Neoconservatives arrayed in their Washington offices are congratulating themselves on their success in using the Charlie Hebdo affair to reunite Europe with Washington’s foreign policy. No more French votes with the Palestinians against the Washington-Israeli position.
No more growing European sympathy with the Palestinians. No more growing European opposition to launching new wars in the Middle East. No more calls from the French president to end the sanctions against Russia.
Do the neoconservatives also understand that they have united Europeans with the right-wing anti-immigration political parties? The wave of support for the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists is the wave of Marine Le Pen’s National Front, Nigel Farage’s UK Independence Party, and Germany’s PEGIDA sweeping over Europe. These parties are empowered by the anti-immigration fervor that was orchestrated in order to reunite Europeans with Washington and Israel.
Once again the arrogant and insolent neoconservatives have blundered. Charlie Hebdo’s empowerment of the anti-immigration parties has the potential to revolutionize European politics and destroy Washington’s empire. See my weekend interview with King World News for my thoughts on this potential game-changer. http://kingworldnews.com/paul-craig-roberts-new-crisis-worse-russia-unleashing-black-swans-west/
The reports from the UK Daily Mail and from Zero Hedge that Russia has cut off natural gas deliveries to six European countries must be incorrect.
These sources are credible and well-informed, but such a cut-off would have instantly produced political and financial turmoil of which there is no sign. Therefore, unless there is a news blackout, Russia’s action has been misunderstood.
We know something real has happened. Otherwise, EU energy official Maros Sefcovic would not be expressing such consternation.
Although I am without any definite information, I believe I know what the real story is. Russia, tired of Ukraine’s theft of the natural gas that passes through the country on its way to delivery to Europe, has made a decision to route the gas to Turkey, thus bypassing Ukraine.
The Russian energy minister has confirmed this decision and added that if European countries wish to avail themselves of this gas supply, they must put in place the infrastructure or pipeline to bring the gas into their countries.
In other words, there is a potential for a cutoff in the future, but no cutoff at the present.
These two events–Charlie Hebdo and the Russian decision to cease delivering gas to Europe via Ukraine–should remind us that the potential for black swans, and unintended consequences of official decisions that can produce black swans, always exist. Not even the American “superpower” is immune from black swans.
There is as much circumstantial evidence that the CIA and French Intelligence are responsible for the Charlie Hebdo shootings as there is that the shootings were carried out by the two brothers whose ID was conveniently found in the alleged get-away car. As the French made certain that the brothers were killed before they could talk, we will never know what they had to say about the plot.
The only evidence we have that the brothers are guilty is the claim by the security forces. Every time I hear government claims without real evidence, I remember Saddam Hussein’s “weapons of mass destruction,” Assad’s “use of chemical weapons,” and Iran’s “nuclear weapons program.”
If a US National Security Advisor can conjure up out of thin air “mushroom clouds over an American city,” Cherif and Said Kouachi can be turned into killers. After all, they are dead and cannot protest.
If this was, and we will never know for certain, a false flag attack, it achieved Washington’s goal of reuniting Europe under Washington and Israeli auspices. But this success has an unintended consequence. The unintended consequence is to unify Europe under the anti-immigration policy of the right-wing parties, thus empowering the leaders of those parties.
If this surmise is correct, Marie Le Pen and Nigel Farage will find their lives and/or reputations in danger as Washington will resist the rise of European governments that do not adhere to Washington’s line.
The consternation caused by Russia’s decision to relocate its gas delivery to Europe is proof that Russia holds many cards that Russia could play that would bring down the political and financial structures of the Western World.
China holds similar cards.
The two countries are not playing their cards, because they do not think that they need them. Instead, the two powers are withdrawing from the Western financial system that serves Western hegemony over the world. They are creating all of the economic institutions that they need in order to be completely independent of the West.
Therefore, the Russian and Chinese governments reason, “Why be provocative and slap down the Western fools. They might resort to their nuclear weapons, and the entire world would be lost. Let’s just walk away while they encourage us to depart with their provocations.”
We can be thankful that Vladimir Putin and the leaders of the Chinese government are both intelligent and humane, unlike Western leaders.
Imagine, for example, the dire consequences for the West if Putin were to become personally involved as a result of the numerous affronts to both Russia and Putin himself. Putin can destroy NATO and the entire Western financial system whenever he wants. All he has to do is to announce that as NATO has declared economic war against Russia, Russia no longer sells energy to NATO members.
The NATO alliance would dissolve as Europe cannot survive without Russian energy supplies. Washington’s empire would end.
Putin realizes that the insolent neoconservatives would have to push the nuclear button in order to save face. Unlike Putin, their egos are on the line. Thus, Putin saves the world from nuclear war by not being provocative.
Now, imagine if the Chinese government were to lose its patience with Washington. To confront the “exceptional, indispensable, unipower” with the reality of its impotence, all China needs to do is to dump its massive dollar-denominated financial assets on the market, all at once, just as the Federal Reserve’s bullion bank agents dump massive uncovered gold contracts on the future’s market.
In order to avoid US financial collapse, the Federal Reserve would have to print massive amounts of new dollars with which to purchase the dumped Chinese holdings. As the Federal Reserve would protect US financial markets by purchasing the dumped Chinese holdings, the Chinese would lose nothing from the sale. It is the next step that is decisive. The Chinese government then dumps the massive holdings of dollars it has received from its selloff of dollar-dominated financial instruments.
Now what happens? The Fed can print dollars with which to purchase the dumped Chinese holdings, but the Fed cannot print foreign currencies with which to buy up the dumped dollars.
The massive supply of dollars dumped in the exchange market by China would have no takers. The dollar’s value would collapse. Washington could no longer pay its bills by printing money. Americans living in an import-dependent country, thanks to jobs offshoring, would be faced with high prices that would seriously erode their living standard. The United States would experience economic, social, and political instability.
Putting aside their brainwashing, their defensiveness and patriotic support of the regime in Washington, Americans need to ask themselves: How is it possible that the government of the United States, an alleged Superpower, is so unaware of its true vulnerabilities that Washington is capable of pushing two real powers until they have had enough and play the cards that they hold?
Americans need to understand that the only thing exceptional about the US is the ignorance of the population and the stupidity of the government.
What other country would let a handful of Wall Street crooks control its economic and foreign policy, run its central bank and Treasury, and subordinate citizens’ interests to the interests of the one percent’s pocketbook?
A population this insouciant is at the total mercy of Russia and China.
Yesterday there was a black swan event, an event that could yet unleash other black swan events. The Swiss central bank announced an end to its pegging of the Swiss franc to the euro and US –
Three years ago flight from euros and dollars into Swiss francs pushed the exchange value of the franc so high that it threatened the existence of the Swiss export industries. Switzerland announced that any further inflows of foreign currencies into francs would be met by creating new francs to absorb the inflows so as not to drive up the exchange rate further. In other words, the Swiss pegged the franc.
Yesterday the Swiss central bank announced that the peg was off. The franc instantly rose in value. Stocks of Swiss export companies fell, and hedge funds wrongly positioned incurred major hits to their solvency.
Why did the Swiss remove the peg? It was not a costless action. It cost the central bank and Swiss export industries substantially.
The answer is that the EU attorney general ruled that it was permissible for the EU central bank to initiate Quantitative Easing–that is, the printing of new euros–in order to bail out the mistakes of the private bankers.
This decision means that Switzerland expects to be confronted with massive flight from the euro and that the Swiss central bank is unwilling to print enough new Swiss francs to maintain the peg. The Swiss central bank believes that it would have to run the printing press so hard that the basis of the Swiss money supply would explode, far exceeding the GDP of Switzerland.
The money printing policy of the US, Japan, and apparently now the EU has forced other countries to inflate their own currencies in order to prevent the rise in the exchange value of their currencies that would curtail their ability to export and earn foreign currencies with which to pay for their imports. Thus Washington has forced the world into printing money.
The Swiss have backed out of this system. Will others follow, or will the rest of the world follow the Russians and Chinese governments into new monetary arrangements and simply turn their backs on the corrupt and irredeemable West?
The level of corruption and manipulation that characterizes US economic and foreign policy today was impossible in earlier times when Washington’s ambition was constrained by the Soviet Union. The greed for hegemonic power has made Washington the most corrupt government on earth.
The consequence of this corruption is ruin.
“Leadership passes into empire. Empire begets insolence. Insolence brings ruin.”
Ruin is America’s future.
And, what about Russia’s Future:
Russia Just Pulled Itself Out Of Petrodollar
Back in November, before most grasped just how serious the collapse in crude was (and would become, as well as its massive implications), independent analytics wrote “How The Petrodollar Quietly Died, And Nobody Noticed“, because for the first time in almost two decades, energy-exporting countries would pull their “petrodollars” out of world markets in 2015.
This empirical death of Petrodollar followed years of windfalls for oil exporters such as Russia, Angola, Saudi Arabia and Nigeria. Much of that money found its way into financial markets, helping to boost asset prices and keep the cost of borrowing down, through so-called petrodollar recycling.
They added that in 2014 “the oil producers will effectively import capital amounting to $7.6 billion. By comparison, they exported $60 billion in 2013 and $248 billion in 2012, according to the following graphic based on BNP Paribas calculations.”
The problem was compounded by its own positive feedback loop: as the last few weeks vividly demonstrated, plunging oil would lead to a further liquidation in foreign reserves for the oil exporters who rushed to preserve their currencies, leading to even greater drops in oil as the viable producers rushed to pump out as much crude out of the ground as possible in a scramble to put the weakest producers out of business, and to crush marginal production. Call it Game Theory gone mad and on steroids.
Ironically, when the price of crude started its self-reinforcing plunge, such a death would happen whether the petrodollar participants wanted it, or, as the case may be, were dragged into the abattoir kicking and screaming.
It is the latter that seems to have taken place with the one country that many though initially would do everything in its power to have an amicable departure from the Petrodollar and yet whose divorce from the USD has quickly become a very messy affair, with lots of screaming and the occasional artillery shell.
As Bloomberg reports, Russia may ‘unseal its $88 billion Reserve Fund and convert some of its foreign-currency holdings into rubles, the latest government effort to prop up an economy veering into its worst slump since 2009.’
These are dollars which Russia would have otherwise recycled into US denominated assets. Instead, Russia will purchase even more Rubles and use the proceeds for FX and economic stabilization purposes.
“Together with the central bank, we are selling a part of our foreign-currency reserves,” Finance Minister Anton Siluanov said in Moscow today. “We’ll get rubles and place them in deposits for banks, giving liquidity to the economy.”
Call it less than amicable divorce, call it what you will: what it is, is Russia violently leaving the ranks of countries that exchange crude for US paper.
Russia may convert as much as 500 billion rubles from one of the government’s two sovereign wealth funds to support the national currency, Siluanov said, calling the ruble “undervalued.” The Finance Ministry last month started selling foreign currency remaining on the Treasury’s accounts.
The entire 500 billion rubles or part of the amount will be converted in January-February through the central bank, according to Deputy Finance Minister Alexey Moiseev. The Bank of Russia will determine the timing and method of the operation.
The ruble, the world’s second-worst performing currency last year, weakened for a fourth day, losing 1.3 percent to 66.0775 against the dollar by 3:21 p.m. in Moscow. It trimmed a drop of as much as 2 percent after Siluanov’s comments. The ruble’s continued slump this year underscores the fragility of coordinated measures by Russia’s government and central bank that steered the ruble’s rebound from a record-low intraday level of 80.10 on Dec. 16. OAO Gazprom and four other state-controlled exporters were ordered last month to cut foreign-currency holdings by March 1 to levels no higher than they were on Oct. 1. The central bank sought to make it easier for banks to access dollars and euros while raising its key rate to 17 percent, the emergency level it introduced last month to arrest the ruble collapse.
Today’s announcement “looks ruble-supportive, as together with state-driven selling from exporters it would support FX supply on the market,” Dmitry Polevoy, chief economist for Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States at ING Groep NV in Moscow, said by e-mail. “Also, it will be helpful for banks, while there might be some negative effects related to extra money supply and risks of using some of the money on the FX market for short-term speculations.
Bloomberg’s dready summary of the US economy is generally spot on, and is to be expected when any nation finally leaves, voluntarily or otherwise, the stranglehold of a global reserve currency. What Bloomberg failed to account for is what happens to the remainder of the Petrodollar world. Here is what researches said last time:
Outside from the domestic economic impact within EMs due to the downward oil price shock, we believe that the implications for financial market liquidity via the reduced recycling of petrodollars should not be underestimated. Because energy exporters do not fully invest their export receipts and effectively ‘save’ a considerable portion of their income, these surplus funds find their way back into bank deposits (fuelling the loan market) as well as into financial markets and other assets. This capital has helped fund debt among importers, helping to boost overall growth as well as other financial markets liquidity conditions.
[T]his year, it is to expect that incremental liquidity typically provided by such recycled flows will be markedly reduced, estimating that direct and other capital outflows from energy exporters will have declined by USD253bn YoY. Of course, these economies also receive inward capital, so on a net basis, the additional capital provided externally is much lower. This year, it is to expect that net capital flows will be negative for EM, representing the first net inflow of capital (USD8bn) for the first time in eighteen years. This compares with USD60bn last year, which itself was down from USD248bn in 2012. At its peak, recycled EM petro dollars amounted to USD511bn back in 2006. The declines seen since 2006 not only reflect the changed global environment, but also the propensity of underlying exporters to begin investing the money domestically rather than save. The implications for financial markets liquidity – not to mention related downward pressure on US Treasury yields – is negative.
Considering the wildly violent moves we have seen so far in the market confirming just how little liquidity is left in the market, and of course, the absolutely collapse in Treasury yields, with the 30 Year just hitting a record low, this prediction has been borne out precisely as expected.
And now, one should await to see which other country will follow Russia out of the Petrodollar next, and what impact that will have not only on the world’s reserve currency, on US Treasury rates, and on the most financialized commodity as this chart demonstrates:
… but on what is most important to developed world central planners everywhere: asset prices levels, and specifically what happens when the sellers emerge into what is rapidly shaping up as the most illiquid market in history.
First published by 4th Media, under title: “Ruin is America’s Future: Swiss Central Bank Announced End to Its Pegging of the Swiss Franc to Euro and US Dollar”
Italy’s and EU’s natural gas imports from the United States
Currently natural gas is one of the most important US assets in its relations with the European Union.
In fact, President Trump and President Jean Claude Juncker spoke at length about it during their last meeting at the White House at the end of July 2018.
Obviously the issue of the US natural gas sales is linked to a broader strategic theme for President Trump.
He wants to redesign – especially with the EU – the system of tariffs and rebalance world trade.
He also wants to recreate a commercial and economic hegemony between the United States and the EU – a hegemony that had tarnished over the last decade.
With the EU, the United States has already achieved a zero-tariff regime for most of the goods traded, also removing non-tariff barriers and all the subsidies to non-automotive goods.
Moreover, since late July last, both sides have decided to increase inter-Atlantic trade in services, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, medical products and – as a central issue in their relations with China – soybeans.
What China no longer buys – since it has been burdened with tariffs and duties – is resold to the European Union.
In fact, soy was bought massively by European consumers, as Jean Claude Juncker later added.
The demand for natural gas, however, is on the rise all over the world.
Currently Europe is in difficulty for this specific energy sector, considering that the large gas extraction field in Groningen, Netherlands, suffered an earthquake at the beginning of January 2018.
The Dutch extraction area, however, is managed jointly by both Royal Dutch Shell and Exxon-Mobil.
The North American analysts think that, for the whole EU, the other natural gas sources are at their peak of exploitation.
Gas sources such as Russia, Turkey, Central Asia and the Maghreb region are supposed to be soon saturated as a result of the growth in EU gas consumption and, therefore, the United States is thinking to sell much of its LNG to Europe as well.
With an obvious strategic and geopolitical pendant.
This holds particularly true – at least for the time being – for the Algerian gas, while the United States is currently pressing for a diversification from the Russian pipelines, offering its liquefied natural gas (LNG) for ships to Northern Europe’s terminals and, recently, also to the Italian ones.
Across the European Union, the natural gas terminals are 28, including Turkey.
There are also eight other small natural gas terminals in Finland, Sweden, Germany, Norway and Gibraltar.
Said terminals are 23 in the EU and 4 in Turkey; 23 are land-based and 4 are at sea for storage and regasification, and the Malta terminal includes both a ground base and a maritime unit.
Italy, one of the largest LNG consumers in Europe, produces a good share of natural gas internally, but it still imports 90% of the gas it consumes, while 60% of Italy’s LNG consumption is divided almost equally between two suppliers, Algeria and the Russian Federation.
By way of comparison, France extracts domestically only 1% of the natural gas it consumes every year.
Also Germany, like Italy, imports much gas from Russia – about 50% of its yearly consumption.
From where, however, does Italy import its natural gas? From Russia, as already seen, as well as from Algeria, Libya, Holland and Norway.
Then there is the Trans Austria Gas (TAG), a network which, again from Russia, brings gas to the Slovakian-Austrian border (precisely to Baumgarten an der March up to Arnoldstein in Southern Austria) with a maximum capacity of 107 million cubic meters per day.
There is also Transitgas, crossing Wallbach, Switzerland, up to Passo Gries, where it intersects with the SNAM network.
It is also connected to Gaz de France and has a maximum capacity of 59 million cubic meters per day.
A significant role is also played by the Trans Tunisian Pipeline Company (TTPC), a network with a capacity of 108 million cubic meters per day, stretching from Oued al Saf, between Tunisia and Algeria, to Cape Bon, where it connects with the Trans-Mediterranean Pipeline Company (TMPC). The network reaches Mazara del Vallo, where it enters the SNAM system.
The security of this line was a factor considered in the decision taken by the Italian intelligence services to participate actively in the struggle for succession in Tunisia, after Habib Bourghiba’s political end.
The Greenstream pipeline connects Libya to Italy, with a maximum capacity of 46.7 million cubic meters per day, with regasifiers located in Panigaglia and off Leghorn’s coast (OLT), as well as off Rovigo’s coast.
It should be recalled that, in July 2018, ENI opened production in the offshore plant of Bar Essalam, a site 120 kilometres off Tripoli’s coast, which could contain 260 billion cubic meters of gas, while the French company Total paid 450 million dollars to buy – from the United States -16% of the oil concession in Waha, Libya.
As is well known, the TAP is under construction.
With a maximum capacity of 24.6 million cubic meters per day, it stretches from Greece to Italy through Albania.
There is also the IGI Poseidon, again between Greece and Italy, as well as the regasification terminal of Porto Empedocle, and the other terminals of Gioia Tauro and Falconara Marittima.
Shortly the pipelines from Algeria to Sardinia could be operational, with a terminal in Piombino, as well as the one in Zaule, and the regasification plant in Monfalcone.
Hence if all these networks are already operational or will be so in the near future, Italy alone could shift the axis of the natural gas transport from the North (namely Great Britain and Holland) to the South (namely Italy and Greece).
If this operation is successful, Italy could become the future natural gas energy hub, thus making it turn from a mere consumer to an exporter of natural gas.
In 2020, SNAM plans to bring 4.5 billion cubic meters of gas from the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline, which transports Azerbaijan’s LNG, jointly with BP.
This is a further phase of reduction of the EU dependence on Russian gas.
But also the purchase of LNG from the United States could undermine the Italian plan of becoming the European natural gas hub, as against the Dutch-British system.
Obviously the liquefied natural gas is sold by the United States mainly as an operation against Russia.
Currently, the American LNG has prices that are approximately 50% lower than the Russian gas prices.
As pointed out by one of the major Italian energy experts, Davide tabarelli, the price is 8 euros per megawatt / hour as against 22 euros of the LNG coming from Russia.
For the time being, however, China is the world’s top LNG buyer, with a 40% increase in its consumption.
Nevertheless, while China’s gas consumption is booming, the ships carrying natural gas from the United States tend to go right to Asia, where, inter alia, a much higher price than the European average can be charged.
In the EU, however, the Russian gas can be bought at 3.5-4 dollars per Mega British Thermal Unit (MBtu) while the break-even price of the US gas, which is much more expensive to produce, is around 6-7.5 MBtu, including transport.
Competition, however, is still fierce, given that the EU regasifiers are used at 27% of their potential, and considering Qatar’s harsh competition with the United States. It is worth recalling that Qatar is a large producer of natural gas with the South Pars II field, in connection with Iran.
In the near future, the small Emirate plans to sell at least 100 million tons of LNG per year, opposed only by Saudi Arabia’s reaction. According to the usual rating agencies, at banking level Qatar is also expected to suffer the pressure of Saudi Arabia and its allies, including the United States.
Nevertheless, if the cost of the trans-Atlantic transport and the cost of regasification in our terminals are added to the 8 euros about which Tabarelli speaks, we can see that the US gas and the Russian LNG prices tend to become the same.
Russia has also much lower gas production costs than the United States, considering that most of the North American LNG is extracted with shale or fracking technologies, which are much more expensive than the Russian ones.
It should be recalled that in 2017 the Russian Federation was the world’s top natural gas exporter, with a record peak of 190 billion cubic meters, accounting for 40% of all EU consumption.
Moreover, thanks to fracking technologies, the United States has become the world’s largest crude oil producer, but also the largest consumer globally. Hence no additional room for its exports of non-gas hydrocarbons can be easily envisaged.
Certainly buying American gas would mean avoiding the US import tariffs for European cars in the future, which would lead many EU governments to willingly accept President Trump’s offer.
Furthermore, ENI is finding much oil and much natural gas in Egypt, which could lead to the building of a pipeline from the Egyptian coast to which also the Israeli natural gas could join.
This implies a significant weakening of both the Egyptian domestic crisis and the tensions between the “moderate” Arab world and the Jewish State.
In fact, in the concession of Obayed East, Egypt, ENI has found a natural gas reserve of 25 million cubic meters per day which, together with the recent discoveries of the Zohr, Norus and Atol deposits, is expected to make Egypt achieve energy autonomy and independence before early winter 2018-2019.
This, too, could be one of President Trump’s geo-energy goal, along with Israel’s expansion on this market. In all likelihood, however, Russia will remain one of the largest or still the largest LNG seller to the whole EU.
However, let us better analyse the situation: with the South Pars II field it shares with Qatar, also Iran could provide the EU with a large part of its yearly natural gas requirements.
Iran is a Russian ally although, in this case, strategic friendships are always less sound than economic interests.
Furthermore, the war in Syria resulted – and probably this is also one of its underlying causes – in a block of future Iranian pipelines to the Mediterranean.
Moreover, China has bought the shareholdings held by the French Total on the Iranian territory.
For the time being, however, the United States sells much of its LNG to Asia and Latin America, where currently prices are still higher than in Europe.
Hence, like all consumer countries, the EU is interested in diversifying its energy suppliers. Nevertheless, the war in Syria has blocked Iran and the war in Libya has made the Greenstream pipeline, which is essential for Italy, unusable.
It should be recalled that Greenstream is the 520-kilometre pipeline connecting Libya to Italy directly.
Almost all the Libyan gas, however, is currently consumed inside the country.
Moreover, at this stage, President Trump would like Germany to stop even the doubling of Nord Stream 2 from the Russian coast to the German Baltic Sea.
The Ukrainian leadership is also urging the EU to avoid doubling this project, considering the forthcoming expiry of the Ukrainian contracts for the Russian natural gas.
If this happens, as from 2022 Poland will buy a large share of its natural gas from the United States, thus avoiding the Russian LNG.
Nevertheless, the United States will also favour the Southern Gas Corridor in Azerbaijan and Turkey, with a view to transferring the Caspian natural gas to the EU through Apulia.
Hence Italy would be disadvantaged: instead of using its lines and routes with Libya and Algeria, or Russia, it should buy the Caucasian gas, which will be fully managed by US companies – and this holds true also for the US natural gas direct sales, which have recently started in some Italian ports.
A dangerous political calculation, as well as a risky commercial evaluation.
Oil Market Report: Twin Peaks
Both global oil demand and supply are now close to new, historically significant peaks at 100 mb/d, and neither show signs of ceasing to grow any time soon. Fifteen years ago, forecasts of peak supply were all the rage, with production from non-OPEC countries supposed to have started declining by now. In fact, production has surged, led by the US shale revolution, and supported by big increases in Brazil, Canada and elsewhere. In future, a lot of potential supply could come to the market from places like Iran, Iraq, Libya, Nigeria and Venezuela, if their various challenges can be overcome. There is no peak in sight for demand either. The drivers of demand remain very powerful, with petrochemicals being a major factor. In a new IEA study “The Future of Petrochemicals”, the Agency points out that rising living standards, particularly in developing countries, are already underpinning strong demand growth for plastics and this will continue for many years to come.
As the oil market reaches the landmark 100 mb/d level, prices are rising steadily. Brent crude oil is now established above $80/bbl, with infrastructure constraints causing North American prices to lag somewhat. Nonetheless, our position is that expensive energy is back, with oil, gas and coal trading at multi-year highs, and it poses a threat to economic growth. For many developing countries, higher international prices coincide with currencies depreciating against the US dollar, so the threat of economic damage is more acute. The global economy is also at risk from trade disputes. In this Report, our revised demand outlook reflects these concerns: growth in both 2018 and 2019 will be 110 kb/d lower than our earlier forecast. As explained in the demand section of this Report, there is also an impact from methodological changes to Chinese estimates.
Today’s elevated oil prices partly reflect very high crude runs 100 during recent months and also supply fears as sanctions against Iran draw near. In fact, since May, when the US announced its withdrawal from the JCPOA and its decision to impose sanctions, the Vienna Agreement parties, plus Libya and Nigeria but excluding Iran, Mexico and Venezuela, have increased total oil production by a combined 1.6 mb/d. At the same time, total US supply has increased by 390 kb/d. Even China has seen the first year-on-year production growth in nearly three years in response to higher prices. Official statements from Saudi Arabia suggest that October exports are back to the high levels seen in June and that more oil is available for those who wish to buy it. Meanwhile, output in Iran, Mexico, and Venezuela has fallen by 575 kb/d. New data for OECD stocks show that in August they increased by a more- than-normal 16 mb and have been relatively stable for several months after falling significantly following the implementation of the original Vienna Agreement.
The increase in net production from key suppliers since May of approximately 1.4 mb/d, led by Saudi Arabia, and the fact that oil stocks built by 0.5 mb/d in 2Q18 and look likely to have done the same in 3Q18, lends weight to the argument that the oil market is adequately supplied for now. The IEA welcomes this boost to supply; however, with Iran’s exports likely to fall by significantly more than the 800 kb/d seen so far, and the ever-present threat of supply disruptions in Libya and a collapse in Venezuela, we cannot be complacent and the market is clearly signalling its concerns that more supply might be needed.
It is an extraordinary achievement for the global oil industry to meet the needs of a 100 mb/d market, but today, in 4Q18, we have reached new twin peaks for demand and supply by straining parts of the system to the limit. Recent production increases come at the expense of spare capacity, which is already down to only 2% of global demand, with further reductions likely to come. This strain could be with us for some time and it will likely be accompanied by higher prices, however much we regret them and their potential negative impact on the global economy.
The Force of the Sun: Madagascar Embarks on Renewable Energy Production
“JIRAMA: until when?” “JIRAMA: it’s been 2 hours!” “JIRAMA: you’re destroying our equipment!” It is 11 a.m. Numerous complaints against the national water and electricity company, JIRAMA, are posted on social media by Internet users. The electricity supply has been cut in several neighborhoods in Antananarivo. Cue the familiar sounds of power generators in offices and a number of stores. The scene is nothing new. Over the past decade, JIRAMA’s customers, both household and industrial alike, have experienced repeated power outages.
A Crucial Resource for Economic and Social Development
In Madagascar, only 15% of the population has access to electricity. In 2017, the country had just 570 MW of mainly thermal (60%) and hydroelectric (40%) installed production capacity. Furthermore, only 60% of this energy is truly available owing to poor maintenance of power plants. Apart from the fact that these challenges in the energy sector undermine the quality of citizens’ daily lives, they also represent one of the major obstacles to the country’s development and to private sector expansion. In the World Bank Group’s Doing Business 2018 report that assesses the business climate, Madagascar ranks 184 out of 190 countries for access to electricity.
Keenly aware of this challenge, in 2014, the Government of Madagascar decided to embark on intensive reforms to transform the sector. In March 2016, the country was granted $65 million in financial support from the World Bank through the Electricity Sector Operations and Governance Improvement Project (ESOGIP) and in June 2018, $40 million in additional financing. The objective: increase production capacity and reduce energy loss, while helping the Government improve governance of the sector and JIRAMA’s operational performance. The ESOGIP also aims to expedite progress on renewable energies in order to provide a reliable, more affordable alternative to expensive and environmentally unfriendly diesel generators.
Betting on Solar Energy
With all regions of Madagascar enjoying over 2,800 hours of sunlight per year, the Grande Île is the perfect location for development of solar power, with a potential capacity of 2,000 kWh/m²/year. The Government is counting on this potential to fulfill its objective of providing energy access to 70% of Malagasy households by 2030.
“Our energy policy for 2015-2030 addresses several pressing economic, social, and environmental challenges. It supports the transition to the energy mix for electricity and lighting, which will include 80% of renewable resources. To achieve our goal of providing electricity to 70% of the population, we will have to produce 7,900 GWh by 2030, as opposed to the 1,500 GWh currently produced,” explains Lantoniaina Rasoloelison, Minister of Energy and Hydrocarbons.
An ambitious project, particularly if it is entirely dependent on public financing.
An Innovative Financing Mechanism to Support the State
To supplement public funds in order to finance large-scale construction of solar plants by promoting private investment, the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the private sector arm of the World Bank Group, is helping the Government set up a public-private partnership (PPP).
Through the Scaling Solar initiative, in March 2016, IFC signed an agreement with the Malagasy Government to construct a plant of approximately 25 MW, connected to the Antananarivo network, through a transparent international competitive bidding process.
Madagascar is currently the fifth country in Africa in which a Scaling Solar tender process was launched, after two tender processes in Zambia, one in Senegal, and another in Ethiopia. It is also the first Scaling Solar project to include solar energy storage requirements by pairing solar with batteries.
The process began with feasibility studies conducted by IFC experts to determine the solar capacity that could be added to the existing network and to select a suitable location.
In October 2017, the Government of Madagascar invited private investors to participate in a prequalification process, based on strict eligibility criteria, to select potential candidates with the necessary experience, expertise, and financial resources to complete the project as expeditiously as possible.
Expertise of the Various World Bank Group Institutions
Over 100 companies from 28 countries expressed their interest. In February 2018, six companies and groups were selected to participate in the tender process and will be able to make use of the feasibility studies provided by IFC to prepare their technical bids and identify financial partners. This last step will also be facilitated by the investment guarantees and credit enhancement tools provided by the World Bank and the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA), which offers a number of protections, particularly against non-commercial risks (political, expropriation disputes, etc.).
“Scaling Solar Madagascar aims to propose an integrated solution that includes financing and the implementation of technical solutions in which the operating company chosen will benefit from coverage against political and financial risks, offered by the World Bank,” explains Satyam Ramnauth, IFC Country Manager for Madagascar. “This project will also set the operating standards that will serve as a reference for legitimate operators, as well as for the Government with respect to the implementation of its energy policy.”
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