Mark Latham Commodity Equity Intelligence Service

Friday 7th April 2017
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China launches new year-long inspection into air pollution in north

China's environment ministry said it will send 5,600 inspectors on a year-long investigation into the sources of air pollution in major northern cities.

The Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP) said in a notice posted late on Wednesday on its official website ( that inspections into 28 northern cities in and around the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region will focus on improving the way the country's standards and laws are enforced.

The 28 cities have already pledged to draw up detailed action plans to address smog, promising to shut small polluting enterprises and halve coal and steel production in the winter.

The region is a frontline in China's "war on pollution", but despite improvements last year it saw average concentrations of breathable particles known as PM2.5 rise 48 percent in the first two months of 2017.

The notice said the latest campaign, described as the largest ever undertaken, would seek to "normalize compliance" in a region frequently accused of turning a blind eye to polluters in order to protect jobs and revenues.

The ministry has routinely named and shamed local governments and enterprises in northern China for failing to comply with anti-smog regulations.

China is also launching a new round of inspections that will focus on overall environmental compliance in 15 provinces and regions, including the city of Shanghai, Liaoning in the northeast and the island of Hainan on the southeast coast.

The first round of inspections last year, which covered big coal-producing regions like Inner Mongolia, Ningxia and Shanxi, showed that progress had been made in the battle against air pollution, but water quality in some areas had deteriorated sharply.
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Oil and Gas

Oil prices jump 2 percent after U.S. launches missile strike in Syria

Oil prices surged more than 2 percent on Friday after the United States launched dozens of cruise missiles at an airbase in Syria.

U.S President Donald Trump said he had ordered missile strikes against a Syrian airfield from which a deadly chemical weapons attack was launched earlier this week, declaring he acted in America's "national security interest" against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

After tepid trading before the news, Brent crude futures, the international benchmark for oil, jumped to $56.08 per barrel before easing to be up 1.6 percent at $55.75 per barrel at 0310 GMT.

U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures also climbed by over 2 percent, to a high of $52.94 a barrel before receding to be up 1.8 percent at $52.61.

Both benchmarks hit their highest levels since early March.

The strikes rattled global markets. While oil prices surged as traders priced in what has in the past been called a Middle East risk premium, and safe-haven products like gold jumped, stock markets and the U.S. dollar slumped.

"The U.S cruise missile strikes have seen crude oil jump over two percent in a straight line," said Jeffrey Halley, senior market analyst at futures brokerage OANDA in Singapore.

Halley said the strikes had potentially big implications for oil markets.

"What will be the response of Iran and Russia, two of the world's largest oil producers and staunch allies of the Assad regime?... We will have to wait for these answers as the day moves on," he said.

U.S. officials said the military had fired 59 cruise missiles against a Syrian airbase controlled by Assad's forces, in response to a poison gas attack on Tuesday in a rebel-held area.

Officials said the United States had informed Russia ahead of the strikes. The strikes did not target sections of the Syrian base where Russian forces were believed to be present.
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Saudi crude price cut to add to Asia light oil glut

Saudi Aramco's decision to cut prices for lighter grades of oil for customers in Asia is a sign of just how seriously the world's top crude exporter is taking its battle with U.S. shale and other producers outside last year's move to cut output.

The Saudi Arabian state oil company lowered the official selling price (OSP) of its benchmark Arab Light grade by 30 cents a barrel for May cargoes destined for Asia, which buys about two-thirds of the kingdom's exports.

This took the OSP to a discount of 45 cents a barrel to the regional benchmark Oman-Dubai. It was the second straight month that Aramco cut the price, even though the Saudis are the major player in the agreement between producer group OPEC and its allies to cut output by 1.8 million barrels per day (bpd) in the first six months of the year.

Aramco also reduced the OSP for its Arab Extra Light grade by 35 cents a barrel to a premium of 60 cents over Oman-Dubai for May-loading cargoes for Asian customers, and for Super Light by 20 cents. In contrast, the OSPs for Arab Medium and Heavy were left unchanged.

It's worth noting that Arab Light isn't actually a light crude in the mould of global benchmark Brent, as its API gravity of 32-33 degrees makes it a medium grade, compared with Brent's light 38.3 degrees.

But Arab Extra Light and Super Light are more directly comparable to Brent, and they both saw price reductions.

It's appears that Aramco, mainly a producer of medium to heavy grades, is responding to the light grades of crude swamping Asian markets as U.S. producers ramp up shale output and West Africa increases production.

Another way of looking at it is by noting the difference between light and heavy prices in Asia.

The main way of doing this is via the Dubai-Brent exchange for swaps, which measures the premium of the lighter grade over its heavier Middle Eastern counterpart.

This has been on a narrowing trend this year as heavier grades became more scarce following output cuts by OPEC and its allies, including Russia.

The premium commanded by Brent dropped from $4.65 a barrel in January 2016 to just $1.08 on Feb. 28, a 17-month low.

When the premium of Brent over Dubai is declining, Aramco has in the past adjusted its Asian OSP lower as well, which acts to keep its crude prices relatively constant between regions.

However, since the Feb. 28 low, the Brent-Dubai swaps have been trending modestly higher, reaching $1.28 a barrel on April 4.

In theory, this should have resulted in a small increase in the Saudi OSP, or perhaps steady prices, rather than the price cuts actually delivered.

-For graphic on ' Saudi OSP vs Brent-Dubai swaps' click:


This indicates that the Saudis are pushing their lighter grades into Asia at competitive prices. Physical oil traders also report that there is no shortage of light crude and cargoes are trading at discounts to their OSPs.

It seems that in Asia the output cuts by OPEC and its allies have shifted the battleground to lighter grades of crude, and the reason is starting to show up in import figures.

Data compiled by Thomson Reuters Supply Chain and Commodity Forecasts indicates that Middle Eastern producers are losing ground in Asia.

The Middle East's share of Asia's crude imports in March was 61.5 percent, down from as high as 65.9 percent as recently as January, according to vessel-tracking and port data.

In contrast, the share from exporters in the West, which includes U.S. shale, Canada, Brazil and even cargoes from Europe's North Sea, rose to 19.7 percent, up from 17.9 percent in January, and the second-highest share in the past year, behind only December's 19.9 percent.

It appears as if the Saudis are attempting to maintain market share in Asia by trying to match the pricing and availability of lighter crudes from producers outside the output agreement between OPEC and its allies.

At the same time, they are reducing shipments of heavier grades of crude to meet their commitments to reduce overall output.

If this trend continues, it's possible that Asian markets will end up with a surplus of lighter crudes and a deficit of heavier grades, which could conceivably send the Brent-Dubai swaps into a discount for the first time in seven years.
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Market Currents: Floating storage holding up, despite Iran drop

While total global floating storage is ticking lower, it is still holding above 100 million barrels. Two areas where we are seeing it gradually drawn down is off Singapore / Malaysia, and in the Persian Gulf. After being over 30 million barrels as recently as October, Iranian floating storage has been siphoned to supplement exports – underscoring the Persian Gulf state’s struggles to boost domestic production.

This week we have seen Iranian barrels drop to 5 million barrels, while barrels offshore of United Arab Emirates have halved in the last week, dropping to just under 10 million barrels.

We have seen a distinct change in appetite from China, as March deliveries of medium and heavy crude have increased considerably, while light imports have dropped off.  As imports from the Middle East have dropped by half a million barrels per day, arrivals from West Africa have reached the highest on our records, close to 1.5mn bpd.

This record volume has been led by a rebound in Angolan arrivals, but also by rising imports from Nigeria, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon and Ghana. Over 70 percent of this crude is medium or heavy.

While on the topic of China, there have been a number of developments this week. One is that the Chinese government has granted import quotas to two independent refiners – to Henan Fengli Petrochemical Company (for just over 16 million barrels) and to Shandong Zhonghai Chemical Group Co (for 13.6mn bbls), which will serve to boost import demand in the coming months.

Another is that it has issued a second batch of 2017 product export quotas, but has slashed them to three of the country’s leading oil companies: Sinopec, CNOOC and Sinochem Quanzhou. The first batch of product export quotas for the three companies were ~70 million barrels. The second batch is considerably lower at ~28 million barrels. What is peculiar, however, is that PetroChina has not received a quota in this second batch, after receiving a ~32 million barrel allocation in the first round. The total product export quota last year was ~360 million barrels.
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Traders cancel light cycle oil cargoes ahead of China tax: sources

Traders are rushing to cancel loadings in North Asia of a range of oil products for sale to China, ahead of a planned Chinese consumption tax that will make the trade uneconomic.

At least two light cycle oil (LCO) cargoes have been canceled for late April loading from South Korea ahead of the planned tax on the refinery by-product, two sources familiar with the matter said on Thursday. They declined to be named as they were not authorized to speak with media.

The cargoes were purchased by Chinese companies who have in turn canceled their requirement, one of the sources said, adding that another Chinese oil trader is trying to cancel a third cargo.

Interest for May-loading LCO cargoes has also disappeared, a Japanese refining source said.

China plans to impose consumption taxes on oil by-products such as mixed aromatics, light cycle oil and bitumen blend, an import market that has swelled to nearly 20 million tonnes a year.

The move, expected in coming months, will close a loophole that allowed Chinese buyers to import light cycle oil, then on-sell it locally as low-grade diesel, avoiding the import tax that would normally be levied on diesel.

A consumption tax of 1,400 yuan ($203) per tonne could be levied for LCO, the sources said, with traders expecting the tax in May or June.

The tax advantages of LCO have led refiners to maximize production of the oil product over other fuels, the sources said.

LCO was selling at a premium to Korea gasoil prices of about $6 a barrel on a free-on-board (FOB) Korea basis at its peak earlier this year, which in turn attracted cargoes from as far away as Europe, traders said.

The premium for LCO has since dropped to about $2 to $3 a barrel, but volumes of the fuel into China have soared.

State-owned refiner Sinopec, in a proposal to the Chinese government on tightening LCO tax scrutiny, cited customs data showing LCO imports of 3.22 million tonnes from January to September 2016, up 194 pct on a year earlier.

This is equivalent to an average of about 350,000 tonnes a month. Imports swelled to as much as 600,000 tonnes a month by March, two traders familiar with the market said.
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Woodside considers fixed-priced LNG sales as market evolves

Woodside Petroleum is considering sales of some of its liquefied natural gas (LNG) on a fixed-price basis, the chief executive of Australia's largest independent oil and gas producer told reporters on Tuesday at a conference in Japan.

LNG supply contracts need to evolve by diversifying their pricing basis, particularly for new entrants into the market, said Peter Coleman at a Gastech press briefing.

"We've talked about a lot of innovation in our business models but the reality is that the way we contract hasn't changed very much at all," he said, adding that most supply contracts were still linked to oil prices.

Woodside has been considering the fixed-price structure, especially for buyers in developing markets as it gives these new participants surety of supply and price, Coleman said.

"It is something we are looking at for parts of our portfolio," he said. Coleman said he would be comfortable having between 20 and 30 percent of Woodside's LNG portfolio being sold on a fixed-price basis, but with shorter contract periods to mitigate risk.

The need for more diversity in LNG pricing comes amid an overall push for contract flexibility in the industry.

Last month, the biggest buyers in the world's top three LNG consuming countries - Japan, South Korea and China - clubbed together to push for more flexible supply contracts that drop cargo destination clauses.

Other producers are also toying with the idea of fixed pricing in supply contracts.

Tellurian Inc Chairman Charif Souki on Tuesday said at the gas conference that his firm could guarantee deliveries of the supercooled fuel to Japan for $8 per million British thermal units all inclusive from 2023.

The cargoes that would come from its planned Driftwood terminal in Louisiana would be sold under five-year contracts.


Woodside and its partners are expecting to reach a decision on how to develop their Browse LNG project within the next two years, Coleman also said.

"We are looking for decisions on Browse before 2020, (and) we are targeting to get Browse flowing into the North West Shelf around 2025," he added.

Woodside is planning to use its liquefaction capacity at the North West Shelf project to bring the gas to market.

"The Browse concept at the moment, if it goes through the North West Shelf, is now just simply an offshore development with a long pipeline ... All the infrastructure, the big expensive part of it, is already there. It is de-risked," Coleman said.
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Iran struggles to expand oil exports as sea storage cleared

Iran has sold all the oil it had stored for years at sea and Tehran is now struggling to keep exports growing as it grapples with production constraints, shipping and oil sources say.

Since the easing of international sanctions in January 2016, Iran tried to make up for lost sales by releasing millions of barrels parked on tankers offshore.

Tanker tracking and oil sources said Iran had sold its last stocks from the floating storage in the past two weeks. Much of the oil stored was condensate, a very light grade of crude.

With no more stocks at sea, Iran has lost a vital resource that had propped up exports.

"We do think that (floating storage) has been the primary cause of the boost in exports," Energy Aspects analyst Richard Mallinson said, adding that now floating storage had ended total exports of crude and condensate were likely to slip.

"We see a very difficult path for Iran to raise crude output until it can get the Western expertise and investment back into the upstream, which has been notably slow to materialize," he added.

After Western sanctions were eased, Iran's output jumped from about 2.9 million barrels per day (bpd) to about 3.6 million bpd in June.

But it has barely risen since - fluctuating between 3.6 million and 3.7 million bpd - even though Iran fought hard with fellow OPEC members to be excluded from production cuts that came into effect on Jan. 1 and will last till June.

The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries pledged to reduce output by about 1.2 million bpd, but Iran was allowed a small increase to compensate for years of isolation. Yet it has produced less in the past three months than it was allowed.

Iranian Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh said last month Tehran was prepared to produce 3.8 million bpd if OPEC agreed to extend cuts to the second half of 2016, effectively signaling there was little hope of a steep rise in Iranian output.


Prior to the lifting of sanctions, Iran stored unsold oil on ships, which peaked in 2015 at 40 million barrels on around 25 tankers. The country has up to 60 oil tankers in its fleet.

Iran's drawdown of floating storage gathered pace in September. By the start of 2017, Iran still held an estimated 16 million barrels of oil on ships. Since then, they have emptied.

While the EU and United Nations lifted sanctions on Iran over its nuclear program more than a year ago, the United States has held separate measures in place and President Donald Trump's administration has promised a tough line.

This has increased concerns among Western banks about offering finance to Iran, slowing energy investment decisions.

French oil company Total said in February it planned a final investment decision on a $2 billion gas project in Iran by the summer, but said this hinged on a renewal of U.S. sanctions waivers.

"The uncertainty over the U.S. position on further sanctions is casting a huge shadow on the oil trade with Iran," said Paddy Rodgers, chief executive of tanker company Euronav.

In addition, the oil minister's efforts to secure deals with Western firms has run into internal opposition in Iran, which holds the world's fourth biggest oil reserves. The plans have now been postponed until after a May presidential election.

"Iran needs billions of dollars of investment to boost crude oil production and natural gas capacity," said Mehdi Varzi, a former official at state-run National Iranian Oil Company and now an independent consultant.

"Most of the fields were discovered many decades ago and are way beyond their production capacity," he said.
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Global LNG trade reaches record 258 million mt in 2016: IGU

Global LNG trade in 2016 reached a record 258 million mt, up 5% from 2015, according to the International Gas Union's 2017 World LNG Report published Wednesday.

LNG trade expanded by an average of only 0.5% a year over the previous four years, the IGU said.

Short- and medium-term LNG trade grew by only 0.56% in 2016 to 72.3 million mt, accounting for 28% of total trade.

The report said: "the share of LNG traded without a long-term contract as a percentage of the global market has tapered off since 2013. Short and medium-term trade, as a share of total traded LNG, fell by 4%."

This reflects partly the existence of long-term contracts for the new LNG capacity that has come on stream in the last 12 months, as well as the spike caused in short- and medium-term LNG trade in the aftermath of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan and the later onset of drought conditions in Latin America.

The increase in overall LNG trade can be attributed to a significant rise in new supply, said the IGU, owing to the start of exports from the US Gulf of Mexico and Australia Pacific LNG, among other projects.

The report also notes significant rises in demand, most notably from Asian markets; China's LNG consumption rose by roughly 35% to 27 million mt in 2016, the report said.

However, it also notes that some markets, including Japan and South Korea as the two largest, may have passed peak LNG demand as other forms of energy come to the fore.

A resurgence in hydropower in Brazil reduced demand for LNG there by 80%, it added.

Total liquefaction capacity was put at 339.7 million mt/year in 2016, an addition of 35 million mt. The IGU estimates that 114.6 million mt of new capacity was under construction as of January 2017, indicating LNG supply will continue to rise rapidly in coming years.

However, the capacity of projects entering the construction pipeline have slowed. Two projects entered the construction phase of development in 2016: a brownfield expansion of Tangguh LNG (3.8 million mt/year) in Indonesia, and an additional US project, Elba Island LNG (2.5 million mt/year).

The report estimates proposed LNG capacity at 879 million mt, down from 890 million mt in January 2016, noting that there is insufficient demand for most of these projects to go ahead.

Global regasification capacity was put at 794.6 million mt/year as of January 2017, up from 776.8 million mt/year in January 2016, added mainly in existing markets.

In contrast, 2016 mainly saw the addition of new gasification capacity in new markets, such as Egypt, Jordan and Pakistan.

Floating facilities account for 83 million mt/year of regasification capacity globally, the IGU said.
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Nigeria LNG starts talking to buyers on new contracts

Nigeria LNG starts talking to buyers on new contracts

Contracts for gas supplies from Trains 1, 2 and 3 - which together produce 9 million tonnes of LNG a year - are being discussed, said the official who requested anonymity. He was attending the Gastech trade conference in Chiba outside Tokyo.

"Trains 1-3 are coming back to the market as they are out of contract by 2022. We started to remarket today," he told Reuters late on Wednesday at the conference. The units that freeze natural gas into liquid form for export on ships are known as trains in the industry.

Initial responses from buyers have been positive, he said.

"There are some who are guaranteed to buy," the official said, though he provided no further details.

Nigeria LNG is a venture between state-owned Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Royal Dutch Shell , Total and Eni.

Its Bonny Island LNG plant on Nigeria's southern coast has six trains with a total capacity of 22 million tonnes a year.
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Bangladesh approves inking agreements for second floating LNG terminal

A cabinet committee Wednesday approved the signing of two agreements to advance the development of Bangladesh's second floating LNG terminal, State Minister for the Ministry of Power, Energy and Mineral Resources Nasrul Hamid told S&P Global Platts Thursday.

The cabinet committee on government purchases approved the January 4 signing of a terminal use agreement and an implementation agreement between Summit LNG Terminal Co., a subsidiary of local business conglomerate Summit Group, and state-owned Petrobangla for the building of a floating LNG import terminal at Moheshkhali island in the Bay of Bengal.

Summit has agreed to develop the facility on a build own operate transfer or BOOT basis within 18 months of signing the final contract to facilitate supply of around 500,000 Mcf/d of gas from imported LNG. Summit will transfer the facility to Petrobangla after 15 years of operation.

Petrobangla will pay 45 cents/Mcf to Summit for the service. This is 2 cents/Mcf less than US Excelerate Energy is charging Petrobangla under a similar contract signed in July last year to develop Bangladesh's first floating LNG import terminal at Maheshkhali Island.

The cost of the second project is estimated at $400 million-500 million, which Summit will implement jointly with US based General Electric as an equity investment partner.

Bangladesh expects to start importing LNG in 2018 through the first floating LNG import terminal being developed by Excelerate.

The country is currently grappling with an acute natural gas shortage, with output of around 2.7 Bcf/day against demand for over 3.3 Bcf/day, according to Petrobangla.
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US oil inventories up, production up

DOE CRUDE: +1.57M V -0.15ME; CUSHING: +1.41M V +0.13ME; GASOLINE: -0.60M V -1.75ME; DISTILLATE: -0.50M V -1.0ME

US oil production increased for the 6th week in a row. It rose 52k to 9199M bd (highest since Jan. 2016).

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Chevron pivots to Permian shale as mega-project era fades

Nearly a century after Chevron Corp amassed the No. 2 stake in America's largest oilfield, Chief Executive John Watson is hitting the accelerator on developing the company's vast Permian Basin holdings.

In an interview, Watson made clear his desire to put the West Texas to New Mexico expanse in the ranks of Chevron's biggest ventures. That is a stark change from just five years ago, when Chevron executives rarely mentioned the shale basin.

But with low oil prices, the company is now spending more than it makes to cover its prized dividend and find new reserves. Now, those 2 million Permian acres have emerged as to way to help fund both goals.

"Some of the best things we have in our portfolio are the shales," Watson said during an interview on the 48th floor of the company's Houston office tower. "My employees in the Permian know I'm featuring it as something very important."

Gone, for the next few years at least, are plans for any new multi-billion-dollar mega-projects, he said. To survive and grow, San Ramon, California-based Chevron is turning to acreage it has always controlled and that largely is free of royalties to landowners.

"We're just in a period now where markets are weak and everyone is focused on controlling costs," Watson said.

Within a decade, Watson expects Chevron's production in the Permian to grow eightfold to more than 700,000 barrels of oil per day. By the end of next year, nine drilling rigs will join the 11 that Chevron already has poking holes into Permian land.

It is all part of Watson's plan to methodically pump Chevron's more than 9 billion barrels of Permian oil, most of it owned outright by the company. That gives Chevron a cost advantage over rival Permian producers as the region in the past year has become the epicenter for the U.S. shale resurgence.

Chevron's Permian portfolio, which was acquired in stages by predecessor companies, is worth at least $43 billion, Chevron believes, greater than the market value of Pioneer Natural Resources Co, Concho Resources and other Texas producers.

Watson bristles at critics who say the company is moving too slowly in the Permian. "We're growing our portfolio in the Permian as fast as anyone," said Watson, an economist by training who has worked at Chevron his entire career.

"We're focused on growing value and growing the dividend over time."

Chevron is valued more highly by investors than rival Exxon Mobil Corp partly because of that dividend, which has risen annually for the past 29 years. Watson has called protecting the $1.08 quarterly payout his top priority.

"We like inexpensive, recurring revenue streams" such as the Permian, said Oliver Pursche of wealth manager Bruderman Brothers LLC, which holds shares in the company.

Chevron, which does not hedge oil production, is boosting spending in the Permian by 67 percent this year to $2.5 billion, an implicit bet that oil prices will rise and lift the company to a profitable year after an annual loss in 2016.

That makes the Permian the second-largest area for spending this year for Chevron after the Tengiz project in Kazakhstan, which is not expect to come online until next decade.


Watson said he is not worried about demand for oil hitting a ceiling for at least the next 20 years, despite the rising popularity of electric cars. Rising petroleum needs for air travel and petrochemical production should buffer any drop in demand from the automobile sector, he said.

"There is no sign of peak demand right now," Watson said.

Like Exxon, BP and other oil peers, Chevron supports the Paris climate accord, a 2015 agreement between nearly 200 nations that aims to limit the rise in global temperatures to "well below" 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit).

"We have said that Paris is a first step, but we need to understand what that translates to in terms of policy," Watson said.

Watson, however, has spoken out against a tax on carbon, something that Exxon supports.

President Donald Trump had considered a carbon tax as part of his proposed budget, but the White House on Tuesday said it was not under consideration. It could still be resurrected by Congress, where it has some support.

"A carbon tax will have the effect of adding cost on the people who can least afford it," Watson said. "If you increase energy costs you are going to make it more difficult here for industrial activity."

Watson said he is not opposed to renewable energy, just government financial support for it through subsidies and other means. He said he would be open to buying a Tesla or another electric vehicle.

"I have no particular aversion" to electric cars, he said. "I'll buy a car that meets all my needs, particularly around size and other characteristics."
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Destructive weed threatens U.S. corn fields

A U.S. government program designed to convert farmland to wildlife habitat has triggered the spread of a fast-growing weed that threatens to strangle crops in America's rural heartland.

The weed is hard to kill and, if left unchecked, destroys as much as 91 percent of corn on infested land, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). It is spreading across Iowa, which accounts for nearly a fifth of U.S. corn production and in 2016 exported more than $1 billion of corn and soy.

The federal Conservation Reserve Program pays farmers to remove land from production to improve water quality, prevent soil erosion and protect endangered species.

The destructive weed - Palmer amaranth – has spread through seed sold to farmers in the conservation program, according to Iowa's top weeds scientist, Bob Hartzler, and the conservation group Pheasants Forever.

"We are very confident that some of these seed mixes were contaminated," Hartzler said.

Hartzler, an Iowa State University agronomy professor, said one seller was Allendan Seed Company, the state's largest producer of local grass and wildflower seeds for conservation land.

In written responses to questions from Reuters, Allendan said it was "possible that pigweed seed ... was present in some mixes."

Palmer amaranth is a type of pigweed. Allendan did not confirm it had found the seed in any of its supplies. It said outside labs that the firm hires to test seed quality had been unable to distinguish Palmer amaranath from other pigweeds.

The company said it started using a new DNA test in February to check its seed for Palmer amaranth.

Many farmers joined the conservation program in the past year as prices for their crops tanked amid a global grains glut. The weed can be killed, but the cost of clearing it would be another hit to the cash-strapped farming community in the United States, the world's top corn supplier.

The program is managed by the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and the Farm Service Agency (FSA), units of the USDA. NRCS officials have acknowledged that contaminated seed mixes for conservation land have spread Palmer amaranth.

In another state, Minnesota, authorities are also investigating whether the conservation program inadvertently introduced the weed to that state.

Keith Smith, a corn and soybean farmer in Gladbrook, Iowa, said he yanked Palmer amaranth out of land he set aside in the conservation program after finding the weeds last year.


The NRCS and FSA denied responsibility for the infestation because they do not supply or test the seed that farmers use to turn cropland into a refuge for wildlife. Landowners are responsible for finding their own seed.

None of the companies or organizations involved in the program should be blamed, said Jimmy Bramblett, the NRCS's deputy chief of science and technology. "It's just something that happened," he said.

The NRCS is nonetheless considering giving financial assistance to Iowa farmers to help control the weed and is working with the farming community and other government agencies to control it, Bramblett said.

Palmer amaranth, which is native to the southwestern United States, grows up to 2 inches (5 cm) a day and can reach a height of 10 feet. It produces up to 500,000 seeds the size of a pepper grain, which travel easily on the wind, in manure or stuck to farm equipment and vehicles.

Midwest farmers now face increased costs for the herbicide and labor to eradicate the weed. Fighting Palmer amaranth has doubled or tripled annual herbicide and labor costs to between $60 and $80 per acre for cotton farmers in Georgia, said Stanley Culpepper, a weed science professor for the University of Georgia.

Iowa farmers currently spend between $35 to $40 per acre on herbicides, Iowa State University research shows. If Palmer amaranth is firmly established, costs could increase by up to 50 percent, Hartzler said.

Corn and soybeans can compete better with weeds than cotton plants, so the expense of controlling it could be less than on cotton farms.


Palmer amaranth first arrived in Iowa in 2013 but exploded across the state last year, spreading from 5 to 48 of the state's 99 counties, according to Iowa State University.

In at least 35 of those counties, the weed was found on land in the conservation program.

The rapid rise in the incidence of the weed came after landowners in Iowa signed more contracts to put fields into the program than any other state - 108,799 out of the 637,164 total U.S. conservation program contracts, according to the USDA.

An Iowa landowner contacted Iowa State's Hartzler after Palmer amaranth infested 70 acres of farmland he planted with the conservation seed mix.

"The Palmer amaranth was uniformly distributed across those 70 acres, so that was a good sign that it came in the seed," Hartzler said.

Hartzler said he and his intern found the tiny black Palmer amaranth seeds in samples they took from seed bags the landowner purchased from Allendan.

He then grew some of the seeds in a greenhouse, he said, and they produced Palmer amaranth.
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Precious Metals

Chinese buying 50% of Barrick Veladero, Pascua Lama-report

China's Shandong Gold Mining is said to be "advanced talks" to buy 50% of Barrick Gold' Veladero gold mine in Argentina after Zijin Mining, another Shanghai-listed mining firm apparently walked away from a deal.

Reuters reports that the mine which last year produced 544,000 ounces of gold and is considered one of Barrick's five core mines could fetch in excess of $1 billion.

Last week a pipe carrying a cyanide-bearing slurry burst at the mine in the San Juan province in what was the third such event at the operation in less than 18 months. Veladero resumed operations in October after having been suspended for almost a month following the previous incident.

According to the report Shandong would also pick up half of Barrick's halted Pascua Lama project straddling the border between Argentina and Chile. The controversial project high in the Andes was put on hold in 2013 after a budget blowout and political opposition from the Chilean side and environmental protests.

In May last year the miner agreed to pay $140 million to resolve a US class-action lawsuit that accused the world's largest gold producer of distorting facts related to the project and its $8.5 billion price tag.

In September, Barrick appointed a new executive, George Bee, to kickstart the development of a less ambitious project focused on the Argentine side of Pascua Lama.

Lat month Barrick announced a 50-50 partnership with Goldcorp to develop projects in northern Chile, including Cerro Casale, one of the world’s largest gold-copper deposits.
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Base Metals

Friedland bullish on copper

“You’re going to need a telescope to see the copper price in 2021!” -R. Friedland

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Chile's Antofagasta sticks to plan despite looming copper deficit

The global copper market is moving towards deficit faster than expected, but Chilean copper producer Antofagasta plc is sticking to its cautious investment plans, CEO Ivan Arriagada said ahead of the World Copper Conference in Santiago.

With China, the world's largest consumer of copper, demanding more metal than expected and a lack of new major mine projects entering production, analysts had been predicting demand to outpace production by the end of the decade.

"While we were expecting a shortfall by 2020, that has probably moved forward by a couple of years," Arriagada told Platts in an interview.

Demand has been ramped up around the world by increased investment in renewable energy and electrification while underinvestment by existing producers could mean an even tighter market than analysts predicted.

"Because of the downturn, we have not seen all of the investment required to sustain production and that will have an impact on copper production in the next couple of years," Arriagada said.

All of this should prove supporting for prices which last year slumped to their lowest level since the global financial crisis.

But Arriagada remains cautious.

"More than where it might go, we do not expect to return to the prices we saw last year and, if you push me further, I would say that I do not expect prices to be below $2.50/lb," he said, noting that significant risks remain.

While Chinese consumption has risen, he said rising internal debts remained a risk to the Chinese economy that could impact future copper demand.

But the biggest risk to global copper demand was that posed by protectionism and the risk of a global trade war, following the election of US President Donald Trump last November.

With the improvement in copper prices, Antofagasta is now preparing to develop major projects at its Chilean operations that it continued to advance through the engineering stages during the downturn.

Following the completion of its new Antucoya mine last year and the Encuentros oxides deposit which enters production later this year, the company is preparing to approve a $1.1 billion investment at its Los Pelambres mine later this year.

The capacity expansion will compensate for harder ore at the mine, allowing it to produce 400,000 mt/year of copper in concentrate from 2020, up from 355,400 mt in 2016.

The other project in the pipeline is a second concentrator at its Centinela complex, a $2.7 billion investment which would add 140,000 mt/year of concentrate production.

But Arriagada said the traditionally conservative company felt no compulsion to accelerate its investment program in the expectation of a tighter copper market.

"We do not want to embark on two big projects at the time because of balance sheet commitment and execution capability so we want to do them sequentially," he said.

Work on the new concentrator would not therefore begin until the Pelambres expansion is completed, he added.
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South32 cuts lead, zinc output forecast after Aus mine fire

Australian miner South32 Ltd on Thursday said its Cannington silver and lead mine in the country's northeast had been hit by a fire, forcing it to cut output forecasts.

"South32 advises that mining extraction at Cannington has been temporarily impacted by an underground fire that damaged the load-out and shaft haulage infrastructure," the company said in a statement to the Australian Securities Exchange.

"Remediation work will be undertaken over a four-week period and extraction of the higher grade (silver and lead) ... will be delayed."

As a result, South32 has reduced production forecasts for this year, cutting lead by 28,000 tonnes to 135,000 tonnes, zinc by 10,000 tonnes to 70,000 tonnes and silver by 2.55 million ounces to 16.5 million ounces.
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Steel, Iron Ore and Coal

Coking coal prices post biggest one-day gain on record amid rail damage

Coking coal prices have experienced their biggest one-day price surge on record as rail outages block up to half the world's export shipments.

Yesterday, the key benchmark price leapt by almost a third to $US241/tonne, according to commodity analysts S&P Global Platts.

The key reason for the unprecedented price increase is the lack of supply now coming from Queensland, which accounts for half the world's seaborne trade in coking coal, used for making steel.

That lack of supply has been caused by rail disruptions which are expected to last as long as five weeks on some major coal transport corridors, after Cyclone Debbie washed away tracks and triggered landslides.

Aurizon's Goonyella line appears to be the most severely damaged, and is the key rail connection between some of the Bowen Basin's biggest mines and the massive Dalrymple Bay and Hay Point coal loading terminals.

The extensive rail outages have triggered four miners to declare force majeure on their coal contracts - a legal action meaning the contracts cannot be enforced because a natural disaster has prevented the firm from meeting its obligations.

Among those firms are giant multinationals BHP Billiton and Glencore.

"We are continuing to receive updates from Aurizon about the extent of the damage and likely restart of rail operations," noted Glencore's Francis De Rosa in a statement.

With Goonyella out of action for up to five weeks and much of the Blackwater line from the southern Bowen Basin to the Rockhampton-Gladstone area still under floodwaters, it is uncertain when exports will get back to full capacity.

Lost coal exports worth up to $4 billion

In the meantime, analyst estimates of lost production range from 13 to 20 million tonnes, which would have been worth between $US2-3 billion ($2.6-4 billion) at the $US150 a tonne price that prevailed before the supply shortage.

ANZ commodity strategist Daniel Hynes was quoted by Reuters as saying that the lost production equalled about a fifth of China's coking coal imports, which were 59 million tonnes in 2016.

"While coal producers have learnt their lesson from the devastating floods in 2011, they will struggle to recover any of the lost production," Mr Hynes wrote in an analyst note.

Coking coal prices are extremely sensitive to supply fluctuations, with Chinese production cuts last year pushing prices briefly above $US300/tonne, and the record metallurgical coal price set in the aftermath of the Cyclone Yasi floods that wiped out much Bowen Basin production for months.
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Glencore, BHP declares force majeure on cyclone-hit Australian coal exports

BHP Billiton, the world's biggest shipper of coking coal, said on Wednesday it won't meet its export commitments from cyclone-struck northeast Australia, while hard running floodwaters threaten to delay repairs to rail lines.

BHP is the fourth miner in the region to declare force majeure - a clause typically invoked after natural disasters - leaving rivals in the United States to cash in on a surge in prices as Chinese steelmakers scramble for supplies.

Landslides at a mountain pass on the railway connecting coking coal mines in Queensland state to ports have halted operations on the busiest network, called Goonyella, which line operator Aurizon said would take about five weeks to repair.

(For graphic on cyclone disrupts coal market IMG click here:

Aurizon said its second busiest coal haulage network, Blackwater, would be operational by week's end, but a miner that uses the line told Reuters a restart would likely be delayed due to floodwaters "running harder than predicted".

"Our understanding is the reopening of the rail line ... is likely to be early next week at best," said the miner, who requested anonymity.

Aurizon said on Wednesday there had been no change to its schedule.

Queensland accounts for more than 50 percent of global seaborne coking coal supplies, with prices rising on fears that stockpiles held by steelmakers will start to run down.

Chinese coking coal futures closed more than 8 percent higher on Wednesday to a four-month high, while Singapore-listed futures of Australian premium coking coal surged 43 percent over the previous two days.

ANZ Bank commodity strategist Daniel Hynes said about 13 million tonnes of coking coal from Australia will be lost due to the disruption. That would be equal to just over a fifth of China's total imports of the raw material, which reached 59 million tonnes in 2016.

"While coal producers have learnt their lesson from the devastating floods in 2011, they will struggle to recover any of the lost production," Hynes wrote in a report.

BHP has interests in 11 coal mines in Queensland's Bowen Basin. Nine are operated with Japan's Mitsubishi Corp. under the BMA joint venture and two in partnership with Mitsui, called BMC.

"BHP Billiton confirms that force majeure has been declared for all BMA Coal and all BMC Coal products as a result of damage caused by Cyclone Debbie to the network infrastructure of rail track provider Aurizon," the company said in a statement emailed to Reuters.

The Blackwater line is south of Goonyella in an area still subject to rising water levels, as floodwaters make their way through local river systems.

Levels in the main catchment, the Fitzroy River, are only forecast to peak on Thursday, even as workers try to get rail systems working again.

"We've been noticing a lot of those Landcruisers with the railway wheels on 'em as well, so they've been going up and down so I presume they've been checking the line," said hotel manager Kevin Vincent, who works in the town of Duaringa on the Blackwater line.

Global miner Glencore on Wednesday declared force majeure on coal shipments from the cyclone-hit Bowen Basin in Australia, after the storm damaged railway lines, disrupting delivery to ports.

Glencore runs five coal mines in the region and it is the fifth miner to declare force majeure - a clause typically invoked after natural disasters - leaving rivals in the United States to cash in on a surge in prices as Chinese steelmakers scramble for supplies.

A critical mountain pass on the railway connecting the world's single biggest source of coking coal to ports has been hit by landslides and buckled tracks after Cyclone Debbie pounded the northeast state of Queensland, crippling efforts to get exports of coal flowing again.

"Glencore has declared force majeure on its Queensland coal shipments impacted by flood damage to the State's coal rail network," the company said in a statement emailed to Reuters.

The line's operator, Aurizon Holdings, said it would take around five weeks to repair the worst-hit parts of the network and alternative routes were being considered.

Though with floodwaters from the deluge still traveling through river systems along many parts of the network, analysts are anticipating further delays and disruption to supply.

BHP Billiton, the world's biggest shipper of coking coal, declared force majeure earlier in the day.

Queensland accounts for more than 50 percent of global seaborne coking coal supplies, with prices rising on fears that stockpiles held by steelmakers will start to run down.
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Chinese thermal traders lower prices on lack of demand

Some traders in China reduced prices of thermal coal available at northern ports, as there was a lack of support for demand.

Daily coal burn at utilities slid slightly and hydropower generation increased, so the demand for coal decreased to some extent, said a Jiangsu-based trader.

One Tianjin-based trader said some traders cut offer price for 0.8% sulfur 5,500 Kcal/kg NAR coal by 5 yuan/t to 680 yuan/t FOB.

Though the routine maintenance to Daqin rail line started on April 6, there would be limited impact on the coastal coal market and a rough supply-demand balance could be expected, said a Qinhuangdao port-based trader.

He said offer price for 0.6% sulfur 5,500 Kcal/kg and 5,000 Kcal/kg NAR coal was heard at 690 yuan/t and 610 yuan/t FOB, respectively.

Another Qinhuangdao-based trader said utilities were inactive in buying coal despite supply shortage. He forecast coal prices to stabilize in the near term.

One trader at a production base said Shanxi 5,500 Kcal/kg NAR coal was offered at 685-690 yuan/t FOB, 5 yuan/t lower than that of the same CV Inner Mongolia coal.

Single-mine Inner Mongolia 5,000 Kcal/kg NAR coal was offered at 620 yuan/t FOB, with cost at 610 yuan/t, he noted.

One Jiangsu-based trader reported moderate restocking demand from some low-stocked utilities, but added the growth in coal output at mines was slower than expected.

Most utilities prioritized buying contract coal, but they still had some need for spot coal, said the trader.

One eastern China-based trader said 0.6% sulfur 5,500 Kcal/kg NAR coal was available at 710-720 yuan/t FOB Rizhao port amid a wait-and-see sentiment.

On April 6, the Fenwei CCI Thermal Index assessed domestic 5,500 Kcal/kg NAR coal traded at Qinhuangdao port at 686 yuan/t FOB with 17% VAT, falling 1 yuan/t day on day and down 4 yuan/t week on week.

On the same day, the price of domestic 5,000 Kcal/kg NAR coal was assessed at 604 yuan/t, FOB basis with 17% VAT, stable from the day prior but down 3 yuan/t from a week ago.
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Inner Mongolia March thermal coal prices up 64.36pct on year

Inner Mongolia in northern China saw its mine-mouth thermal coal prices up 64.36% year-on-year to 206.07 yuan/t in March, data showed from Inner Mongolia Provincial Development and Reform Commission.

The surge of thermal coal price was due to the tight supply of coal and low coal stocks at ports and power plants.

Mine-mouth price for lignite in eastern Inner Mongolia averaged 152.76 yuan/t in March, increasing 3.39% from the preceding month and 39.01% year on year.  

Ordos' thermal coal price averaged 282.22 yuan/t, skyrocketing 184.43% from the year-ago level, data showed.

The purchasing price of coal for generating electricity in Inner Mongolia valued at 206.36 yuan/t, climbing 56.62% from the year-ago level and gaining 4.11% from February.

According to analysis,  tight coal supply will ease and coal price will fall with the increase of hydropower and coal supply. Additionally, heating season has finished in northern China.
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China Hebei districts to end coal sales ahead of Oct ban

China Hebei districts to end coal sales ahead of Oct ban

Eighteen districts in northern China's heavily polluted Hebei province will ban the sale of coal by end-June ahead of a complete ban on residential coal use in October, the official Xinhua news agency reported on April 5.

Hebei, home to six of China's 10 smoggiest cities in the first two months of the year, is on the frontline of China's three-year war on pollution, and has targeted cutting coal consumption by 40 million tonnes over 2013-2017.

It has identified the use of coal by households and small businesses as one of its main targets this year as it battles to improve air quality.

In a new action plan aimed at controlling coal consumption, the province said it would also strictly control the number of small businesses that burned coal directly, and crack down on the illegal production and sale of low-grade coals. The ban is likely to hurt local suppliers of low-grade coal but is not expected to have a wider market impact.

Late last year, Hebei announced that it would set up 18 "no coal zones" in the rural outskirts of Langfang and Baoding, two of China's most polluted cities, forcing more than 1 million rural residents to switch to natural gas, electricity or biomass.

However, exceptions were made for coal-fired electricity, large-scale heat providers, and industries like steel and chemicals that use coal as a raw material.

Hebei, which lags the rest of the country when it comes to switching to cleaner forms of energy, aims to extend the pilot programme to other parts of the province. But officials claim they are already struggling to pay for the conversion of millions of coal-fired boilers used for winter heating, and the central government needs to provide more support.

Vice-governor Yang Chongyong said at China's national parliament last month that the province would require at least 300 billion yuan ($43.53 billion) over the 2016-2020 period to allow rural residents to switch to gas. He called on Beijing to establish a dedicated fund to help the province make the transition, and for major policy banks to provide low-interest preferential loans.

Despite reporting improvements in 2016, Hebei, together with neighbouring Beijing and Tianjin, saw concentrations of small breathable particles known as PM2.5 rise 48% in the first two months of 2017 after several bouts of persistent smog.

It promised on April 1 to take more action against pollution, releasing 18 new "special implementation plans" to tackle "backward" coal-fired power plants and promote new energy vehicles.
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Hebei PMI for steel sector slides to 48.4 in Mar

Hebei's Purchasing Managers' Index (PMI) for steel sector fell below the 50-point mark that separates growth from contraction on a monthly basis to 48.4 in March, compared with 50.2 in February, indicating a deteriorating performance of steel makers, showed the latest data from Hebei Metallurgical Industry Association.

In March, the new orders sub-index logged 50, down from a reading of 53.6 in the previous month, as traders slowed purchase activities amid a downward market.

The new export sub-index was 39.3 in the month, compared with 50 in February, signaling a continuous slackness of steel exports.

Steel mills in Hebei generally kept operating rate at a low level in March, as sales did not notably increase. The output index was 48.7 in March, sliding from 56.7 a month earlier.

Inventories of steel products in the province were further on the decrease. The stocks index stood at 40.3 in the month, down from a reading of 44.4 in February. The sub-index of raw material stocks stood at 42.1, compared with 45 a month ago, given a bearish outlook toward the future market.

The previous bullish outlook toward steel market weakened in March, mainly due to a crackdown on low-quality steel products, production curbs for environmental concerns, tightened real estate policy and currency policy and strengthened operating rate at steel mills.
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EU raises import duties on Chinese steel, angering Beijing

EU raises import duties on Chinese steel, angering Beijing

The European Commission said on Thursday it had set 'anti-dumping' duties on imports of hot-rolled flat steel products from China at a higher rate than those already in place, angering Beijing.

The Commission, acting on behalf of the 28 EU countries, set final duties of between 18.1 and 35.9 percent for five years for producers including Bengang Steel Plates Co, Handan Iron & Steel Co [TANGCB.UL] and Hesteel Co.

This compared with provisional rates imposed from October of 13.2 to 22.6 percent following a complaint lodged by European steel association Eurofer on behalf of EU producers ArcelorMittal, Tata Steel and ThyssenKrupp.

China's commerce ministry said it was highly concerned by the decision and urged the EU to "correct its mistake", adding it would take "necessary measures" to protect its companies.

The EU has already imposed duties on a wide range of steel grades to counter what EU steel producers say is a flood of steel sold at a loss due to Chinese overcapacity.

China, the world's top producer and consumer of steel, said early last year it would shut as much as 150 million tonnes of annual production capacity over the next five years, although capacity actually rose in 2016.

G20 governments recognized in September that steel overcapacity was a serious problem. China has said the problem is a global one

The Commission said on Thursday that the measures should shield EU steel makers from the effects of Chinese dumping.

The Commission also said that it had decided not to impose provisional duties on the same product from Brazil, Iran, Russia, Serbia and Ukraine, although the investigation of imports from these countries would continue for another six months.

"The decision not to impose provisional measures for imports from Brazil, Iran, Russia, Serbia and Ukraine does not prejudge the final outcome of that investigation," a Commission spokesman said.
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India's JSW Steel could spend $1 billion on capacity addition, acquisitions this year: executive

India's JSW Steel Ltd could spend around $1 billion on capacity addition and acquisition this fiscal year and will bid for several iron ore and coking coal mines in upcoming government auctions to secure raw material supplies, a top company executive told Reuters.

Unlike its nearest rivals Steel Authority of India Ltd and Tata Steel Ltd, JSW does not own any iron ore mines and is forced to import the raw material from time to time. It also buys millions of tonnes of coking coal from countries such as Australia, Canada and the United States.

"Without increasing my debt, I will be able to spend 6,000 to 7,000 crore rupees ($923.72 million-$1.08 billion) in creating capacity or making acquisition," JSW Steel Joint Managing Director Seshagiri Rao said on Thursday.

"That's the strength of my balance sheet."
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