcuttawala via OilPrice.com,

Together, Russia and Saudi Arabia produce a fourth of the world’s oil. The laws of competitive international commodity trading have pit the two petrostates on opposite poles of the U.S.-Russia geopolitical rivalry. But a new era of American oil exports and ailing national budgets is pulling Moscow and Riyadh together in trying financial times.

President Barack Obama’s administration maintained a cold distance from Saudi Arabia in its final years. As the United States and its European allies began a war against the Islamic State in 2014, Saudi Arabia focused its military might on Yemen—a country on the Arabian Peninsula facing the brutal consequences of an extended Arab Spring. Iranian arms and funding reached the pockets of the Shiite Houthi rebels, who hoped to build a new regime in Yemen, to the chagrin of Wahabbi Saudi Arabia. 

President Donald Trump’s White House has extended an olive branch towards Riyadh as the new State Department lays out its foreign policy agenda.

But this new diplomatic program runs contrary to the KSA’s economic goals. American oil exports, reinstated back in December 2015, counter the effects of OPEC’s landmark agreement to lower bloc-wide output by 1.2 million barrels per day in an effort to alleviate an international supply glut.

As a major oil exporter, Russia was invited to participate in the agreement when it was being discussed back in 2016. American exports were still limited to specific destinations back then, and U.S.-based companies had only just begun to secure supply contracts in Asian and European markets. Any threat to the success of the deal from the other side of the Atlantic seemed far-fetched just a year ago. 

But the tables have turned.

Washington doesn’t rely on oil profits to run its nation. Moscow and Riyadh do—and heavily so. A boost in active rigs in the Permian basin, as well as other areas in the north of the country, has put shale oil and gas in the center of Russo-American geopolitics. As Moscow approves an extension of its 300,000-bpd output drop commitment with OPEC, the U.S. department of energy eyes new markets for American fossil fuels. Energy Secretary Rick Perry made his rounds to Japan in May to open the world’s largest liquified natural gas (LNG) consumer’s doors to U.S.-drilled supplies. The carbon-light fuel is considered a gateway energy source for developed countries as grid systems shift to renewable and alternative power options.

In Europe, American infringement of Russian dominance in gas markets is even clearer. The European Union has faced off against Moscow regarding the Crimea annexation and the Syrian revolution in recent years, but Russian control over Europe’s energy supplies undermined the continent’s geopolitical leverage. 

This new landscape puts Saudi Arabian interests in line with those of Russia. Both mega producers need to contain the growth of the outbound American fossil fuel industry, but the Iran issue remains a key point of contention between Riyadh and Moscow. The KSA is neck-deep in a showdown against Qatar for its involvement with Tehran on the South Pars gas field. New Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman’s assertive stance locks the country in an irreconcilable rivalry with Iran. In contrast, Moscow stood by Iran through the latter’s experience as an international global pariah.

So far, President Trump has announced Iran’s official decertification from the nuclear deal, which doesn’t dismantle the deal completely, but provides the Republican Congress a route to sanctions it didn’t have before. The White House also approved new sanctions against the country’s Revolutionary Guard last week. These new developments are bound to bring back the Tehran and Moscow alliance in full force, potentially alienating the KSA in its anti-Iran stride.

The exact dynamics of the Moscow-Riyadh axis are still being forged in OPEC meetings around the world. Time will tell whether Saudi wants this new ally badly enough to reduce its belligerence against Iran, if that’s what the future of the relationship comes to.

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US-Backed Syrian Kurds Transfer Key Gas Field To Russians After Secret Talks

In a move that surprised many observers of the ongoing war for Deir Ezzor province, the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) handed over one of Syria's largest gas fields to Russian forces on Thursday, possibly as the result of unprecedented direct talks between high ranking Russian officials and Kurdish leaders in Qamishli in northeastern Syria.

Conoco gas plant (also locally called Al-Tabiya, which is the plant's main feeder field) lies on the eastern side of the Euphrates outside of Deir Ezzor city – which was recently liberated from ISIS as the Syrian Army and Russian forces approached from the west of the Euphrates. The Conoco field had been held by ISIS since 2014, and was taken by the SDF on September 23rd as the mainly Kurdish force advanced from the east. The now fast crumbling Islamic State relied on much of its financing through its prior consolidation over many oil and gas sites in the resource rich Deir Ezzor province.

Above: overhead view Conoco/Tabiya plant. Below: Recent video footage taken after the US-backed SDF captured the facility from ISIS last month. ConocoPhillips founded it, yet is not currently associated with it (since 2005).

The gas field, which had the largest capacity of any in Syria prior to the conflict, is capable of producing 450 million cubic feet (13 million cubic meters) of natural gas per day. It is named for the American company which first discovered gas reserves and built a processing plant at the location, however, ConocoPhillips turned the facility over to the state-run Syrian Gas Company in 2005 and has no current association with it.

Beirut-based al-Masdar News broke the story based on Syrian military sources:

The information, disseminated by Syrian military reports, claims that an agreement has been brokered between Russia and the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces whereby the Syrian government will be allowed to assume control over the gas field.

 

If true, then the scope of any backdoor agreements reached between Moscow and Washington regarding the transfer of energy assets held by Kurdish-led militias back to the rightful ownership of the Damascus government may yet encompass wider dimensions (i.e. future transfers) – although there is absolutely no evidence to suggest this is in fact the case.

 

Nonetheless, the unexpected transfer of the Conoco Gas Field by the SDF to the Syrian government does now raise questions as to whether or not the hitherto competition between the Syrian Arab Army and Kurdish-led militias to seize control of the much larger Al-Omar Oil Field from ISIS further south is still on.

On Wednesday the Russian Deputy Foreign Minister was spotted in the self-declared Kurdish autonomous zone of Rojava to meet with Kurdish and Syrian leaders in the northern city of Qamishli (based on Zero Hedge's own sources, also confirmed by other analysts). It is very likely that Thursday's Conoco gas field handover was the result of this historic, yet unofficial, face-to-face meeting.

Russian Deputy FM Mikhail Bogdanov is the Special Presidential Envoy for the Middle East – so whatever was discussed was no doubt huge. This follows last month's "secret" and unprecedented US-Russia military to military meeting on Syria at a location somewhere in the Middle East.

Meanwhile, rapid developments in the region continue to point toward an eventual full Syrian-Russian military and strategic victory. As we explained previously, after Kirkuk city in Iraq came under complete Iraqi national control this week, the US is now forced to reconsider its presence in northeast Syria as Kurdish aspirations in Iraq were shut, and as the US was forced to side with Baghdad as the victor, along with other countries like Saudi Arabia, which quickly sent congratulations to the Baghdad government. It appears that national sovereignty will win out over what appeared to be a previous trajectory toward ethnic/sect based fragmentation in Iraq and Syria.

This week the US coalition announced that 98% of Raqqa city has been liberated from ISIS as the SDF continues to celebrate victory by raising its banners over the city. But now the question remains: if ISIS is now largely finished and clearly on the run, what will US military goals in Syria be if its 'Operation Inherent Resolve' was ostensibly all about defeating Daesh?

As we suggested before, Kurdish interests don’t lie with Washington but with Damascus, ready to establish a constructive dialogue with them if they stop being seduced by the US’ temporary interest in the Levant. So the Conoco field handover could mean that either the Syrian Kurds now see the writing on the wall (after observing events in Iraq) and know the US will eventually drop them (thus seeing the need to start directly dealing with Syria-Russia), or perhaps that the US has now been forced to save face and make good on its officially stated anti-ISIS goals.

In late September, US coalition spokesman Col. Ryan Dillon told Reuters: "From the coalition’s perspective it has not been a race, we are not in the land-grabbing business,” and added, “Our goal as I have said a dozen times is fighting ISIS. We don’t have a fight with the (Syrian) regime. We are not in a fight with the Russians. We are there to fight ISIS and that’s what we are going to do.”

It appears that the US could be forced to make good on these (initially empty) promises while making a "graceful" exit (the US will claim to have "defeated ISIS"). However, it remains true to that the US proxy SDF continues to hold vast Syrian energy resources, and US special forces still illegally maintain perhaps a dozen forward operating bases throughout the country's north.

US and Saudi "reconstruction" presence in Raqqa Province? Brett McGurk in Ayn Issa, Raqqa on Monday with the Saudi minister Thamer al-Sabhan (former Ambassador to Iraq, known to be extremely sectarian and anti-Shia.):

Though the US endgame continues to be the ultimate million dollar question in all of this, it appears at least for now that this endgame has something to do with the Pentagon forcing itself into a place of affecting the Syrian war's outcome and final apportionment of power: the best case scenario for American power in the region being permanent US bases under a Syrian Kurdish federated zone with favored access to Syrian oil doled out by Kurdish partners, and we could now be witnessing the early phases of such negotiations. 

But if indeed the Kurds are cutting separate deals with Russia, a US exit from Syria could be forced sooner rather than later.

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