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02 August 2014

Press review 02-08-2014 - Shooting one's toes

The downing of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 is taking the central role in events relevant to Europe's energy predicament. The propaganda machine from both sides keeps raging. Russia is persistently blamed by the western media, often with circumstantial evidence that is soon retracted. The Russian media tried a series of awkward explanations until the Russian military released evidence of two Ukrainian jet fighters following the Malaysian aircraft within minutes of its destruction. A series of tweets from a mysterious air controller of Spanish ascendency in Kiev seem to corroborate the presence of Ukrainian fighters, as so several eye witnesses (briefly reported by the BBC). The western media that took notice claim this air controller does not exist.

Irrespective of whom committed this abhorrent crime, its purpose seems to have been served. It prolongs the war, increases the strain on the European economy and most importantly, puts an end to the efforts towards a peaceful solution to the crisis.

The Independent
Land for gas: Merkel and Putin discussed secret deal could end Ukraine crisis
Margareta Pagano, 31-07-2014

Germany and Russia have been working on a secret plan to broker a peaceful solution to end international tensions over the Ukraine.

The Independent can reveal that the peace plan, being worked on by both Angela Merkel and Vladimir Putin, hinges on two main ambitions: stabilising the borders of Ukraine and providing the financially troubled country with a strong economic boost, particularly a new energy agreement ensuring security of gas supplies.

More controversially, if Ms Merkel’s deal were to be acceptable to the Russians, the international community would need to recognise Crimea’s independence and its annexation by Russia, a move that some members of the United Nations might find difficult to stomach.

[...] However, these attempts by Ms Merkel to act as a broker between President Putin and the Ukraine’s President, Petro Poroshenko, were put on the back-burner following the shooting down of the MH17 plane in eastern Ukraine.
What appears to be Europe shooting its toes with the latest round of sanctions is not going unnoticed, at least in the alternative press.
OilPrice.com
West Faces Jeopardy From New Sanctions Targeting Russian Oil Industry
Andy Tully, 30-07-2014

Previous European and U.S. economic sanctions against Russia have focused primarily on the defense and banking sectors, and new measures announced July 29 ramp up pressure on its oil industry, the core of the country’s wealth. But this shift could mean bad news for the West, as well.

The new sanctions would limit Russia’s access to Western technology at a time when it’s moving to exploit oil reserves in the Arctic, under deep seas and in shale, all of which are difficult to extract with the country’s current technology. Production now is centered on Siberian deposits, which already are becoming depleted.
The economic impacts of the first rounds of sanctions are already here, but are yet to take full impact. Down this path Europe con only loose, and likely more than what Russia has on the line.
Wolf Street
Sanction Spiral Successful: German Exports to Russia Plunge
Wolf Richter, 29-07-2014

The quasi-governmental Association of German Chambers of Commerce and Industry (DIHK) warned that exports to Russia are expected to plunge 17% this year from prior year, based on information the DIHK has received from German companies in Moscow and St. Petersburg.

And the DIHK is not exaggerating to score political points, though surely they’re trying to score political points. Exports to Russia have already gotten clobbered: In March, as the Ukrainian fiasco was developing, they dropped 7.2% year over year; in April, as the sanction spiral began to spiral out of control, they dropped 16.9%; in May, they dropped 17.5%. To bring the whole year down by 17%, the next few months would have to be even worse.

The German economy lives and dies by its exports. While Russia isn’t Germany’s largest trading partner, not anywhere near, it is important. In 2013, German exports to Russia had already dropped over 5% to €36.1 billion, triggered by the economic downturn in Russia. So the 17% plunge this year on top of last year’s drop would amount to a 22% swoon from the halcyon days of 2012. And now there are worries about the 300,000 jobs in Germany that depend on this trade with Russia.
The German media is slowly acknowledging this bad strategy and wondering if anything of positive towards the resolution of the conflict can result from the cut of this economic ties.
Der Spiegel
The Boomerang Effect: Sanctions on Russia Hit German Economy Hard
Matthias Schepp and Cornelia Schmergal, 21-07-2014

It wasn't that long ago that Kremlin officials could hardly avoid laughing when asked about the economic sanctions imposed on Russia by the West. As long as every NATO member state jealously sought to protect its own business interests, things "weren't all that bad," they gloated.

But since last week, their moods have darkened. For months, the European Union in particular had been reluctant to enact effective penalties against Moscow. Last Wednesday, though, the 28 EU heads of state and government cleared a psychological hurdle: For the first time, they opted go beyond sanctions targeting individual political leaders in Moscow, adding prohibitions against doing business with specific Russian companies that contribute to the destabilization of the situation in Ukraine. A concrete list is to be presented by the end of the month. European development banks have also been banned from providing loans to Russian companies.

The US, for its part, penalized a dozen leading Russian conglomerates, including oil giant Rosneft, natural gas producer Novatek, Gazprombank and the weapons manufacturer Kalashnikov. From now on, they are forbidden from borrowing money from American monetary institutions and from issuing medium- and long-term debt to investors with ties to the US.
The pressure on the German government for pragmatism will certainly build up. The Energy policy of this government has been focused on a short term increase of fossil fuel usage, with both the Nuclear and the renewable alternatives successfully thwarted. There is no plan B, a freeze of economic relations with Russia will have profound impacts. The western states pressing for tougher sanctions thinking that are insulated, will hurt all the same; there is a reason why the market is called "common".
Deutsche Wella
Russia: 'short-sighted' sanctions will backfire on US, EU
31-07-2014

Russia's foreign ministry called the latest sanctions "destructive and short-sighted" in a statement on Wednesday, while the Kremlin issued its own ban on most fruit and vegetable imports from Poland.

Russia said that the measure was for sanitary reasons, not political ones, and that it could be extended to cover the entire European Union. The government in Warsaw called the ban retaliation for the US and EU sanctions.

The western sanctions restrict future arms deals with Moscow and trade in equipment for the oil industry, while also barring Russian state banks from raising money in Western capital markets.

"This is a thoughtless, irresponsible step. It will inevitably lead to an increase in prices on the European energy market," the foreign ministry in Moscow said.
Things have suddenly gone from bad to worse in what once was one the largest and most important neighbouring countries of Europe. Few of this information is percolating to the mass media and what the press agencies are able to report is mostly cahotic. One of the important stories that the mainstream media vastly ignored was the collapse of Benghazi.
Associated Press
Libya Islamic militias declare control of Benghazi
Omar Almosmari and Maggie Michael, 31-07-2014

Islamic hard-line militias, including the group accused by the United States in a 2012 attack that killed the ambassador and three other Americans, claimed control of Libya's second largest city, Benghazi, after overrunning army barracks and seizing heavy weapons.

The sweep in the eastern city is part of a new backlash by hard-liners against their rivals ahead of the sitting of a new parliament. In the capital Tripoli, escalating battles Thursday between militias prompted multiple foreign governments to scramble to get out their citizens as thousands of Libyans fled across the border into Tunisia.
The situation is not much better in Tripoli with the population fleeing en masse. A side note to folk following financial news: the battered Banco Espírito Santo has a 40% stake in the Aman Bank, it would be interesting to know what could be the impact of it dissolves.
Reuters
Heavy shelling, clashes spread in Libya's Tripoli
Patrick Markey, 31-07-2014

Clashes with artillery and rockets spread on Thursday into two Tripoli districts, where rival militia brigades were battling over the airport in Libya's worst fighting since the 2011 revolt that ousted Muammar Gaddafi.

Nearly 200 people have been killed since the violence erupted two weeks ago in Tripoli and also in the eastern city of Benghazi, where a coalition of Islamist militants and former rebels has overrun a major army base in the city.
Iraq has disappeared from the news, there is thus little to report. But the dragging in time of this situation, with three well defined territories ruled by different powers seems ever harder to roll back.
USA Today
Iraq is already splitting into three states
Jim Michaels, 28-07-2014

Ever since U.S. forces invaded Iraq and toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003, the U.S. government has worried that Iraq would splinter into three states — each representing the feuding religious and ethnic factions the dictator held together through his iron rule.

It may no longer be necessary to worry that Iraq will break apart. In many ways, it already has.
The situation with coal extraction in India seems to have been somewhat diffused, at least in the short term. In any event the country seems to have reached a dead end, where it is not able to source appropriate amounts of this resource, neither from imports nor from its mines. There is some upbeat on domestic reserves, but few are considering costs of an extraction ramp up.
The China Post
Coal reserves offer no relief for India fuel crunch
Aditya Phatak, 28-07-2014

India sits on one of the world's biggest coal reserves, yet its power stations are starved of the fuel with some idle and others running dangerously low on supplies.

Coal accounts for nearly 60 percent of India's electricity, and the country's biggest utility company warned the government this month that supplies at many plants were severely depleted.

While the government has rushed to avert an immediate crisis, analysts say much longer-term solutions are needed to spur recovery of the sluggish economy, which is hugely dependent on coal imports despite large domestic reserves.
It is getting increasingly difficult to paint the source rock story in the US with rosy colours. The EIA, a dependency of the US Energy Department, is still trying hard, but the contrast between the upbeat message and the numbers is striking. According to the EIA everything should be fine as long as fossil fuel extraction keeps growing. Even if source rocks held infinite resources, there is another factor to the financial health of these companies: price. If with petroleum this is not a concern at the moment, the same can not be said of gas.
Today in Energy
As cash flow flattens, major energy companies increase debt, sell assets
Jeff Barron, 29-07-2014

Cash from operations for major energy companies has flattened in line with flat crude oil prices, which have had the lowest price volatility in years. Based on data compiled from quarterly reports, for the year ending March 31, 2014, cash from operations for 127 major oil and natural gas companies totaled $568 billion, and major uses of cash totaled $677 billion, a difference of almost $110 billion. This shortfall was filled through a $106 billion net increase in debt and $73 billion from sales of assets, which increased the overall cash balance. The gap between cash from operations and major uses of cash has widened in recent years from a low of $18 billion in 2010 to $100 billion to $120 billion during the past three years.
And here we return to Ukraine and the claims the US can fill in a possible gap in the Russian gas supply to Europe. Below an alternative view on this matter.
OilPrice.com
What The Oil Headlines Miss: Interview with Michael Levi
James Stafford, 30-07-2014

I have this image in my head of someone trying to use a piece of spaghetti as a sword when people talk about LNG as a weapon against Russia. It doesn't go where you want to push it.

You can allow LNG exports from the United States. They're going to go to where the price is best. Right now, the price is best in Asia, and there's a reason to anticipate that will continue to be the case.

If European buyers want to pay extra to get LNG from the United States rather than from Russia, then maybe you'll see flows moving into Europe. I don't see a significant appetite for that yet. That's why we're not seeing European contracts -- not because of U.S. regulations. U.S. regulations haven't gotten in the way of Asian contracts.
On more light-hearted news, there is at least one industry in Germany faring better. Even if sanctions halt typewriter exports to Russia, internal demand will certainly revive the sector.
The Local
Typewriter manufacturers see boom in sales
21-07-2014

Last year Triumph Adler, which is part of Bandermann, made a YouTube video to promote its product as "Bug proof. NSA proof," after the Russians' interest was first reported by German media.

And an Olympia spokesman told Wirtschaftswoche magazine that the company expects to sell more typewriters this year than at any time in the last 20 years, with sales set to double in 2014.

"We will certainly cross the 10,000 threshold," manager Andreas Fostiropoulis said.

He confirmed to Wirtschaftswoche that their Russian business partners had asked for 20 typewriters, apparently for the country’s secret services.
Heading off the usual upbeat note. Two stroke engines is one of the technologies I consider to have the potential to seriously reduce dependency on fossil fuels. I have been following several promising designs and this week I became aware that even Toyota is conducting research on this field. This design seems especially elegant, with the piston used to directly created a magnetic field.
Extreme Tech
Toyota develops high-efficiency ‘free piston’ no-crankshaft combustion engine… to power an EV
John Hewitt, 03-07-2014

There is probably no better chronicler into the full depth of American ingenuity than YouTube. Here one finds not just computer models for all manner of esoteric combustion engine designs, but actual working prototypes of them, often built by individuals. Big companies can also innovate here sometimes. A new free piston engine linear generator (FPEG) from Toyota Central in Maine is a case in point.

The piston is called “free” because there is no crankshaft. On its power stroke, the piston dumps its kinetic energy into the fixed windings which surround it, generating a shot of three-phase AC electricity. It can be run sparkless through a diesel cycle or run on standard gasoline. What has folks excited is the claimed thermal efficiency for the device — at 42% it blows away the engines used in cars today. Toyota’s demo engine, just 8 inches around and 2 feet long, was able to generate 15 hp. A two-cylinder model would be self-balancing and have much reduced vibration.
And that is all for this week. The post A Story of TheOilDrum has been slowly creeping up in the statistics and is now one of the most ever read in this blog, a suggestion for weekend reading for those that may have missed it.

See you next time.