Wounded after U.S. President Joe Biden cancelled the Keystone XL pipeline that would have shipped Alberta crude to the United States, the province snapped at the White House’s call on the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries Wednesday to raise production faster than planned.
“The Biden administration pleading with OPEC to increase oil production to rescue the United States from high fuel prices months after cancelling the Keystone XL pipeline smacks of hypocrisy,” Alberta Energy Minister Sonya Savage said in a statement Wednesday. “Keystone XL would have provided Americans with a stable source of energy from a trusted ally and friend.”
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney was also critical of the Biden Administration.
“The same US administration that retroactively cancelled Canada’s Keystone XL Pipeline is now pleading with OPEC & Russia to produce & ship more crude oil,” the premier tweeted. “This comes just as Vladimir Putin’s Russia has become the 2nd largest exporter of oil to the US.”
The same US administration that retroactively cancelled Canada’s Keystone XL Pipeline is now pleading with OPEC & Russia to produce & ship more crude oil.
The pipeline project, challenged by environmentalists for more than a decade, was expected to pump 830,000 barrels a day of Alberta crude to Nebraska, connecting to pipelines feeding refineries in Texas. It was abandoned by owner TC Energy Corp. in June after the Biden administration revoked a presidential permit on assuming office in January. President Barack Obama had blocked the project and President Donald Trump had revived it.
Jake Sullivan, Biden’s national security adviser, criticized global oil producers Wednesday, saying, “At a critical moment in the global recovery, this is simply not enough.” Sullivan also said in the statement: “Higher gasoline costs, if left unchecked, risk harming the ongoing global recovery.”
Canada is the U.S.’s largest source of oil imports, shipping just over 4 million barrels per day of oil on average in May. Russia recently emerged as the second largest source of oil imports, shipping 844,000 bpd to the U.S. in May, eclipsing Mexico.
As the pandemic depressed oil demand last year, the benchmark West Texas Intermediate crude briefly traded at negative US$36.98 a barrel in April 2020, compelling the 13-member OPEC and 11 other major oil producers such as Russia, to cut supply by about 10 million bpd, or around 10 per cent of global demand. In July, the group agreed to increase production by 400,000 bpd starting this month. The reduction now stands at about 5.8 million bpd, and OPEC has agreed to erase that by year’s end.
But with the U.S. economy reopening rapidly, demand is surging but production hasn’t kept up. WTI has been trading above US$60 a barrel since February, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, while average U.S. retail gasoline prices have jumped to US$3.17 a gallon in August from US$1.94 a gallon in April 2020. U.S. crude dipped 0.03 per cent to US$69.23 a barrel Thursday, while Brent crude was flat at US$71.43 per barrel.
Biden is taking the heat for higher gasoline prices during the summer driving season, with Republicans on social media attempting to link prices at the pump with his Keystone XL decision, efforts to disincentivize domestic oil production and plans for higher taxes in a US$3.5 trillion budget blueprint approved Wednesday.
“Our producers can easily produce that oil if your Administration will just stay out of the way,” tweeted George Abbott, the Republican governor of Texas. “Allow American workers—not OPEC—(to) produce the oil that can reduce the price of gasoline. Don’t make us dependent on foreign sources of energy.”
Other Republicans also took the opportunity to criticize the government that has been aggressively pushing out green energy policies to reduce the country’s carbon footprint.
“It’s pretty simple: if the President is suddenly worried about rising gas prices, he needs to stop killing our own energy production here on American soil,” Republican Senator John Cornyn of Texas said in a statement. “Begging the Saudis to increase production while the White House ties one hand behind the backs of American energy companies is pathetic and embarrassing.”
However, OPEC may not immediately pay heed to the White House’s call as the Delta variant is crimping global oil demand.
On Thursday, the International Energy Agency cut its forecast for global oil demand “sharply” for the rest of this year as the resurgent pandemic hits major consumers, and predicted a new surplus in 2022.
It’s a marked reversal for the Paris-based agency, which just a month ago was urging the OPEC+ alliance to open the taps or risk a damaging spike in prices. The oil cartel had responded to calls to hike supply, which is now arriving just as consumption slackens.
Dear White House:
Texas can do this.
Our producers can easily produce that oil if your Administration will just stay out of the way.
Allow American workers—not OPEC—produce the oil that can reduce the price of gasoline.
“The immediate boost from OPEC+ is colliding with slower demand growth and higher output from outside the alliance, stamping out lingering suggestions of a near-term supply crunch or super cycle,” the IEA said in its monthly report.
U.S. oil production hit a record high of 12.3 million bpd in 2019 before dropping to about 11.3 million bpd during the pandemic, according to the EIA.
Helima Croft, head of global commodity strategy at RBC Capital Markets, says the administration’s “real anxiety appears to be about retail gasoline prices that have risen by over 40 per cent since the start of the year.” Biden doesn’t want to jeopardize his climate change-fighting policy target of the U.S. achieving net zero carbon production by 2050, she says.
“Encouraging greater U.S. oil production appears to be an absolute non-starter,” Croft says in an Aug. 11 report. “Hence calling on OPEC may be one of the only levers they can pull to try to keep U.S. gasoline prices in check while at the same time preserving their climate credentials.”
Part of the gasoline price surge lies with refining capacity hurt by “less than robust economics as well as the structural issue of refinery closures in recent years,” Croft says.
“Gasoline inventories have put in a new five-year seasonal low, an 8.6 million barrel deficit, recording the largest deficit since the winter storm freezeover knocked out U.S. refining capacity back in March. Moreover, U.S. crude production remains 1.8 million barrels a day below pre-pandemic levels, which has left crude inventories deeply in deficit territory since the start of May.”
Biden’s call on OPEC “serves as a more politically palpable way to deal with spiking pump prices” as opposed to how Trump urged producers to “drill baby drill” in domestic oil fields, Croft says.
For Minister Savage, “the Biden administration’s plea for more oil confirms there will continue to be demand for Canadian and Alberta energy, and highlights the need for affordable and reliable energy as the world seeks to lower emissions.”
“The bottom line is the world needs Alberta’s energy.”
With files from Thomson Reuters
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In-depth reporting on the innovation economy from The Logic, brought to you in partnership with the Financial Post.
Property developer China Evergrande Group is teetering on the brink of collapse, weighed down by a giant debt load and billions of dollars of real estate it can’t sell as quickly or as profitably as anticipated.
While trouble has been brewing for a year, it’s coming to a head now, as the conglomerate missed one loan payment in June and more are expected. The company’s offices were the site of angry protests this week, and things could get even uglier on Monday when the company is likely to miss another key interest payment to its increasingly concerned financiers.
Evergrande’s possible collapse is sparking fears that it could take other parts of China’s housing market down with it — and impact business interests outside China, too.
Here’s a brief explainer of what you need to know about the story.
What is Evergrande?
Founded in 1996 in the Chinese city of Shenzhen, across the border from Hong Kong, Evergrande is mostly a property developer, whose core business is buying up land and turning it into residential real estate. Company founder Hui Ka Yan is a former steel worker who rode China’s 21st century real estate boom to a fortune that was at one point last year worth $30 billion US, good enough for the title of third-richest man in China.
The company has built more than 1,300 housing developments in 280 cities in China, with plans for another 3,000 projects underway in various cities across the country.
But like any good conglomerate, it has expanded into all sort of other businesses, including bottled water and food, electric vehicles, theme parks, a Netflix-like streaming service with almost 40 million customers — and even a professional soccer team.
Why are they in trouble?
Debt — and lots of it. The company has almost two trillion yuan of debt on its books, the equivalent of more than $300 billion US. The company aggressively borrowed money to buy more land to develop, and sold apartments quickly at low margins to raise enough cash to start the cycle up again. Which works fine as a business model — until it doesn’t.
In late 2020, new rules brought more scrutiny to the company’s finances, which revealed higher-than-expected debt loads. That, coupled with mounting construction delays spooked buyers, setting up a vicious cycle. The company began its descent to pariah status as lenders and buyers lost their nerve in lockstep with each other.
Every attempt by the company since then to distract from its problems only served to draw more attention to them. Lenders got more and more unsettled. Existing owners got upset. New sales slowed, which created a feedback loop that got lenders even more jittery.
WATCH | Investors angrily protest at Evergrande offices:
Buyers at Chinese property developer Evergrande are demanding answers from the company management, as fears mount that the company may collapse under its debt load. (David Kirton/Reuters) 0:34
According to data compiled by Bloomberg, on the 19th of July, presales at two projects in Hunan were halted. Three days later, Hong Kong banks stopped offering mortgages on any incomplete projects by the company in the city. On August 9, two more projects in Kunming stopped construction due to missed payments, followed by similar halts at projects in Nanjing and Chengdu. Things have snowballed ever since. The company’s stock price has cratered by 90 per cent in the past year, and most of their bonds are in junk status.
The company is behind on its obligations to more than 70,000 investors. More than one million buyers of unfinished projects are in limbo. And the pace of problems is picking up. “Sales could slump further as the developer may struggle to restore potential homebuyers’ confidence,” said Lisa Zhou, an analyst with Bloomberg Intelligence.
Monday figures to be an inflection point for the company as Evergrande is supposed to make an $80 million interest payment on one of its many loans, and there’s next to no chance it will pay that, which could start the clock ticking toward some undesirable outcomes.
So what could happen?
A number of bleak B words are on the table — bankruptcy, breakup, buyout, or bailout — and none of them are ideal.
The first option would be the most painful.
“If, as expected, Evergrande is defaulting on its debt and goes through a restructuring, I don’t see why it would be contained,” Michel Lowy of distressed debt investment firm SC Lowy, told Reuters.
But because of the Chinese government’s long-standing desire for stability, that’s also the least likely outcome. The company owes money to 128 different banks, and was behind almost one out of every 20 property sales in China in the past five years. Evergrande permanently employs almost 200,000 people, but hires almost four million people a year to work on various projects.
With a reach that wide, analysts who cover the sector are confident that Beijing won’t let the company simply collapse. “Evergrande’s escalating crisis may prompt government action to prevent social instability,” Zhou said.
More likely is some version of the next two options, a breakup or buyout, where the company sells assets to raise cash and help is brought in to run things. “State-owned enterprises or other developers may also take over Evergrande’s projects, after Chinese officials sent accounting and legal experts to examine the company’s finances,” Zhou said.
Economist Art Woo with Bank of Montreal said in a note on Friday that he also doubts a bailout is coming. “As for who could bear the losses, that’s frankly tricky to predict, but we think it’s reasonable to believe that the authorities are unlikely to bail out equity holders or creditors in an effort to prevent moral hazard from increasing and improve financial discipline,” he said.
More likely is some sort of organized wind down, to keep damage to a minimum. “We do not believe the government has an incentive to bail out Evergrande (which is a private-owned enterprise),” Nomura analyst Iris Chen said in a note to clients.
“But they will also not actively push Evergrande down and will supervise a more orderly default, if any, in our view.”
WATCH | CBC reported on China’s ‘ghost cities’ of empty towers nearly a decade ago:
CBC’s Adrienne Arsenault explains how empty skyscrapers are casting shadows on the Canadian economy. 2:31
China has been in a housing boom for more than two decades now, as more and more people put money into residential real estate — almost regardless of the price and demand for the underlying asset.
Video went viral on social media this month of a 15-tower condo development in Kunming being dynamited to the ground because it was a ghost city with no actual residents, eight years after being built.
While that wasn’t an Evergrande project, the worry is that there are many others out there like it.
Re-upping the stunning demolition videos showcasing housing oversupply in China: 15 skyscrapers in China that were part of the Liyang Star City Phase II Project were just demolished after sitting unfinished for eight years due to absent market demand. <a href=”https://t.co/UByqjk8QXX”>pic.twitter.com/UByqjk8QXX</a>
The 2009 financial crisis was sparked by the failure of two investment banks, Bear Stearns and then Lehman Brothers, which exposed just how much bad debt there was in the system, and caused a chain reaction of worry down the line
That may be far fetched for the economy as a whole this time around, but it’s certainly on the table for China’s housing market at least.
“Lehman (was) very different as it went across the financial system, freezing activity,” said Patrick Perret-Green, an independent London-based analyst.
“Millions of contracts with multiple counterparties, everyone was trying to work out their exposure,” he said. “With Evergrande it depresses the entire real estate sector.”
“There are other developers that are suffering from the same problem of no access to liquidity and have extended themselves too much,” Lowy said.
Simon MacAdam, an economist with Capital Economics, says the Lehman parables are unwarranted.
“The China’s Lehman moment narrative is wide of the mark,” he said. “Even if it were the first of many property developers to go bust in China, we suspect it would take a policy misstep for this to cause a sharp slowdown in its economy.”
Regardless, the Evergrande saga is a cautionary tale about the down side of unrestrained real estate speculation anywhere.
As Woo put it: “A default or bankruptcy does not pose a Lehman-type threat … but it’s still bad news for the economy.”
The Teamsters workers’ union has launched campaigns to organize employees in at least nine Canadian facilities of U.S. e-commerce company Amazon.com, according to Reuters interviews with union officials.
The campaigns could be seen as a bet by the Teamsters that early success unionizing employees in a more labour-friendly market such as Canada will inspire similar results south of the border, where Amazon has so far fended off unionization attempts.
In the latest challenge to Amazon’s anti-unionization stance, Edmonton’s Teamsters Local Union 362 filed for a vote on union representation at a company fulfilment centre in nearby Nisku late on Monday.
Interviews with Teamsters units in other cities and provinces show that the union’s efforts stretch from British Columbia to southern Ontario.
40% of workers already on board
The Teamsters’ Edmonton unit says it has enough signed cards calling for a union to meet the 40 per cent threshold to require a vote. Two of the union’s units in Ontario and one in Alberta have confirmed they are signing membership cards with Amazon workers.
And two of the five units that confirmed to Reuters that they are organizing said they are running campaigns at multiple sites, bringing the total Amazon facilities involved in some level of organizing to at least nine.
Any locals that have an Amazon facility in their area are doing an organizing campaign, Jim Killey, an organizer with Teamsters Local 879 near Hamilton, Ont., told Reuters.
Amazon did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Earlier in the week, Amazon Canada spokesperson Dave Bauer said in an emailed statement: “As a company, we don’t think unions are the best answer for our employees.”
Unions would prevent the company from changing quickly to meet employees’ needs and represent “the voices of a select few,” he said.
The Teamsters say they can help the workers win better wages and benefits, such as leaves of absence.
Long battle ahead
Unionization votes in Canada do not have any direct bearing on the United States, but they could raise enthusiasm, said John Logan, a labour professor at San Francisco State University.
Organizing at a place like Amazon requires workers to take a certain amount of risk, Logan said. If they can look to other places and see that that risk has paid off for other workers, then they are far more inclined to do it themselves.
Union members are going to great lengths to connect with Amazon workers, sleeping in their cars to catch the employees after graveyard shifts and forging ties at local churches.
The International Brotherhood of Teamsters, which has more than a million members in the United States and Canada, has made organizing Amazon a top priority, describing it as an “existential threat.”
Amazon does not have any unionized facilities in North America. The Teamsters is one of a handful of unions trying to undertake the daunting task of organizing its vast, high-churn workforce.
The Teamsters have indicated they will not seek to hold such votes in the United States any time soon, arguing the process is unfairly tilted toward employers.
But in Canada, where labour laws are more favourable, the Teamsters see an opportunity to go straight to the ballot box.
The Teamsters’ Killey said his chapter is campaigning at Amazon facilities in Milton, Cambridge and Kitchener, all traditionally working-class towns just west of Toronto.
“Where we see there is a lot of support, we’re going to go full steam ahead,” said Christopher Monette, spokesperson for Teamsters Canada.
Jason Sweet, president of Teamsters Local 419 in Ontario, said his unit has begun signing cards with workers in the Greater Toronto Area and has formed WhatsApp groups with Amazon workers to keep them abreast of the union’s efforts, delivering updates every 48 hours or so. “We are trying to build relationships from the inside,” he said.
In British Columbia, Teamsters Local 31 president Stan Hennessy said potential members have been receptive.
“Our hope is that we can help these workers,” he said. “They certainly can use some help.”
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