Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Daily Sources 4/14

still working on redrafting the format of Daily Sources ... all comments welcome


China yesterday published its "National Human Rights Action Plan of China (2009-10)," which emphasized economic, social, and communal rights though it did outline some aims more in line with traditional western notions of individual human rights--most significantly legal rights of defendants.
"The 22,000-word, two-year plan outlines the government's aim for broader access to social security, health care and education. The death penalty will be 'strictly controlled and prudently applied,' it states, adding that defendants will be guaranteed fair trials. Forced confessions by torture and the mistreatment of detainees will be prohibited. These rights are to be 'promoted and protected' within two years, the document said."
Some international human rights groups criticized the document as being vague and simply reiterating commitments already made, but I rather think the point is that Beijing accepts them as goals. Humans are, after all, teleological creatures, and in order to plot a course to B from A, one must first figure out what B is. (Indeed, this feature of human life is what Machiavelli meant by "the ends justify the means.") The fact that the government accepts a) that Enlightenment and Magna Carta-based rights are in fact rights, entitled to legal protection and b)
"'China has a long road ahead in its efforts to improve its human-rights situation,' the document acknowledges"
is a very important step forward for liberty generally--and the step itself potentially undermines the legitimacy of the regime itself. (Loretta Chao in the Wall Street Journal.)


North Korea reacted to the official condemnation by the UN Security Council Monday of its satellite launch by announcing its withdrawal from the six party talks--with China, Japan, Russia, South Korea and the US--which aim to denuclearize the nation and restart its nuclear program:
"'We have no choice but to further strengthen our nuclear deterrent to cope with additional military threats by hostile forces,' the statement [published today by the North Korean Foreign Ministry] said. It also hinted that the North would conduct more satellite tests, saying it will 'continue to exercise its sovereign rights to use space.'"
(Associated Press: "N. Korea to boycott six-party nuclear talks.") The response of to the statement by US and the other members of the six party talks has been to refer to the official condemnation. From the US State Department briefing today:
"[L]et me just say I know you all have a lot of questions about North Korea. I don’t have very much at all today that I’m going to give you. And I know you’re going to come at me with a lot of questions from various angles, but I just want to basically refer you back to the UN Security Council presidential statement that was issued. And this presidential statement made very clear the position of the UN Security Council plus Japan. And as you know, the statement calls for an early resumption of the Six-Party Talks, a verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, and full implementation of the joint statement of 2005. I don’t have much more for you right now. At some later point, we’ll have more to say, but right now, that’s all I have."

Taiwan has scheduled a two-day "state conference" beginning tomorrow which will bring together 205 government officials to debate whether Taipei should overturn its eight year old ban on new nuclear power plants:
"'Nuclear power is an inevitable option because we want to cut carbon emissions,' Tu Yueh-yuan, chief engineer of state-run Taiwan Power Co., said on April 2. The company has room to add as many as 10 reactors at its existing nuclear power plants, she said. To authorize that, [Taiwanese President] Ma [Ying-jeou] would have to reverse a decision by his predecessor, Chen Shui-bian."
The key problem facing the relatively small island nation vis-a-vis expanding its nuclear power capacity is how to safely dispose of the waste. (Yu-huay Sun: "Taiwan Energy Talks Pit Ma Against Nuclear Opponents," Bloomberg News.)


The latest move in the question of an alternative to the dollar was made by Beijing last week when it decided to allow five of its largest trading cities--Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Zhuhai and Dongguan (four of which are in Guandong Province)--to settle cross-border trade deals in renminbi.
"The yuan settlement move may be a potentially huge boon to Chinese firms, which can sidestep foreign exchange risk without having to buy derivative products to hedge their currency exposure.

But it could be doomed to failure if Beijing can’t convince foreign counterparties to China’s trade that getting paid in yuan is in their own best interest.

That’s not going to be easy. Under current rules, if firms or individuals outside of China were to hold yuan, they wouldn’t be allowed to directly invest it in China’s capital markets. And as for hedging currency risk, Shanghai’s forwards and swaps markets are equally off-limits."
(See Denis McMahon: "The Yuan Abroad: Useful If Strong," China Journal and Denis McMahon: "Beijing Aims to Expand Foreign Trade in Yuan," The Wall Street Journal.)The State Council has asked for the cities involved to submit regulations proposals for the pilot program. It has yet to announce a date for the program to commence. The news comes on top of the recent story that preliminary estimates of GDP growth for Guandong Province in the first two months of 2009 are at 5% and 5.5% for the first quarter, 5% less growth than seen last year.
"Guangdong’s import and export dropped 25.9%, year on year, in January and February, and 22.9% in the first quarter. Guangdong’s foreign trade dependence is as high as 155%, more than double China’s average."
(China Stakes: "Export Plummet Shock: A Guangdong Tiger Under Water," h/t Yves Smith at naked capitalism.) Meanwhile, Cao Jianhai, a professor at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said that the rebound in Chinese property markets was likely unsustainable and that residential property prices were likely to fall by 40 to 50% from their levels in 2008.
"'Prices may not fall in the near term but I expect a collapse starting next year, followed by many years of stagnation,” said Mr Cao, known as one of the 'three swordsmen' of the real estate market because of his influence as an official economist."
(See The Financial Times: "Property prices in China set to halve.")


Rebecca Wilder notes that Singapore's Ministry of Trade and Industry today announced that it had downwardly revised its 2009 GDP growth forecast from between -2% and -5% in January to between -6% and -9% in April. The revision was made on the base of an advance estimate for first quarter GDP of a 11.5% contraction. Ms. Wilder helpfully produces a graph plotting the annual GDP growth (on a quarterly basis) of the ASEAN 5:

(Her post is worth a look: "Singapore is dropping quickly; dismal growth expected for the ASEAN countries" at News N Economics.)


Following the visit of Hugo Chávez to China, the CEO of CNPC, Jiang Jiemin, said he would submit a plan to establish a joint refinery with the PdVSA in Guangdong province. The refinery would have a throughput of 20 million tonnes a year (~400 kb/d) and be 51%-owned by CNPC and 49% by PdVSA. Given that the refinery would be sophisticated, it could make the import of larger volumes of Venezuelan crude--a major goal of the Chávez administration, more viable as most new sophisticated refining capacity on or coming on line in China already has dedicated supply--mostly from the Saudi Arabia. However, there is reason to doubt that these ideas will go forward as planned:
"In May 2008, Chinese state media reported that CNPC subsidiary PetroChina entered into a joint venture agreement with PDVSA to build a 400 kb/d refinery in Guangdong province, configured to process Venezuelan heavy oil.

Under the agreement, witnessed by Chávez and Chinese Vice Premier Hui Liangyu, the crude is to be sourced from the Junin 4 block in the Orinoco belt.

At the time, officials said that the joint refinery, Venezuela's first such investment in China, would advance Chávez's goal of shipping to China 1 mb/d of oil by 2011, or 13% of current Chinese oil demand.

Reports vary on just how much oil Venezuela actually ships to China. Last May, Ramirez said shipments amounted to 500,000 b/d of oil, while Chinese state media reported 300—380 kb/d of products and 80 kb/d of crude."
(Eric Watkins: "China, Venezuela agree to speed up increased oil shipments," The Oil & Gas Journal.) That said, it is reported that senior officials from CNPC, PdVSA and Total SA are scheduled to meet next month in Caracas to discuss a potential 20 year contract to send 200 kb/d of Venezuelan oil to China, possibly starting in 2013, and with volumes rising beyond that.
"CNPC is talking to Total about a package involving a joint bid for Orinoco oil assets, building an upgrader to process the heavy oil produced in Venezuela and shipping it to a CNPC-PDVSA refinery to be built in Guangdong, southern China, a CNPC official told the news agency.

Total declined to comment, but a company spokeswoman told Dow Jones that the company had extensive links with China and confirmed that 'we are in discussions with CNPC on a variety of projects.'"
(Upstream online: "Caracas lines up three-way Orinoco pact.") In February Total CEO Christophe de Margerie told reporters in London that investment in Venezuela was preferable to Brazil, because there was less competition in Venezuela--see Daily Sources 2/13 #9. The statement was somewhat mystifying because, after all, the reason there is less competition in Venezuela is because Chávez has a habit of nationalizing your investments. However, if a project were done in conjunction with Chinese national oil companies, and increased economic integration with China is a goal of Caracas because Chávez believes Beijing may be able to offer military-political defense of his regime from an inevitably hostile US, then perhaps Total may be able to feel better protected against loss of its assets. Indeed, de Margerie may even feel that Chávez would not just be less likely to alienate Paris because of its habitual gad fly approach to US international policies, but also because of the cultural affinity that his first party--The Fifth Republic Movement--claimed with France (see my first post Venezuela vs ExxonMobil). That would be a reasonable strategy--an extremely risky one in my view, but international oil companies are rather experienced in taking such risks.

In the meantime, Brazil and Russia have taken advantage of the supply cuts made by OPEC to take a larger share of the US oil import market (which itself is shrinking).
"US imports from the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries fell 818 kb/d, or 14%, to 5.02 million in January from a year earlier, according to the latest monthly report from the Energy Department. At the same time, imports from Brazil more than doubled to 397,000 and Russia’s increased almost 10-fold to 157,000, a trend that continued in February and March, according to data from each country."
The story puts the data in a very strange way, but the latest monthly import data on the EIA website shows that Russian imports grew to 516 kb/d in January from 382kb/d in December (or 35%) and Brazilian imports grew to 450 kb/d in January from 225 kb/d in December (or 100%). (That said, imports from Brazil had been as must as 354 kb/d as recently as October and imports from Russia had been as much as 490 kb/d in August, so although there may be a trend, it is not as pronounced as those percentages would imply. See: EIA: "US Imports by Country of Origin.")
"Russian overall exports climbed 6.3% in February and 2.2% in March, according to the Energy Ministry. Brazilian total exports more than doubled in both February and March, according to Brazil’s Trade Ministry."
(Mark Shenk: "OPEC Cuts Thwarted as Brazil, Russia Grab US Market," Bloomberg News.) Beyond that, Saudi Arabia has put a hold on its two new major export refinery plans--for Tanbu and Jubail--of 800 kb/d in total throughput, but still has a fairly aggressive schedule of capacity addition downstream. Reuters ran the numbers in a series of tables:

As you can see, a fair amount, 440 kb/d is inside China itself--and we can expect a considerable portion of the domestic export refinery plans to target the Chinese market. This is probably true of any excess capacity produced from its JV refineries in Japan and South Korea as well:


Turkmen President Gurbanguli Berdymukhamedov has accused Moscow of being behind the recent natural gas pipeline blast which cut off its exports through Russia to eastern Europe and wants an international investigation into the causes of the pipeline blast.
"'Turkmenistan's president [Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov] has ordered the government to carry out...an international study to investigate the causes of the incident,' the [Turkmen Foreign] ministry said in a statement."
In a televised speech at a Cabinet meeting the President said:
"We won't allow them to hurt our image as a reliable supplier of energy resources to global markers."
Gazprom has refused to comment on the issue, but Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov described the explosion as "purely technical." Evidently, Gazprom reduced intake by a full 90% without informing their Turkmen counterparts in advance. This was allegedly done because Gazprom at this time cannot recoup the cost of Turkmen gas, which it reportedly contracted for on December 31, 2008 at $340/tcm (~$9.61/MMBtu.) Yesterday, UK front month natural gas contracts closed at £0.2934/therm (~$4.31/MMBtu). Front month Brent closed at $52.14/b or about $8.99/MMBtu. Urals spot on Friday closed at $50.34/b or about $8.68/MMBtu. (The actual terms of the Turkmen contract are unknown, but it is thought they are tied by some formula to the price of oil, with a floor and a ceiling price.) (See: Alexander Vershinin: "Turkmen leader: Russia must pay for pipeline blast," Associated Press and Nadia Rodova: "Turkmenistan wants international experts to study gas line blast," Platts.) Meanwhile, Lukoil CEO Vagit Alekperov told Bloomberg in a televised interview that the company will seek to buy out BP's stake in the Caspian Pipeline Consortium.
"'Now we need to tie up the formalities and receive permission from the Kazakh government,' Alekperov said. 'I plan to be in Kazakhstan from April 25-30 where I’ll meet with the Kazakh president and I’ll raise that question in the hope of getting a positive answer.'"

Chevron, the operator of the Tenghiz field which is supplies much of the CPC pipeline's throughput, said in February that it intends to increase output in the field to 400 kb/d this year. Shareholders in the consortium plan to invest $1.6 billion to double pipeline capacity to 1.3 mb/d from 2013. (Stephen Bierman and Ellen Pinchuk: "Lukoil to Seek Kazakh Approval to Buy BP’s CPC, Tengiz Stakes," Bloomberg News.)Lukoil also is planning to drill for oil offshore the Ivory Coast and Ghana.
"'After the outstanding discoveries made in the recent years on the sea shelf of Ghana, this area is one of the most promising for exploration in West Africa,' Andrei Kuzyaev, head of Lukoil Overseas Holding Ltd., said in a statement on April 2."
Evidently a part of the thinking behind Lukoil's overseas acquisitions is that Moscow is slowing down the number of licenses to drill it is offering domestically. The number of auctions for oil licenses offered by Moscow last year fell to 147, or by half.
(Stephen Bierman and Ellen Pinchuk: "Lukoil to Drill in Africa as It Urges Russia to Offer Licenses," Bloomberg News.)


IMF Managing Director Dominique Strauss-Khan send an email statement to reporters saying that Poland was seeking a one-year credit line from the institution of $20.5 billion.
"Poland will become the second country after Mexico to use the flexible credit line as its economy faces the sharpest slowdown in almost a decade. The zloty lost almost a third of its value from a record high in July as investors sold riskier emerging-market assets amid the global credit crunch.

'This is the reflection of our cautious and responsible economic policy,' Finance Minister Jacek Rostowski told journalists after the government’s weekly meeting. 'This will help protect the zloty against uncontrolled depreciation that we saw during the first two months of this year. The consequences will be very positive for Poland.'

The loan will raise foreign reserves by almost a third, help cut Poland’s debt-servicing costs and facilitate access to international financing, he said.

'If Poland follows Mexico, maybe other countries would be willing to arrange a credit line,' said Ralph Sueppel, chief economist and strategist at London-based hedge fund BlueCrest Capital Management Ltd., which manages about $2 billion in emerging-market assets. 'The advantage for the Poland is that it provides support at a time when dollar funding is short.'"
(Marta Waldoch and Ewa Krukowska: "Poland to Ask IMF for Credit to Shield Economy, Zloty," Bloomberg News.)


The BBC reports that Egypt has accused 49 suspects of being agents of Hizbullah and planning hostile operations on its soil. Egyptian security forces are searching for 13 additional suspects on the Sinai Peninsula. Michael Collins Dunn comments:
"Part of the surprise here — actually a clever tactical move — is that Nasrullah did not offer the usual flat denial of involvement, but portrayed Hizbullah as trying to relieve the siege of Gaza, thus reminding the world that Egypt's keeping the Rafah crossing closed is as much responsible for Gaza's suffering as Israel's closure of the other crossings. Popular opinion inside Egypt has generally been critical of the government's policies on Gaza, and Hizbullah is playing to that.

Of course, there's a certain disingenuousness to Hizbullah claiming it does not carry out operations in other countries and admitting that it had agents operating in Sinai. But by rationalizing their presence rather than denying it, Nasrullah subtly shifts the debate from one of violating Egyptian sovereignty to one of spotlighting Egypt's keeping Rafah closed."
(see BBC News: "Egypt 'hunts Hezbollah suspects'," and Michael Collins Dunn, "Egypt/Hizbullah Feud Heating Up," MEI Editor's Blog.)


The US is continuing its strategy of engagement with Iran, as evidenced by yesterday's US Press Briefing:
"QUESTION: Separate issue. On Iran, Javier Solana spoke to Mr. Jalili and it seems that Iran is welcoming what they say – you know, they hope to be a constructive dialogue with the P-5+1. I just wondered whether you had any details on Solana’s call and whether you, you know, welcomed their welcoming of talks?

MR. WOOD: Yeah, I mean, of course, we welcome the fact that they’re, you know, interested in having a dialogue. And you know, I would refer you again to the sincere offer of the P-5+1 to provide Iran with what we believe is a very good, substantive package of incentives. We want to deal with Iran on this issue. It’s an important issue to the international community. And Iran needs to show the international community that its nuclear program is a peaceful one. Right now, the international community is very skeptical about that. But as I’ve said, we want to directly engage Iran on a range of issues, and we encourage Iran to continue – well, we encourage Iran to come forward and provide the international community with all of the assurances that it requires to be convinced that Iran is pursuing a peaceful nuclear program. But as I said, we remain skeptical about it."
And David Sanger at the New York Times reports that the US and its European allies are preparing "proposals" to drop the former US insistence on a rapid shut down of nuclear facilities in the early stages of negotiations with Tehran. But, in the meantime, Tehran appears to be doing much to make the realization of such negotiations more difficult. It has tried Roxana Saberi, a US-Iranian dual citizen and reporter, for espionage in a closed door trial with the verdict expected in two weeks. She has been imprisoned since late January for charges of purchasing alcohol originally. The charges have swiftly escalated to espionage. (The Associated Press: "Iran Says U.S. Journalist Has Been Tried Behind Closed Doors.") Today President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has announced Iran will launch a satellite soon--on a missile with a range of up to 1,500 km (930 miles). Satellites pose a concern because they can be fitted with weapons and the technology is the basis for ICBMs. (And satellites have also proven to be of particular concern to Moscow.) (Hossein Jaseb and Hashem Kalantari: "Iran Plans to Send Bigger Satellite Into Space," Reuters.) And the Islamic Revolution Passdaran Guards Corp (IRGC) published a statement accusing Amsterdam (!) of attempting to instigate a "color revolution" in Iran via its support of internet websites.
"The statement, released by the 'IRGC Center for Organized Cyber Crimes,' claims, ‎‎'Hostile countries have demonstrated increasing interest in utilizing cyber space with the ‎expansion of the Internet, supporting the creation of websites, blogs and internet radio ‎and television networks.'

The IRGC’s statement identifies the 'Dutch Project' as one of the main soft overthrow ‎threats against the Islamic Republic, noting, 'One such country, which has supported the ‎opposition movement financially in recent years, is the Netherlands, which passed a ‎budget addendum in 2005 sponsored by Farah Karimi, an Iranian-born representative in ‎the Dutch parliament and a member of the leftist Green Party.' ‎

In another part of the IRGC statement, it is claimed that the Dutch budget is part of the ‎‎'long-term and strategic planning along the ideology of NATO,' which is 'pursuing the ‎agenda of global imperialism by absorbing vast capital, expert human resources and ‎political networks, setting up a group of expert journalists from the domestic and foreign ‎opposition with the help of the British, political and diplomatic support from the Dutch, ‎and with planning and secret budgets from the United States.'"
(Rooz online: "Revelations against Dutch Projects‎--Passdaran Guards Corp’s Statement on 'Media Overthrow'.) And Tehran has also given Shell and Repsol until May 20 to "clarify their involvement" in the Phase 13 of the South Pars project.
"'If subsequent to the expiry of the deadline these companies do not make clear their involvement in the Persian LNG project, talks will begin directly with Chinese (companies),' Seifollah Jashnsaz, managing director of the National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC), told the ISNA news agency.

'Presently not much remains to the end of this deadline,' he said, without giving further detail."
(Hashem Kalantari and Jonathan Gleave, "Iran gives Shell/Repsol deadline on LNG project," Reuters.)


Pakistani President Asif Ali Zadari has signed into law legislation which introduces sharia law into the Swat Valley. The Taliban has been de facto in control of the region for some time now. The agreement, it should be noted, maintains the federal judiciary as the court of appeals--and thus superior to the Sharia courts. (See: BBC News, "Pakistan passes Swat Sharia deal.") Meanwhile, Sabrina Tavernise, Richard A. Oppel Jr. and Eric Schmitt at the New York Times report that the Taliban is making inroads in Punjab, the most populous region in Pakistan and the region at the heart of the recent dispute with Nawaz Sharif.


The Red Shirt protests in Thailand have reportedly come to a halt after a large military presence intimidated the bulk of the protesters.
"'I want to save the people,' Jatuporn Phromphan, one of the protest leaders, said as he walked up to surrender to police with a grim-faced band of supporters. 'But I will continue to fight for democracy.'"
Evidently the military has either decided that it needs to create a sense of stability or it is backing the so-called Yellow Shirts. (Tim Johnston: "Thai Protesters Give Up to Avoid Further Violence Troops, Protesters Clash in Bangkok," The Washington Post -- includes a slide show.)


Professor Tom Fedyszyn gave a copy of his power point presentation illustrating the evolution of the thinking behind US grand naval strategy going forward to Steve Clemons at The Washington Note, who made it available to all. Key excerpt:
"Today’s Maritime Strategy “Bottom egg” = Obama Direction

- Maritime security
- Maintenance of global commons
- Promotion of free trade
- Building partnerships
- Anti-piracy
- Humanitarian assistance
- Greatest threat to world instability is economic recession
- Need for US to cooperate and build partnerships
- World trade is cornerstone of strong economy
- US provides strong moral leadership
- Less implied concern over international power rivalries"
Very much worth a look.


The Commerce Department announced today that retail sales had fallen by 1.1% in March from a year earlier.
"Excluding autos, retail sales fell 0.9% after a 1% rise in February. That also was worse than analysts' forecasts of a flat reading for last month.

Sales at appliance stores fell 5.9% last month and furniture stores reported a 1.7% decline. Sales at specialty clothing stores fell 1.8% and dipped 0.2% at general merchandise stores, a category that includes Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Target Corp. and Macy's."
"Meanwhile, the Labor Department reported that wholesale prices plunged 1.2% in March as the cost of gasoline, other energy products and food fell sharply.

Gas prices fell 13.1%, the steepest drop since December, while food costs dipped 0.7%. Excluding volatile food and energy prices, the Producer Price Index was unchanged, below analysts' forecasts of a 0.1% rise."
(Associated Press: "Retail sales tumble unexpectedly in March; Consumer spending subdued amid rising unemployment.") IN the meantime, the EIA released its forecast today that natural gas consumption by the industrial sector is expected to decline by 7.4% in 2009 from 2008. The new forecast cut the average price forecast for natural gas delivered to Henry Hub at $4.24/Mcf.
"[The] EIA said it expects LNG imports to increase to about 480 Bcf this year, from 352 Bcf in 2008. Lower global economic activity and new liquefaction capacity in the Middle East and elsewhere should boost US imports."
(Joel Kirkland: "Industrial sector gas use could decline 7% in 2009: US EIA," Platts.) Not an especially rosy picture of near term economic growth from an official government agency, in other words.

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