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The petroyuan

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Many oil futures denominated in yuan were launched on the Shanghai market at the end of March 2018 and quickly traded for 62,500 contracts – hence for a notional value of 27 billion yuan, equivalent to 4 billion US dollars.

The financial process of the new petroyuan, however, had already begun as early as 2016.

Hence there was obviously the danger of an internal financial bubble in China, but linked to the crude oil price –  yet the Chinese government had decided that the fluctuation allowed for those contracts had to be only 5%, with a maximum 10% fluctuation only for the first day of trading.

Furthermore considering the average level of oil transactions in China, we can see that oil and gas imports could back financial operations totalling over 200 billion yuan.

According to industry analysts, the level of Chinese oil  imports is expected to increase by approximately 2.1 million barrels per day from 2017 until 2023, which implies that the Chinese market will change the future level of oil barrel prices – be they denominated in dollars or in another currency.

Hence, from now on, China will explicitly challenge the “petrodollar” to create its petroyuan – with an initial foreseeable investment by the Chinese government, which will take place on the sale of a 5% shareholding of Saudi Aramco.

Nevertheless the prospect of an IPO on the Saudi “jewel in the crown” – which was also at the core of Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Vision 2030, all focused on the Kingdom’s economic diversification – has been postponed to at least 2019.

The Saudi Royal Family is not at all homogeneous, both politically and for its different financial interests.

This is demonstrated by the attack – obscure, but thwarted with some difficulty -on Riyadh’s royal palace, launched by some armed units on April 21 last.

Should the sale of a 5% shareholding of Saudi Aramco finally take place, however, it would be the biggest IPO ever.

The magnitude of the deal is huge: according to the latest Saudi estimates, the company is worth 2 trillion US dollars – hence a 5% shareholding is at least equal to 100 billion dollars.

Moreover, China is doing anything to make Saudi Arabia accept payments in yuan –  the first step to replace the old petrodollar.

If Saudi Arabia did not accept at least a large share of Chinese payments in yuan, it could be “blackmailed” and witness a decrease in an essential share of its oil exports. Not to mention the fact that – also with reference to Saudi Aramco-as the saying goes, sovereign funds and Chinese state-owned companies have “deeper pockets” than many prospective Western buyers.

Moreover President Trump is doing anything to make the IPO on Saudi Aramco end up in US hands. However, it cannot be taken for granted that he will succeed. In spite of everything, Mohammed bin Salman is not the heir of the old Saudi bilateralism vis-à-vis the United States.

Nonetheless, in his visit to China last March, Prince Mohammed bin Salman already signed contracts with his  Chinese counterparts to the tune of 65 billion US dollars –  and they are only petrochemical and energy transactions.

Furthermore this major Saudi oil company is considering the possibility of issuing yuan-denominated bonds, at least to cover part of the trade between the two countries.

Moreover, the US imports of Saudi oil have been steadily declining for some time, which makes the US role in the future post-oil diversification of the Saudi economy – the real big deal of the coming years – more difficult.

Over the next few months, however, the Chinese financiers are preparing to launch on the market a yuan-denominated oil future convertible into gold.

According to Chinese sources, it will be open to foreign investment funds and to the various oil companies.

Hence if the use of the dollar is gradually avoided, it will be possible -also for Russia and Iran, for example – to circumvent the sanctions imposed by the USA, the EU and the UN and fully re-enter -precisely through the yuan – the global oil and financial markets.

Moreover, the “petroyuan operation” is rapidly expanding to Africa.

Just recently, we heard about the definition of a three-year currency swap between China and Nigeria worth over 2.5 billion yuan.

As is well-known, the currency swap is a special derivative contract with which two parties exchange interest and sometimes principal in one currency for the same in another currency. Interest payments are exchanged at fixed dates through the life of the contract.

Hence 2.5 billion yuan are exchanged with 720 billion Naira.

Obviously, also in this case, there is no need for either of the two contracting parties to buy US currency for trading and exchanges, while Nigeria is currently China’s largest trading partner in Africa and China is the largest foreign investor in Nigeria.

All this happens in Nigeria, with African exports to China  mainly consisting of oil and raw materials, exactly what is needed to keep China’s rate of development (and the yuan exchange rate) high.

The internationalization of the Chinese currency, however,  is mainly stimulated by the following factors: the expansion of the cashless economy, which favours large Chinese and global operators such as AliBaba (Alipay) or WeChatPay; the Belt and Road Initiative, which pushes China’s   investment and combines it with other monetary areas; the very fast globalization of Chinese banks and their adoption of the SWIFT gpi system; finally the development of the Interbank Paying System between China and the countries with which it trades the most.

Nonetheless there are some factors which still need to be studied carefully.

Meanwhile, Hong Kong is still the largest clearing center for the transactions denominated in yuan-renmimbi – with 76% of all transactions that currently pass through the island still under the Chinese special administration.

Still today the renmimbi account only for 1.61% of all international settlements, while 22 Chinese banks are  SWIFT-connected.

Many, but not enough.

Moreover, as much as 97.8% of the yuan trading is still as against the US dollar, while the exchange between the yuan and the other currencies other than the US dollar is worth very little in terms of quantities of cash and liquidity traded.

Still today 80.47% of payments whose last beneficiary resides in China is denominated in dollars.

As to the international renmimbi reserves, it all began when, in September 2016, the International Monetary Fund announced that, for the first time, the Special Drawing Rights (SDR) would include the renmimbi.

In June 2017, the European Central Bank converted the value of 500 million euro into dollars (557 million US dollars)  and then into renmimbi – equivalent to 0.7% of the total portfolio of ECB’s currencies, while in January 2018 the German Central Bank decided to include the renmimbi among its reserves.

Nowadays only 16% of China’s international trade is traded in the Chinese currency.

The real problem for the dollar is still the euro.

In fact, the transactions in US dollarsfell from 43.89% of total transactions in 2015 to 39.85% in 2017 while, in the same period, those denominated in euro rose from 29.39% to 35.66%.

However, as Vilfredo Pareto said, currencies are “solidified politics”.

In fact, China wants to use the renmimbi-yuan also in the Pakistani port of Gwadar and in its Free Economic Zone, which is the first maritime station of the Belt and Road initiative.

Furthermore the payments in yuan between China and the USA, which is still China’s largest trading partner – account for 5% only, while Japan – the second largest country by volume of transactions with China – already operates 25% of its transactions with the yuan-renmimbi.

Only South Korea – another primary commercial point of reference for China – does use the Chinese currency for a very significant 86% of bilateral transactions.

Certainly the oil market remains essential for the creation of petroyuan or, in any case, for the globalization of the Chinese currency.

Since 2017 China has overtaken the USA as the world’s largest oil and gas importer.

Furthermore, as early as 2009, the Chinese authorities have criticized the use of the US currency alone as a basis for international trade.

In fact, the Chinese political leadership would like to define a monetary benchmark among the main currencies and later build the progressive de-dollarization of trade on it.

Obviously the expansion in the use of the Chinese currency in global transactions, which peaked in 2015, corresponded to the phase when the yuan was undervalued and gradually and slowly appreciated as against the US dollar.

After the two devaluations of the yuan-renmimbi in the summer of 2015, the profitability of replacing the US dollar with the Chinese currency has clearly diminished.

Moreover, since the possession of the yuan is still subject to restrictions and checks, the globalization of the Chinese currency cannot fail to pass through the full liberalization of China’s currency and financial markets.

A project often mentioned  by President Xi Jinping and implemented by the Central Bank, especially with maximum transparency on transactions and the end of the capital “shares”, in addition to the quick acceptance of a price-based financial system.

Moreover, all the currencies with which China trades in the oil markets are still pegged to the US dollar and, for the Chinese authorities, this is  another difficulty to replace the US currency.

On the domestic side, the yuan has a big problem: it is a matter of investing Chinese savings, which are currently equal to 43% of GDP.

If we consider a similar investment rate, the Chinese economy is no longer sustainable.

Therefore, either all investment abroad is liberalized – but, for China, this would mean the loss of control over domestic savings – or the yuan becomes a new international currency, thus using it for long-term loans in the Belt and Road Initiative and for creating a market of yuan-denominated  oil futures.

Hence, unlike petrodollars, the petroyuan is not a US internal way to use the Arab capital stemming from the energy market, but a large internal reserve of capital to meet the needs of an expanding economy and support China’s fresh capital domestic requirements.

For Swiss banks, however, the flow of renmimbi-denominated contracts will radically change the energy financial market, but in the long run, thus obliging many global investors to invest many resources only in the Chinese financial market.

It is worth reiterating, however, that the Chinese currency has not fully been liberalized yet – nor, we imagine,  will it be quickly liberalized in the future.

In essence, China wants to govern its development and it does not at all want to favour the US single pole.

Hence either a small monetary globalization, like the current one, or the large and progressive replacement of the dollar with the renmimbi – but this presupposes the liberalization of the entire financial market denominated in the Chinese currency.

Moreover – but this would be fine for the Chinese government -foreign and domestic investors’ full access to the Chinese capital market should be granted.

It already happened in 2017 but, nowadays, it becomes vital for the geopolitical and financial choices made by President Xi Jinping’s China.

Hence, it is likely that in the future China would play the game that Kissinger invented after the Yom Kippur War, i.e. the game of the dollar surplus in the Arab world that is reinvested in the US market.

Obviously, this has kept the US interest rate unreasonably low with an unreasonably high US trade surplus.

A monetary manipulation made using one’s own strategic and military leverage.

Hence, with petrodollars, the USA has invented the monetary perpetual motion.

Therefore, if most of the Chinese oil market is denominated in yuan-renmimbi, a strong international demand for Chinese goods and services will be created or there will be a huge amount of capital to invest in the Chinese financial markets.

This will obviously change the role and significance of China’s engagement in the world.

With significant effects for the dollar market, which could be regionalized, thus highlighting the asymmetries which currently petrodollars hide: the US super-trade surplus and the simultaneous very low interest rate.

What about the Euro? The single European currency has no real market and it shall be radically changed or become a unit of account among new infra-European currencies.

Advisory Board Co-chair Honoris Causa Professor Giancarlo Elia Valori is an eminent Italian economist and businessman. He holds prestigious academic distinctions and national orders. Mr. Valori has lectured on international affairs and economics at the world’s leading universities such as Peking University, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Yeshiva University in New York. He currently chairs “International World Group”, he is also the honorary president of Huawei Italy, economic adviser to the Chinese giant HNA Group. In 1992 he was appointed Officier de la Légion d’Honneur de la République Francaise, with this motivation: “A man who can see across borders to understand the world” and in 2002 he received the title “Honorable” of the Académie des Sciences de l’Institut de France. “

Economy

The Covid After-Effects and the Looming Skills Shortage

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coronavirus people

The shock of the pandemic is changing the ways in which we think about the world and in which we analyze the future trajectories of development. The persistence of the Covid pandemic will likely accentuate this transformation and the prominence of the “green agenda” this year is just one of the facets of these changes. Market research as well as the numerous think-tanks will be accordingly re-calibrating the time horizons and the main themes of analysis. Greater attention to longer risks and fragilities is likely to take on greater prominence, with particular scrutiny being accorded to high-impact risk factors that have a non-negligible probability of materializing in the medium- to long-term. Apart from the risks of global warming other key risk factors involve the rising labour shortages, most notably in areas pertaining to human capital development.

The impact of the Covid pandemic on the labour market will have long-term implications, with “hysteresis effects” observed in both highly skilled and low-income tiers of the labour market. One of the most significant factors affecting the global labour market was the reduction in migration flows, which resulted in the exacerbation of labour shortages across the major migrant recipient countries, such as Russia. There was also a notable blow delivered by the pandemic to the spheres of human capital development such as education and healthcare, which in turn exacerbated the imbalances and shortages in these areas. In particular, according to the estimates of the World Health Organization (WHO) shortages can mount up to 9.9 million physicians, nurses and midwives globally by 2030.

In Europe, although the number of physicians and nurses has increased in general in the region by approximately 10% over the past 10 years, this increase appears to be insufficient to cover the needs of ageing populations. At the same time the WHO points to sizeable inequalities in the availability of physicians and nurses between countries, whereby there are 5 times more doctors in some countries than in others. The situation with regard to nurses is even more acute, as data show that some countries have 9 times fewer nurses than others.

In the US substantial labour shortages in the healthcare sector are also expected, with anti-crisis measures falling short of substantially reversing the ailments in the national healthcare system. In particular, data published by the AAMC (Association of American Medical Colleges), suggests that the United States could see an estimated shortage of between 37,800 and 124,000 physicians by 2034, including shortfalls in both primary and specialty care.

The blows sustained by global education from the pandemic were no less formidable. These affected first and foremost the youngest generation of the globe – according to UNESCO, “more than 1.5 billion students and youth across the planet are or have been affected by school and university closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic”. On top of the adverse effects on the younger generation (see Box 1), there is also the widening “teachers gap”, namely a worldwide shortage of well-trained teachers. According to the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS), “69 million teachers must be recruited to achieve universal primary and secondary education by 2030”.

From our partner RIAC

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Economy

Accelerating COVID-19 Vaccine Uptake to Boost Malawi’s Economic Recovery

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Lunzu market in southern Malawi. WFP/Greg Barrow

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, many countries including Malawi have struggled to mitigate its impact amid limited fiscal support and fragile health systems. The pandemic has plunged the continent into its first recession in over 25 years, and vulnerable groups such as the poor, informal sector workers, women, and youth, suffer disproportionately from reduced opportunities and unequal access to social safety nets.

Fast-tracking COVID-19 vaccine acquisition—alongside widespread testing, improved treatment, and strong health systems—are critical to protecting lives and stimulating economic recovery. In support of the African Union’s (AU) target to vaccinate 60 percent of the continent’s population by 2022, the World Bank and the AU announced a partnership to assist the Africa Vaccine Acquisition Task Team (AVATT) initiative with resources, allowing countries to purchase and deploy vaccines for up to 400 million Africans. This extraordinary effort complements COVAX and comes at a time of rising cases in the region.

I am convinced that unless every country in the world has fair, broad, and fast access to effective and safe COVID-19 vaccines, we will not stem the spread of the pandemic and set the global economy on track for a steady and inclusive recovery. The World Bank has taken unprecedented steps to ramp up financing for Malawi, and every country in Africa, to empower them with the resources to implement successful vaccination campaigns and compensate for income losses, food price increases, and service delivery disruptions.

In line with Malawi’s COVID-19 National Response and Preparedness Plan which aims to vaccinate 60 percent of the population, the World Bank approved $30 million in additional financing for the acquisition and deployment of safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines. This financing comes as a boost to Malawi’s COVID-19 Emergency Response and Health Systems Preparedness project, bringing World Bank contributions in this sector up to $37 million.

Malawi’s decision to purchase 1.8 million doses of Johnson and Johnson vaccines through the AU/African Vaccine Acquisition Trust (AVAT) with World Bank financing is a welcome development and will enable Malawi to secure additional vaccines to meet its vaccination target.

However, Malawi’s vaccination campaign has encountered challenges driven by concerns regarding safety, efficacy, religious and cultural beliefs. These concerns, combined with abundant misinformation, are fueling widespread vaccine hesitancy despite the pandemic’s impact on the health and welfare of billions of people.  The low uptake of COVID-19 vaccines is of great concern, and it remains an uphill battle to reach the target of 60 percent by the end of 2023 from the current 2.2 percent.

Government leadership remains fundamental as the country continues to address vaccine hesitancy by consistently communicating the benefits of the vaccine, releasing COVID data, and engaging communities to help them understand how this impacts them.

As we deploy targeted resources to address COVID-19, we are also working to ensure that these investments support a robust, sustainable and resilient recovery. Our support emphasizes transparency, social protection, poverty alleviation, and policy-based financing to make sure that COVID assistance gets to the people who have been hit the hardest.

For example, the Financial Inclusion and Entrepreneurship Scaling Project (FInES) in Malawi is supporting micro, small, and medium enterprises by providing them with $47 million in affordable credit through commercial banks and microfinance institutions. Eight months into implementation, approximately $8.4 million (MK6.9 billion) has been made available through three commercial banks on better terms and interest rates. Additionally, nearly 200,000 urban households have received cash transfers and urban poor now have more affordable access to water to promote COVID-19 prevention.

Furthermore, domestic mobilization of resources for the COVID-19 response are vital to ensuring the security of supply of health sector commodities needed to administer vaccinations and sustain ongoing measures. Likewise, regional approaches fostering cross-border collaboration are just as imperative as in-country efforts to prevent the spread of the virus. United Nations (UN) partners in Malawi have been instrumental in convening regional stakeholders and supporting vaccine deployment.

Taking broad, fast action to help countries like Malawi during this unprecedented crisis will save lives and prevent more people falling into poverty. We thank Malawi for their decisive action and will continue to support the country and its people to build a resilient and inclusive recovery.

This op-ed first appeared in The Nation, via World Bank

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Economy

An Airplane Dilemma: Convenience Versus Environment

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Mr. President:  There are many consequences of COVID-19 that have changed the existing landscape due to the cumulative effects of personal behavior.  For example, the decline in the use of automobiles has been to the benefit of the environment.  A landmark study published by Nature in May 2020 confirmed a 17 percent drop in daily CO2 emissions but with the expectation that the number will bounce back as human activity returns to normal.

Yet there is hope.  We are all creatures of habit and having tried teleconferences, we are less likely to take the trouble to hop on a plane for a personal meeting, wasting time and effort.  Such is also the belief of aircraft operators.  Add to this the convenience of shopping from home and having the stuff delivered to your door and one can guess what is happening.

In short, the need for passenger planes has diminished while cargo operators face increased demand.  Fewer passenger planes also means a reduction in belly cargo capacity worsening the situation.  All of which has led to a new business with new jobs — converting passenger aircraft for cargo use.  It is not as simple as it might seem, and not just a matter of removing seats, for all unnecessary items must be removed for cargo use. They take up cargo weight and if not removed waste fuel.

After the seats and interior fittings have been removed, the cabin floor has to be strengthened.  The side windows are plugged and smoothed out.  A cargo door is cut out and the existing emergency doors are deactivated and sealed.  Also a new crew entry door has to be cut-out and installed. 

A new in-cabin cargo barrier with a sliding access door is put in, allowing best use of cargo and cockpit space and a merged carrier and crew space.  A new crew lavatory together with replacement water and waste systems replace the old, which supplied the original passenger area and are no longer needed.

The cockpit gets upgrades which include a simplified air distribution system and revised hydraulics.  At the end of it all, we have a cargo jet.  If the airlines are converting their planes, then they must believe not all the travelers will be returning after the covid crisis recedes.

Airline losses have been extraordinary.  Figures sourced from the World Bank and the International Civil Aviation Organization reveal air carriers lost $370 billion in revenues.  This includes $120 billion in the Asia-Pacific region, $100 billion in Europe and $88 billion in North America.

For many of the airlines, it is now a new business model transforming its fleet for cargo demand and launching new cargo routes.  The latter also requires obtaining regulatory approvals.

A promising development for the future is sustainable aviation fuel (SAP).  Developed by the Air France KLM Martinair consortium it reduces CO2 emissions, and cleaner air transport contributes to lessening global warming.

It is a good start since airplanes are major transportation culprits increasing air pollution and radiative forcing.  The latter being the heat reflected back to earth when it is greater than the heat radiated from the earth.  All of which should incline the environmentally conscious to avoid airplane travel — buses and trains pollute less and might be a preferred alternative for domestic travel.

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