Thursday, April 9, 2009

Daily Sources 4/9

1. Hiroko Tabuchi at the New York Times reports that Prime Minister Taro Aso has submitted a ¥15.4 trillion (~$154.4 billion) stimulus plan to the Parliament for approval. ¥15.4 trillion represents about 3% of Japanese GDP. Mr. Aso introduced the plan by saying:
"The world is at a turning point, where only countries that can turn adversity into opportunity will thrive. Japan is at its most crucial crossroads in 100 years."
2. Jason Dean at China Journal reports that Beijing has announced--via the China Daily--that it is sending a purchasing junket to France. Ties between the two countries had been frayed by rhetorical support for Tibet from France. The purchasing junket comes a week after the joint communique hosted by the Chinese Foreign Ministry's website affirming that "... France refuses to support any kind of 'Tibet independence'"--see Daily Sources 4/1 #5.

3. David Jolly at the New York Times reports that the Bank of England left its benchmark interest rate at 0.5%. In its previous meeting, the bank's Monetary Policy Committee had committed to buy £75 billion (~$110 billion) of government and company bonds, or engage in "quantitative easing." In its statement today the bank pledged to complete the expenditure within two months' time.
"The committee noted that since its previous meeting a total of just over £26 billion of asset purchases had been made and that it would take a further two months to complete that program."
4. Shell published a press release on its website yesterday which announced that in a meeting with Gazprom CEO Alexei Miller in Moscow, Shell CEO Jeroen Van der Veer signed an agreement to import Russian LNG from Sakhalin on the Russian Pacific coast.
"Deliveries to Gazprom and Shell begin in 2009 and will last until 2028, totaling 1 mtpa each to Gazprom and Shell at plateau. The agreements also include a new pipeline gas agreement for the delivery of an equivalent volume of gas to Shell in Europe. Through this 20-year agreement Shell will be able to strengthen the diversification and flexibility of its supply portfolio and its marketing position in the European gas market."
Jonty Rushforth at Platts reports that Asian spot LNG cargoes are hovering below $4.50/MMBtu as the number of takers remains slim.
"Sellers were offering cargoes throughout the region, but the only national buyers left were from China and India, with the former said to be looking for a single May cargo after earlier taking an April cargo, industry sources said."
Generally UK National Balancing Point futures were selling at a premium to Platt's May Japan Korea marker of between $0.10 and $0.50/MMBtu. Eric Watkins at the Oil & Gas Journal reports that Indonesia has sold only 3 cargoes of 18 originally bound for Japan, Taiwan, and South Korea.
"PT Pertamina vice-president Hari Yulianto said the global financial crisis had resulted in falling demand for gas in the three countries and that they hoped to sell their LNG to buyers in Europe and other Asian countries.

Hari said if the three countries failed to sell the LNG, Indonesia's domestic market could have the opportunity for a larger supply of gas—a point agreed on by other officials."
Indeed, Indonesia's contract with Japan for LNG deliveries signed February significantly reduced the supply made available on the back of the policy decision to divert the gas to domestic industry--see Daily Sources 2/13 #10.

5. Matt Robinson and Margarita Antidze at Reuters report that at least 60,000 Georgians rallied in Tblisi today to call for the resignation of Mikhail Saakashvili. Opposition leaders have pledged to rally every day from now on until the President resigns. "The West ... is watching for a possible repeat of a November 2007 crackdown, when police firing teargas and rubber bullets dispersed the last major demonstrations against Saakashvili." Clifford Levy at the New York Times reports that Saakashvili has said in response to the protests:
"No matter how our positions and views may differ, we have one motherland, we need unity for the sake of this motherland. We need to accomplish our struggle for eventual liberation of Georgia and for eventual establishment of a democratic, free, European state."
Last night Stratfor sent out an email "red alert" which pointed out that all 17 opposition parties have agreed to join in on the protests, noting,
"If the movement does inspire such a large turnout [as many as 100,000], it would be equivalent to the number of protesters that hit the streets at the height of the Rose Revolution, which toppled the previous government and brought Saakashvili into power in the first place.
The April 9 protests are the point at which all sides will try to gain--and maintain--momentum. The 2003 Rose Revolution took months to build up to, but the upcoming protests are the starting point for both the opposition and Russia--and opposition movements in Georgia have not seen this much support and organization since the 2003 revolution. April 9 will reveal whether or not things are about to get shaken up, if not completely transformed, in Georgia."
Though Stratfor's analysis somehow ignores the rather pertinent fact that what many Georgians are upset about is that Saakashvili apparently decided to risk the independence of his nation by launching an attack on secessionist regions on the bet that Moscow would lose the ensuing public relations battle and thus the regions because of the incipient US elections (and suspiciously timed in such a way as they could be construed to be in support of a particular candidate who happened to lose, perhaps losing the amicable feeling of the new POTUS and his party), I agree that the protests are worth watching as is the response of Saakashvili.

6. Ladane Nasseri and Jonathan Tirone at Bloomberg report that President Ahmadinejad formally opened Iran's first nuclear fuel plant in the Isfahan province today.
"The formal opening of the Isfahan plant indicates that the country is pushing ahead with its nuclear research reactor in Arak, which the United Nations Security Council has demanded stopped. Uranium pellets like the ones produced in Isfahan will feed the Arak reactor after its completion, producing plutonium as a by-product."
Meanwhile, Paul Richter at the Los Angeles Times reports that the United States has decided for the first time to become party to the group negotiations with Iran over their nuclear program. The other negotiating parties, known as the P-5, are Germany, China, Russia, Britain, and France.
"Some European officials have been advocating an approach called 'freeze for freeze,' under which the Iranians would agree to not expand their uranium enrichment, and the West would agree to not add additional diplomatic and economic sanctions, while the parties weighed broader negotiations."
Gregor Peter Schmitz at Der Spiegel conducted an interview of the former US Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs, Nicholas Burns, who was the Bush Administration's top Iran negotiator. Key excerpts:
SPIEGEL ONLINE: The Obama administration has begun to reach out to the regime in Tehran. Are they making progress?

Burns: We will have to wait and see how that develops. So far, not much has happened. The Iranians have not yet really responded to the American overtures and it does not surprise me. They have very many viewpoints competing within the government in Teheran and they have their presidential elections coming up in June. But I fully support what the Obama administration has done so far: Obama's video message to the Iranian people that went above the heads of the Ayatollahs, the very public invitation to the Iranian leadership to the Afghanistan conference in The Hague. Those are the right things to be doing. The President is communicating to Tehran: We are open to talks.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: ... Was it a mistake of the Bush administration not to start a similar outreach effort earlier?

Burns: ... [I]n hindsight I wish we had challenged Iran more in the past by doing more of the things that Obama is doing now. I am impressed by Obama's diplomatic dexterity.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: European nations -- including Germany -- are also reluctant to support even tougher sanctions. Our trade relations with Iran are significant.

Burns: The European nations need to make the same sacrifices we Americans have made by cutting our trade relationship with Iran. We need to have a unified approach."
Worth reading in full. Meanwhile, Joanna Lillis at EurasiaNet reports that Astana has offered a potential solution to the question of Tehran having access to the full nuclear fuel cycle--Kazakhstan would host a global nuclear fuel bank.
"Media reports say Kazakhstani leaders have been promoting their plan behind closed doors in Washington in recent weeks, and that US officials are seriously mulling the possibility. To advance the process, Kazakhstani Senate Speaker Kasymzhomart Tokayev on April 7 invited US President Barack Obama to visit Astana. The two met briefly on the sidelines of the Alliance of Civilizations forum in Istanbul. 'The speaker underlined that Kazakhstan remains committed to the policy of the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons and related material, as the results of recent talks in Astana with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad testify in particular,' the Senate press service said.

Astana is set to assume the chairmanship of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in 2010. Developing the nuclear fuel bank initiative would reinforce Astana’s aim to position itself as an honest broker that serves as a bridge between East and West."
7. Haris Zamir at Platts reports that the Pakistani cabinet has approved the import of 750,000-1,000,000 Mcf/d of Iranian natural gas via the proposed Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline, but has yet to agree upon a price for the gas. President Zadari indicated that Islamabad was ready to move ahead without a firm commitment from New Delhi, saying:
"Transferring Iranian gas to Pakistan is very important for us and Islamabad will exert every effort to obtain gas from Iran without paying attention to any obstacles."
That said, the primary obstacle all along has been ... the price of the gas. However, Tehran just now might be feeling a bit more anxious to offer an attractive deal to Islamabad, given the speed with which the US and Moscow appear to be aligning some interests.

8. Maher Chmaytelli at Bloomberg reports that Algerian Oil Minister Chakib Khelil told Algerie Presse Service that:
"If prices stay where they are, at about $50, or even drop a little, it will be a good thing because we should not forget that the global economy is shrinking."
9. Andres Oppenheimer at the Miami Herald reports that US officials indicated Tuesday that there will be no one on one meeting between Presidents Obama and Chávez at the Americas Summit in Trinidad and Tobago next week. The POTUS is not expected to meet one on one with any counterpart at the summit, but only in group meetings.
"Obama's planned group meetings outside the summit's agenda in Trinidad's capital of Port of Spain are likely to be with Caribbean leaders, Central American leaders and a third group made up of heads of state of South America and Mexico, including Chávez."
10. Julie Cart at the Los Angeles Times reports that Australia is experiencing such dramatic climatic changes that some are touting it as a harbinger of what global warming promises the rest of the world.

"Like scenes from a modern Dust Bowl, mile after mile of desiccated fields lie fallow, rows of shriveled trees that once bore peaches and pears are now abandoned orchards, and small businesses are shuttered, fronted by for-sale signs. The dingy brown of the landscape rearranges in a cloud of dust with every hot wind that blows.

Farmers who once grew 60% of the nation's produce are walking off their land or selling their water rights to the state and federal government. With rainfall in the region at lower than 50% of average for more than a decade, Australia is witnessing the collapse of its agricultural sector and the nation's ability to feed itself."
Well worth reading in full. Obviously, the issue has particular resonance in California, where most of the agriculture is based on irrigation farming. (h/t Keith Johnson at Environmental Capital.)

11. The Associated Press reports that the Labor Department announced today that "new jobless claims fell to a seasonally adjusted 654,000, down from a revised 674,000 the previous week."
"But the total number of laid-off Americans receiving unemployment rose to 5.84 million, from 5.75 million. That was the most on records dating from 1967 and higher than analysts expected."
12. Stephanie Rosenbloom at the New York Times reports that US retailers reported a decline in sales for March, with sales for the overall retailing industry falling 1.8% from February. "Industry analysts estimated that for the overall retail industry, March sales will be down 0.4 to 1% compared with the period a year ago." Phil Izzo at Real Time Economics has posted a chart of individual retailer results which more or less indicate that discount retailers did relatively well in March while everyone else suffered badly.

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