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14 March 2015

Press review 14-03-2015 - Transatlantic rift

The Brent index is back on the red, declining almost 10% in the week that now ends. The pain is here to stay, in spite of visible declines in extracted volumes, this underpricing may well last into the Summer. However, in terms relevant to us, petroleum prices have actually been rising: in the past two months Brent has climbed from 40 €/b to 53 €/b. Similar rises have taken place against many other commodities; coinciding with a period of economic recession these price movements signal well the epoch we live today.

To almost six years of political turmoil and indecision has compounded the destabilisation of many of the EU's neighbours: Libya, Tunisia, Egypt, Syria and of course Ukraine. The rift opening between the Euro and the Dollar is thus only natural. And this rift is more than monetary. European politicians have much to blame on themselves, for the careless way they discarded Kadaffi and alienated Libya, for precipitously recognising a non-elected Ukrainian government that at best represent half of the population. But the role the US played on all this is ever more evident. And it is ever clearer their objectives are largely antagonistic to our interests.

Der Spiegel
Breedlove's Bellicosity: Berlin Alarmed by Aggressive NATO Stance on Ukraine

On that same day, General Philip Breedlove, the top NATO commander in Europe, stepped before the press in Washington. Putin, the 59-year-old said, had once again "upped the ante" in eastern Ukraine -- with "well over a thousand combat vehicles, Russian combat forces, some of their most sophisticated air defense, battalions of artillery" having been sent to the Donbass. "What is clear," Breedlove said, "is that right now, it is not getting better. It is getting worse every day."

German leaders in Berlin were stunned. They didn't understand what Breedlove was talking about. And it wasn't the first time. Once again, the German government, supported by intelligence gathered by the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), Germany's foreign intelligence agency, did not share the view of NATO's Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR).

The pattern has become a familiar one. For months, Breedlove has been commenting on Russian activities in eastern Ukraine, speaking of troop advances on the border, the amassing of munitions and alleged columns of Russian tanks. Over and over again, Breedlove's numbers have been significantly higher than those in the possession of America's NATO allies in Europe. As such, he is playing directly into the hands of the hardliners in the US Congress and in NATO.

The German government is alarmed. Are the Americans trying to thwart European efforts at mediation led by Chancellor Angela Merkel? Sources in the Chancellery have referred to Breedlove's comments as "dangerous propaganda." Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier even found it necessary recently to bring up Breedlove's comments with NATO General Secretary Jens Stoltenberg.
Russian companies continue fulfilling Kremlin's goal of diverting the gas transit to Europe away from Ukraine. After Turkey now comes the Republic of Macedonia providing ground for an alternative gas route to Europe.
Russia to build Macedonia gas pipeline, possible Turkey route link

Russia's Stroitransgaz said on Thursday it will build a gas pipeline across Macedonia, which could eventually be used as part of a route to supply Europe with Russian gas via Turkey.

[...] The 96.6 km (60 miles) Negotino-Klecovce gas pipeline will cross Macedonia from near the Greek border in the south up to the vicinity of the Serbian border in the north. Stroitransgaz will build 61 km of the link by June 2016.

Moscow plans to build an undersea pipeline to Turkey, a replacement for the cancelled South Stream project via Bulgaria. The details of an onward route from Turkey through Greece have not been finalised.
And between Turkey and the Republic of Macedonia is Greece. There seems to be a drive among certain members of the Council to force Greece out of the EU - Russia would certainly thank such a move. It is also important to remember that Greece and Russia share the same religion and are culturally closer than some member states are to Greece.
Could Europe lose Greece to Russia?
Giorgos Christides, 12-03-2015

Deepening ties between Greece's new government and Russia have set off alarm bells across Europe, as the leaders in Athens wrangle with international creditors over reforms needed to avoid bankruptcy.

While Greece may be eyeing Moscow as a bargaining chip, some fear it is inexorably moving away from the West, towards a more benevolent ally, a potential investor and a creditor.

Europe is not pleased. Should it also be worried?
In spite of the efforts by the American hawks, Ukraine seems set on a path of de-escalation. While this is certainly good, I am not holding my breath, the US certainly has other tricks in its war chest.
Russia gets $15 mln gas payment from Ukraine, cut off averted

Russian gas exporter Gazprom said on Thursday it had received a $15 million prepayment from Ukrainian state energy firm Naftogaz, averting a possible cut in supply, at least for a few days.

The money is enough to cover 45.6 million cubic metres of gas, or about five days of supply at current rates of delivery, Gazprom said by e-mail.

Gazprom had warned that supply to Kiev could be cut off as soon as Friday if no payment was made.

Any possible cuts in gas supplies to Ukraine could have a knock-on effect for the European Union, where Russia meets one third of the fuel demand. Around 40 percent of Russian gas to the EU goes via Ukraine.
Libyan's petroleum seems to be definitely locked underground, with the existing infrastructure now the regular target of attacks. Without "boots on the ground" it is hard to see how this region can ever be a country again, much less to have anything resembling an economy.
Libya declares force majeure on 11 central oilfields

Libya declared force majeure on 11 oilfields after a series of Islamic State attacks on facilities in the country's central region.

The state-owned National Oil Corp. posted a statement on its website declaring force majeure, saying it could no longer ensure production at the facilities due to the deteriorating security situation. The move frees the company of liability.

Two fields, Bahi and Mabruk, had been attacked last month and were seized again Monday and Tuesday by unknown militants. Gunmen at Mabruk claimed to represent the Islamic State militant group. A third field, Dahra, was attacked late Tuesday.
In Iraq the focus remained on Tikrit, where the Shiites seem to be slowly retaking the initiative and gaining ground on the Sunni. There is however a serious treasury deficit brewing up in consequence of the petroleum price collapse. International companies are taking the heat, and are at present discouraged from further investments.
Trade Arabia
Iraq builds up debts as oil price drops
Dmitry Zhdannikov and Alex Lawler, 12-03-2015

Iraq is building up debts to the oil companies developing its giant fields, industry sources said, a further sign of how the oil-price drop is putting a squeeze on revenues in Opec's second-largest producer.

Western oil companies including Royal Dutch Shell, BP and Exxon Mobil are working at Iraq's southern oilfields under service contracts, which are currently based on a fixed dollar fee for additional volumes produced.

As a result of the halving of oil prices to around $56 a barrel from $115 in June, the amount of crude needed to pay the companies has roughly doubled - reducing revenue to a government fighting an Islamic State insurgency.

"The Iraqis have a problem. The number of barrels they have to give to the companies as service fees has risen two-fold because the oil price has fallen two-fold. So Iraq simply has less barrels for themselves," said a source with an oil major with exploration projects in Iraq.
The US itself is slowly facing up the reverse of the so called "shale boom". This is just the beginning, the real impact is yet to come.
An Oil Firm That Raised Money Seven Months Ago Just Missed Its First Bond Payment
Jodi Xu Klein and Laura J Keller, 05-03-2015

A Colorado oil producer is giving debt investors a lesson in the risks of lending to companies that staked their future on the U.S. shale boom.

Less than seven months after raising $175 million in a junk-bond offering, American Eagle Energy Corp. said Monday that it wouldn’t make its first interest payment on the debt. Instead, it hired two advisers -- Canaccord Genuity Group Inc. and Seaport Global Holdings LLC -- to negotiate with bondholders on a plan to restructure its debt, according to three people with knowledge of the situation who asked not to be named because the matter is private. The holders of the notes are left to consider how to maximize recovery of their investment, either by giving the company more time to try to become profitable or by pushing it into default.

With the price of U.S. crude down 52 percent since July, American Eagle and other small energy producers with significant debt loads are struggling to service obligations to creditors who were willing to lend them money just a few months ago. The energy sector represents about 14 percent of the high-yield bond market, and analysts expect defaults to increase this year as more companies are forced to scale back operations and record losses on oil reserves previously valued at much higher prices.
Following a hopeful perspective on the renewable energy market in the EU. As the article well explains, legislation has been persistently changed to impair the growth of renewable electricity sources, either grid-connected of off-the-grid. I remain sceptical on such watershed transition being about - even if the technology appears ripe - at least without an equal political juggernaut
European Tribune
Can there be a renewables juggernaut?
DoDo, 07-03-2015

It's an all too common story across the world: a government tries to boost its green credentials with a support scheme for renewables, but when it proves an unexpected success and established power companies see a serious market share threat, the nascent industry is choked to death one way or another. Stark examples include the ceiling for total wind power introduced in Austria and Hungary about a decade ago, or the end of the support scheme in Bulgaria just recently. Under the cover of austerity, the transition to renewables can be killed even when they already reached a high penetration, as demonstrated by the example of Spain's retroactive elimination of subsidies.

So is it possible to create a momentum for renewables that carries on even when facing opponents with the worst intentions?

One can argue that Denmark comes close: while Anders Fogh Rasmussen's government did manage to bring new wind power installations to a near-stop over a decade ago, that was only temporary as they found the two big utilities became supporters and off-shore wind took off. Now, looking at the latest numbers from Germany, I see something similar at work.
The US has been trialling the EU on renewable energies with a few years delay. But low prices are finally biting and expansion has definitely took off. Soon will follow import duties and the forbidding legislation.
Renewable Energy World
Non-Hydro Renewable Electricity Outshines All Other Sources and Grows 11 Percent in 2014
Kenneth Bossong, 06-03-2015

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA)'s latest "Electric Power Monthly" report, with data through the end of 2014, net electrical generation from non-hydro renewable energy sources (i.e., biomass, geothermal, solar, wind) increased by 10.9 percent over the previous year.

The contribution to net electrical generation by just solar more than doubled (102.8 percent) while wind grew by 8.3 percent, biomass by 5.7 percent, and geothermal by 5.4 percent.

[...] Given current growth rates — especially for solar and wind, it is quite possible that renewable energy sources will reach, or exceed, 14 percent of the nation's electrical supply by the end of 2015. That is a level that EIA, only a few years ago, was forecasting would not be achieved until the year 2040.
And to counterpoint that not all technology is as great as painted by the press is the much acclaimed Apple Watch. Advertised as a replacement for workout smart gear, its battery lifetime has been consistently revised downwards and at the latest iteration stood at 6.5 hours. So if you are out for a ride, not only will you have to take your iPhone along to receive the GPS signal, but you must have to be back home earlier - no more long rides, forget about Gran Fondo events. For half the price you can get a watch with integrated heart-rate monitor, an integrated GPS receiver and a battery that lasts 12 hours.
The Telegraph
Apple Watch battery lasts as little as three hours

Apple’s new watch has a battery that lasts as little as three hours, the technology giant has quietly admitted.

Using the device - which costs up to £12,000 - for phone conversations means it will die after three hours, Apple said in a post buried deep on its product page.

Listening to music will get you just six-and-a-half hours of battery life and working out while the Apple Watch monitors your health will give you just seven hours.
An agreement between Iran and the UN seems imminent, even with the US hesitating. This is a near term development that can have a relevant impact on energy prices.

See you next week.

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