March 4, 2021

Washington slaps tariffs on aluminum imports from 18 countries

The duties on common alloy aluminum sheet, which is used in building facades, truck trailer bodies, and street signs, were announced hours after the Senate voted to confirm Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo as the new commerce secretary.

Germany reportedly had the highest anti-dumping rate, ranging from 49.4 percent to 242.8 percent. It is the biggest exporter of aluminum sheet to the US, with $286.6 million worth in 2019.

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Bahrain, which exported $241.2 million worth of aluminum sheet, received a 4.83-percent anti-dumping duty rate and an anti-subsidy rate of up to 6.44 percent.

The country reportedly benefited from pricing below the cost of production or the local market of 83 percent, while imports from India, worth $123 million in 2019, benefited from subsidies for 35 to 89 percent.

The list of countries facing aluminum tariffs includes Brazil, Croatia, Egypt, Greece, Indonesia, Oman, Romania, Serbia, Slovenia, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Taiwan, and Turkey.

The final decision is expected to receive approval from the US International Trade Commission (ITC) by April 15.

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“If the ITC makes affirmative final injury determinations, Commerce will issue AD or CVD orders,” the department said in a statement, referring to anti-dumping or countervailing duties orders.

The latest tariffs will come on top of the 10-percent duties the US imposed on most aluminum imports under the Trump administration as part of a national security law.

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Iran to join LNG race in Asia with huge North Pars development

With Asian spot liquefied natural gas (LNG) prices having risen to unprecedented levels in January and the outlook remaining extremely robust Iran believes now is the time to move full ahead with its long-term strategy to become a leading global LNG supplier. A key focus for this will be the North Pars non-associated natural gas field that was the largest gas reservoir in Iran before the discovery of supergiant South Pars field in 1990. Propitiously for the speed of development of North Pars, not only are the spot prices of LNG set to remain at the historical high-end but also Iran has virtually completed all phases of its South Pars development.

Located some 120 kilometres southeast of the southern Bushehr Province, the North Pars gas field has around 59 trillion cubic feet (about 1.67 trillion cubic metres) of gas in place, with a conservatively estimated recoverable volume of gas of approximately 47 trillion cubic feet. The gas itself is lean and sour with a condensate gas ratio of 4 barrels (0.64 cubic metres) per 1000 cubic feet and it contains around 6,000 parts per million of hydrogen sulphide and five per cent of carbon dioxide, a senior oil and gas figure who works closely with Iran’s Petroleum Ministry exclusively told last week. The first design to operate in this field was approved in 1977 but, after the drilling of 17 wells and the installation of 26 offshore platforms, the active development of North Pars was suspended due to 1979 Islamic Revolution in the country and the subsequent war with Iraq from 1980-1988.

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A recent internal study of the state of North Pars by Iran determined that the field is still in a highly workable state for a quick push to significant gas output – specifically, at least 100 million cubic metres per day (mcm/d) within less than 12 months of proper development – with all of the gas recovered to be channelled into LNG production of at least 20 million metric tonnes per annum (mtpa). This is the LNG figure from the first 12 month phase of development only of North Pars but even this compares favourably to the entire yearly output of global LNG powerhouse – and Iran’s neighbour – Qatar, at 77 mtpa for many years. Although Qatar is set to increase this output to around 110 mtpa, Iran is set to not only bring on further phases of development of North Pars but also the development with a view to the LNG market of a number of other major gas fields, including most immediately Golshan, Ferdowsi, Farzad A and Farzad B, and Kish. It should not be forgotten that the major field from which Qatar takes the gas to sustain its status as number one LNG exporter in the world is exactly the same 9,700 square kilometre reservoir from which Iran draws much of its own gas: Qatar’s 6,000 square kilometre side of the field is the North Dome, whilst Iran’s 3,700 square kilometre side is South Pars (North Pars has been treated as an additional site).

After the development hiatus, September 2006 saw China’s CNOOC sign a memorandum of understanding with the National Iranian Oil Corporation (NIOC) to develop the North Pars site. This was then extended in December 2006 to incorporate the development of a four-train LNG facility with a 20 mtpa capacity. Later, when China proved slow on progressing with the this development – and others in Iran – but before US and EU sanctions against Iran were ramped up in 2011/12 forcing its suspension of the project, German chemicals giant Linde Group had 60 percent completed a $3.3 billion flagship LNG export facility near Tombak Port. This facility was set to produce at least 10.5 mtpy of LNG, with expectations that it would take less than a year to finish. After sanctions were lifted again in 2016, Iran awarded Linde – whose liquefaction process the facility’s first two trains were intended to use – a ‘sweetener’ contract when it signed the first petrochemical co-operation deal between Iran and Germany; a Front End Engineering Design (FEED) contract for the olefin unit of Kian Petrochemical.

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Iran had also been moving ahead with plans to construct floating LNG facilities, especially near Europe, with in-principle deals having been struck with Italy’s Eni and Spain’s Cepsa to take both oil and LNG when it became available from Iran. Similar plans were being discussed between Iran and Greece’s state-run gas supplier, Depa, to form a new firm that would build and run a floating LNG storage and re-gasification facility at Alexandroupolis, in the north of Greece, and the expansion of the Revythousa re-gasification terminal near Athens was being looked at as a potential entry point for Iranian gas. Both facilities would have been connected to two international pipeline systems: the Trans Adriatic Pipeline and the Gas Interconnector Greece-Bulgaria links. Indeed, the scale of Iran’s original LNG plans can be gauged from the fact that prior to 2011/12 it was in negotiations with a number of international oil companies about LNG-related projects, including Total, Petronas, Repsol, and Royal Dutch Shell, all of which had agreements with Iran as part of its fourth ‘Five Year National Develop Plan’ (2005-2009) that aimed to produce 70 mtpy of LNG from the North Pars, South Pars, Ferdowsi and Golshan gas fields. 

After the scaling up of sanctions in 2011/12, caution amongst European firms about engaging with Iran in such projects understandably increased and, although this reticence temporarily abated after the implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in January 2016, little progress was made by them before sanctions were again introduced by the US following its unilateral withdrawal from the JCPOA in May 2018. In the interim, Iran had been working on a plan to make progress on its LNG plan by installing a network of ‘mini LNG’ complexes with the help of South Korea. Late in 2018, South Korea’s Minister of Land, Infrastructure and Transport, Kim Hyun-mee, agreed the finer points on its LNG co-operation with Iran’s Petroleum Minister, Bijan Zangeneh, which included Exim Bank’s initial €8 billion credit line to Iran and another €2.3 billion from two other South Korean companies. These mini-LNG complexes, with production capacities ranging from 2,000 to 500,000 tons of LNG per year – compared to typical large scale plant capacity of between 2.5 and 7.5 million tons per year – would benefit particularly from being both relatively quick to start up and locatable almost anywhere, even in very remote gas fields. In the absence even of these indigenous LNG facilities Iran was looking at utilising about 25 percent of Oman’s total 1.5 million tons per year LNG production capacity at the Qalhat plant as part of a broader plan to build a 192 kilometre section of 36-inch pipeline running along the bed of the Oman Sea at depths of up to 1,340 metres from Mobarak Mount in Iran’s southern Hormuzgan province to Sohar Port in Oman for gas exports.

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With US sanctions firmly back in place in 2018, though, Oman backed away from the plan, to be replaced by Russia’s Gazprom in Iran’s LNG plans, which signed two memoranda of understanding with the NIOC concerning the rollout of a two-fold joint strategy regarding gas. The first part concerned a gas cooperation roadmap between the two companies, and the second part detailed the construction Iranian LNG facilities in partnership with Iran’s Oil Industry Pension Fund. Initially, this would allow Gazprom to effectively take over from Linde on the existing 60 percent complete LNG complex, and later to be integral in the construction of the mini-LNG complexes. Gazprom would take payment for its work from the sale of gas both from this complex and from part of the output from fields feeding gas into it. These plans, though, were again put on hold due to increased US sanctions against both Iran and Russia, a relatively poor global LNG price outlook, and to the fact that China was again interested in taking a part in the LNG project as part of its wider 25-year deal with Iran.

At that time it was envisaged that the North Pars LNG development would need around $16 billion in investment – comprising $5 billion in the upstream sector and $11 billion in the downstream sector (mainly LNG plants) – to achieve at least the first phase LNG output of at minimum 100 mcm/d and the drilling of the 46 wells that this would entail. This is still the ballpark figure with which Iran is working and consideration is now being given by the Petroleum Ministry and NIOC to making the North Pars site the focus of a new bigger energy hub, concentrated on the production of LNG. This would allow for international state-owned companies to engage in a series of projects joining up their South Pars operations with their North Pars ones, according to the Iran source.

By Simon Watkins for

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Russia’s Gazprom aims to double liquefied natural gas exports by 2025

Sedov added that Gazprom is still a rather small LNG enterprise, but the company’s portfolio is growing. Gazprom Export focuses on growing markets for natural gas, including LNG in Asia.

The company is reportedly planning to ensure the growth of LNG supplies by means of its export facility at Ust-Luga in northwest Russia, which is currently under construction.

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Gazprom is a majority shareholder in Sakhalin Energy, the operator of the Sakhalin-2 oil and gas project, which is engaged in developing the Piltun-Astokhskoye and Lunskoye fields in the northeast of the Sakhalin shelf. The project infrastructure includes an LNG plant.

The enterprise is partly owned by Shell, which holds 27.5 percent, Mitsui, with 12.5 percent, and Mitsubishi Corporation, whose holdings total 10 percent. In 2020, Sakhalin Energy produced over 11.6 million tons of LNG, the most ever for the project.

According to Sedov, Gazprom is also planning to supply carbon-neutral LNG to Europe.

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“I hope that in the nearest future we will supply our first fully carbon-neutral cargo of LNG to Europe,” he said.

Carbon-neutral LNG commonly involves companies supporting nature-based projects that reduce emissions to offset those generated from the exploration and production of LNG.

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Biden Gains Two Key Economic Advisers

Speaking on the Senate floor on Tuesday, Senator Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas, denounced those remarks and urged his colleagues to vote against Ms. Raimondo. “There has been a rush to embrace the worst elements of the Chinese Communist Party in the Biden administration. And that includes Governor Raimondo,” he said.

Under Mr. Trump, the Commerce Department played an outsize role in trade policy, levying tariffs on imported aluminum and steel for national security reasons, investigating additional tariffs on cars and placing a variety of curbs on technology exports to China.

Ms. Raimondo and other Biden administration officials have not clarified whether they will keep those restrictions, saying they will first carry out a comprehensive review of their effects.

Dr. Rouse is the dean of the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs, and a former member of the council under President Barack Obama. Her academic research has focused on education, discrimination and the forces that hold some people back in the American economy. She won widespread praise from Republicans and Democrats alike in her confirmation hearing, with senators voting unanimously to send her nomination from the Banking Committee to the full Senate.

She will assume her post amid an economic and public health crisis from the coronavirus pandemic, and in the waning days of congressional debate on a $1.9 trillion economic aid package that Mr. Biden has made his first major legislative priority.

But in interviews and her hearing testimony, Dr. Rouse has made clear that she sees a larger set of priorities as council chair: overhauling the inner workings of the federal government to promote racial and gender equity in the economy.

“As deeply distressing as this pandemic and economic fallout have been,” she said in her hearing, “it is also an opportunity to rebuild the economy better than it was before — making it work for everyone by increasing the availability of fulfilling jobs and leaving no one vulnerable to falling through the cracks.”

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John D. Pomfret, Key Figure in Revamping The Times, Dies at 93

John D. Pomfret, who as a New York Times executive was instrumental in a watershed effort in the mid-1970s to modernize the newspaper’s format, boost its advertising revenue and improve its productivity with the introduction of computer technology, died on Feb. 24 at his home in Seattle. He was 93.

The cause was pneumonia, his son, John E. Pomfret II, said.

Mr. Pomfret was among the half-dozen editors and business executives who, under Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, the publisher at the time, revived the company at a financially precarious time by creating a raft of stand-alone weekly sections — on food, home design, science and weekend entertainment — that proved popular with readers and advertisers alike. The Times also introduced Sunday regional sections that expanded the paper’s appeal to suburbanites in the New York metropolitan area.

Until then the paper had consisted of just two sections, of many pages each.

Mr. Pomfret was the last surviving member of the management team that spearheaded the transformation, beginning with Weekend on Fridays, which made its debut in April 1976. The others included Walter E. Mattson, the general manager; Louis Silverstein, the corporate art director; and the editors A.M. Rosenthal, Arthur Gelb and Seymour Topping.

“Our penetration of the segment of the market we consider our target audience is thin in the city and worse in the suburbs,” Mr. Pomfret had advised Mr. Sulzberger, according to “The Paper’s Papers,” Richard F. Shepard’s 1996 book about The Times. He first suggested creating the Weekend section and made tentative suggestions for the themes of four other weekday sections, each to appear weekly.

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Amazon Workers’ Union Drive Reaches Far Beyond Alabama

Amazon did ask county officials in mid-December to change the light’s timing, though there is no evidence in the county records that the change was made to thwart the union. “Traffic for Amazon is backing up around shift change,” the public records stated as the reason the county altered the light.

Amazon regularly navigates traffic concerns around its facilities, and wasting unpaid time in congested parking lots is a frequent gripe of Amazon workers in Facebook groups.

But the retail workers’ union president, Stuart Appelbaum, questioned the timing of the request in Bessemer, coming as it did at the height of the organizing. “When the light was red, we could answer questions and have a brief conversation with workers,” he said.

Last week, the union questioned an offer the company made to the Alabama warehouse workers to pay them at least $1,000 if they quit by late March.

“They are trying to remove the most likely union supporters from their work force by bribing them to leave and give up their vote,” Mr. Appelbaum said.

But “The Offer,” as it’s known among employees, was the same that Amazon made to workers at all of its warehouses around the country. It is an annual program that lets the company reduce its head count after the peak holiday shopping season without layoffs. It has been in place since at least 2014, when Jeff Bezos wrote about it in a shareholder letter.

“Once a year, we offer to pay our associates to quit,” Mr. Bezos said at the time.

Mr. Appelbaum was not swayed. He said he believed that Amazon had chosen to make the offer across all of its warehouses when it did in order to help eliminate possible “yes” votes in Bessemer.

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‘World has never seen this much wealth created in just one year’: China tops US as home to most dollar billionaires

Of the 610 new billionaire tycoons globally, 318 were in China, compared with 95 in the United States, based on January 15 valuations. “China has added more new faces than the rest of the world combined, and pulled away big time from the USA in the past year,” said the report.

The country had six of the global top 10 cities with the highest concentration of billionaires, with Beijing at the top of the ranking for the sixth consecutive year as home to 145 of the ultra-rich. The city is “the world’s billionaire capital,” according to Hurun. New York slipped to third place, after Shanghai added 30 billionaires to 113. Hong Kong was in fifth place with 82 billionaires, behind Shenzhen’s 105.

“The world has never seen this much wealth created in just one year, much more than expected for a year so badly disrupted by Covid-19,” said Rupert Hoogewerf, chief researcher and chairman of Hurun Report. “A stock markets boom, driven partly by quantitative easing, and flurry of new listings have minted eight new dollar billionaires a week for the past year.”

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The richest individuals on the planet became collectively richer in 2020 while the world has suffered an unprecedented economic crisis caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. According to the research, the collective wealth of the 0.01 percent surged by 32 percent to $14.7 trillion. The ranks of the ultra-rich in the world grew to 3,228 known billionaires across 2,402 companies in 68 countries.

Coronavirus created billionaires from healthcare and retail fastest. Specific winners were electric vehicles and e-commerce.

“The speed of wealth creation is nothing short of staggering,” said the report. “Three individuals added more than US$50 billion in a single year, led by Elon Musk with US$151 billion, on the back of the rise of e-cars, whilst e-commerce billionaires Jeff Bezos of Amazon and Colin Huang of Pinduoduo added US$50 billion each. At this rate, expect to see fifty or more break through the US$100 billion mark within the next five years.”

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Bitcoin surges toward $50,000 amid China’s latest crypto crackdown

The Chinese northern region of Inner Mongolia, the global crypto mining hotspot, is banning cryptocurrency mining. Regional authorities are expected to bar all new projects and to shut down existing activities.

According to the draft plan, revealed by the Inner Mongolia Development and Reform Commission, the mining operations will be halted in April 2021. The ban comes as part of broader measures to cut down consumption of energy by the world’s second biggest economy.

Inner Mongolia, which has become a favorite among the crypto industry players due to its cheap power, aims to hold down energy consumption growth to some 1.9 percent in 2021. The ban involves reassessing such energy-intensive sectors as steel and coal.

The draft plan comes weeks after the National Development and Reform Commission scolded the region for being the only one to fail to control power consumption in 2019.

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Bitcoin mining consumes an estimated 128.84 terawatt-hours per year of energy, according to the Cambridge Bitcoin Electricity Consumption Index. That’s more than the consumption of an entire country, such as that of Argentina or Ukraine.

China alone accounts for nearly 65 percent of global bitcoin mining activities, while Inner Mongolia consumes around eight percent. That’s more than the 7.2 percent consumed by the entire US.

The price of bitcoin surged around 6.8 percent on Tuesday on the news. The world’s biggest and best-known cryptocurrency briefly pushed above $50,000 for the first time in six days. It was trading at above $49,000 at 09:55 GMT, according to crypto-tracking platform CoinDesk.

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Beijing has supported the development of blockchain technology, which initially bolsters bitcoin. However, the government has been seeking to crack down on digital currencies themselves, amid deep concerns over speculative bubbles, fraud and energy waste.

The country’s regulators barred initial coin offerings, and cracked down on businesses involved in cryptocurrency operations such as exchanges.

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Oil slides toward $60 ahead of OPEC+ meeting to boost global supply

Both global crude benchmarks Brent and US West Texas Intermediate (WTI) were down more than one percent on Tuesday, trading at $62.89 and $59.92 per barrel at 08:42 GMT, respectively.

The oil-producing alliance led by Russia and Saudi Arabia will meet on Thursday to decide on easing supply curbs after prices posted their best-ever start to a year. Saudi Arabia has already called on the producers to remain “extremely cautious” even as signs of tightening emerge.

Statistics show the kingdom’s unilateral additional cut in oil production sent the total OPEC output down by 870,000 barrels per day (bpd) in February, the first monthly drop in the alliance’s production since June last year.

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Given the recent rally in oil prices, analysts expect the group to lift production in some form and the Saudis to reverse their unilateral cut. Oil prices have been roaring back after a tumultuous 2020, when Covid-19 crippled demand for the commodity around the world.

“The group will need to be careful; they will want to make sure they do not surprise the market by easing too much. There is a large amount of speculative money in oil at the moment, so they will want to avoid any action that will see them running for the exit,” said ING strategists Warren Patterson and Wenyu Yao.

According to Stephen Innes, chief global market strategist at Axi, this week’s decline in prices may help to strengthen the Saudi stance. “That’s probably something that could sway the OPEC+ increase more back toward the 500,000 barrels per day as opposed to the 1.5 million,” Innes told Bloomberg.

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Investors are “a little bit unsure whether OPEC will continue with the support they provided over the last few months with the supply cuts,” said Daniel Hynes, a senior commodity strategist at Australia New Zealand Banking Group. If there’s a higher-than-expected increase, that could make things difficult in the short term, given demand is still showing signs of fragility, he noted.

The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allies have to decide how much output is to be restored and at what pace. The current reductions amount to just over seven million barrels a day, or seven percent of global supply. 

According to Goldman Sachs, OPEC+ still has plenty of scope to restore production. The bank estimates there’s a “massive” deficit of two million barrels per day at present. The pace of draws during the recovery will likely outstrip the group’s ability to ramp up, it has warned.

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Russia could ditch dollar by lifting tax on gold purchases – economist

Russian citizens would get rid of their dollar savings to buy up gold bullion if the 20-percent value added tax (VAT) were eliminated, according to economics professor Valentin Katasonov, as cited by Russia’s business news agency Prime. He noted that the potential selloff would inevitably drag the greenback down.

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However, the economist said that the country’s Ministry of Finance is likely to reject moves to lift the VAT as it would probably cause revenue shortfalls in the federal budget.

But the expert sees this reason as a weak excuse, since the number of investment transactions in gold is so small that the loss would be insignificant in the overall context of the Russian budget.

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According to Katasonov, Russians could stop hording US dollars if investment in gold was more profitable. This could trigger a domino effect in many other countries that would welcome an opportunity to challenge the exclusive status of the greenback, he added.

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