EU countries hunt for global coal stocks as Russian ban looms - Arab News

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LONDON: European buyers are increasing shipments of coal from across the globe against a backdrop of a proposed European Union ban on Russian imports and the scramble to relieve tight gas supplies, according to data and shipping sources.

The European Commission on Tuesday proposed new sanctions against Moscow over its invasion of Ukraine, including a ban on buying Russian coal and on Russian ships entering EU ports.

The new restrictions come at a time of uncertainty about future gas deliveries from Russia to the EU later this month after the Kremlin’s demand that buyers start paying Russian gas giant Gazprom in roubles.

In March, European countries imported a total of 7.1 million tons of thermal coal, which is used in power and heat generation, a 40.5 percent increase year-on-year and the highest level since March 2019, analysis from shipbroker Braemar ACM, based on ship tracking data, found.

“Despite Russian coal shipments to Europe in March still continuing at pre-war levels, the expected alteration in coal flows into Europe has started to show,” Braemar dry bulk analyst Mark Nugent said.

“Shipments from Colombia and the United States have been strong in response to the conflict with Atlantic suppliers providing the most cost-efficient alternative for European end-users.”

The EU depends on Russia for around 45 percent of its coal imports, 45 percent of its gas imports and around 25 percent of its oil imports, according to the European Commission website.

Braemar data showed 3.5 million tons of Russian thermal coal were imported into the EU in March, the highest monthly total since October 2020.

On a weekly basis, March 28-April 1 saw the highest levels of Russian thermal coal imports since the Feb. 24 invasion began, with 887,000 tons of Russian thermal coal imported into the EU, according to Braemar.

German coal importers’ group VDKi on Wednesday said the country should be able to find alternatives to Russian hard coal imports by the peak demand winter season, but there will be technical issues and increased costs.

Thermal coal imports from Colombia totalled 1.3 million tons in March, rising by 47.3 percent year-on-year, Braemar data showed.

Imports from the US in March totalled 809,000 tons, rising by 30.3 percent year-on-year and at their highest level since October 2019.

Imports from South Africa also picked up with 287,000 tons arriving in March versus no shipments in March last year.

Australia has also found renewed buying interest from Europe, with thermal coal imports totalling 537,000 tons in the first quarter of this year, versus no shipments over the same period in 2021, Braemar said.

But Indonesia and Australia, among the world’s top coal exporters, have hit their production limits and are unlikely to meet Europe’s demand for additional supplies if the European Union bans Russian coal imports, mining executives said.

“There is greater concern over the risks with trading Russian coal (due to broader sanctions), so that is already having an impact on shipments,” one shipping source familiar with the trade said.

Although it is still more expensive to burn gas to produce power than coal, the price of thermal — which is for heating and power generation — has reached all-time highs this year.

Alex-Stuart Grumbar, dry bulk analyst with shipping consultancy MSI, said Europe’s need to import more coal from sources further afield would be positive for the larger panamax and capesize shipping segments on long-haul coal trade routes.

“The initial disruption to trade patterns will be positive for dry bulk markets, though ultimately, this will push global coal prices higher, incentivising China and India to produce more coal domestically,” Grunbar said.
ALGIERS: Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi announced a deal on Monday to boost gas deliveries from energy heavyweight Algeria, as he steps up efforts to reduce Rome’s heavy reliance on Russian imports.
Addressing journalists after meeting President Abdelmadjid Tebboune, Draghi told journalists the two governments had signed a preliminary deal on energy cooperation.
“There is also a deal between ENI and Sonatrach to boost gas exports to Italy,” he said, referring to the Italian energy giant and Algeria’s state hydrocarbons firm.
The firms agreed to boost gas exports through the Transmed undersea pipeline starting this autumn, gradually “increasing volumes of gas… up to 9 billion cubic meters per year in 2023-24,” ENI said in a statement.
The Ukraine war has sparked a Western push for sanctions against Moscow, including moves to drastically cut purchases of Russian gas.
Italy buys the vast majority of its natural gas from overseas, and is one of the most Russia-reliant gas importers in Europe, with over 40 percent of its imports coming from the country.
But Italy also imports significant amounts from Algeria, including some 6.4 billion cubic meters of Algerian gas during the first quarter of 2021, a 109 percent uptick from the previous year.
The war in Ukraine and the subsequent campaign of Western sanctions have prompted Rome to step up the search for alternative sources, with gas giant Algeria an obvious option.
“Immediately after the invasion of Ukraine I announced that Italy would organize quickly to reduce its dependence on Russian gas,” Draghi said.
“The deals today are a significant response to reach this strategic goal, and others will follow.”
Draghi arrived in Algeria weeks after Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio made the same trip, during which he confirmed that Italy was “committed to increasing energy supplies, notably in gas,” including from Algeria, which he said had “always been a reliable supplier.”
Algeria’s Sonatrach said at the time that it was prepared to increase deliveries, notably via the Transmed pipeline linking Algeria to Italy.
Its CEO Toufik Hakkar said Europe is the “natural market of choice” for Algerian gas, which accounts for about 11 percent of Europe’s gas imports.
But he said any boost to exports would depend on first satisfying Algeria’s ever-growing domestic needs.
Sonatrach and Italy’s ENI jointly operate the Transmed pipeline, which has a capacity of some 32 billion cubic meters per year.
Aydin Calik, an energy analyst at the Middle East Economic Survey, said Monday’s deal implied additional exports that would push the limits of the Transmed pipeline.
“That’s assuming Algeria actually has the capacity to supply more, given its other commitments,” he told AFP. “There are lots of questions.”
Former Algerian energy minister Abdelmajid Attar previously told AFP that “Algeria exports a maximum of 22 billion cubic meters (per year) via the Transmed pipeline,” leaving some 10 billion in spare capacity.
Attar, also a former CEO of Sonatrach, said that Algeria’s liquefaction facilities, which allow gas to be exported by ship, are “only being used at 50-60 percent of capacity.”
He noted that in the short term, Algeria could boost its gas exports to the EU by at most three billion cubic meters per year, meaning “it can’t make up for a fall in Russian gas supplies on its own.”
However, “within four of five years, Algeria could send bigger quantities” to Italy, he added.
Algeria expects to invest some $40 billion on gas and oil exploration, production and refining between 2022 and 2026.
Draghi did not say how much exports were to be boosted under Monday’s deal.
The two countries have a contract for gas deliveries up until 2027.
Draghi said last week that Italy would “follow the decisions of the European Union” on new sanctions against Russia, including a possible gas embargo.
His visit also follows a spike in tensions between Algeria and Spain, another major gas importer, after Madrid dropped a decades-long policy of neutrality over the Western Sahara and backed an autonomy plan put forward by Algeria’s arch-rival Morocco.
Sonatrach warned earlier this month it could increase the price of its gas sales to Spain, which make up more than 40 percent of the country’s imports.
RIYADH: Egyptian inflation rose to a near-three year high in March and is expected to continue increasing on the back of the spillovers from the war in Ukraine and last month’s devaluation, Capital Economics said in a report.
“We now think interest rates will be hiked by a further 350bp, to 12.75 percent, by end-2022. This is more tightening than the consensus currently expects,” the report said, citing James Swanston, Middle East and North Africa Economist at the researcher.
Capital Economics expects the Egyptian government to raise the price of subsidized bread. “And the backdrop of higher global energy prices means the government’s automatic fuel pricing committee will continue to hike local fuel prices,” it added.
MEXICO CITY: Colombian delivery app Rappi, which offers on-demand deliveries of food and other goods across Latin America, said on Monday it has launched a cryptocurrency payment pilot program in Mexico.
Rappi teamed with cryptocurrency platforms Bitpay and Bitso to back the new service, which will let users turn crypto into credits within the app to make purchases, Rappi said.
“It’s a first step that will allow us to learn and continue incorporating the crypto world into Rappi,” Rappi President Sebastian Mejia said in a statement.
Rappi, which operates in nine countries across Latin America, launched “Pay with Rappi” in Mexico last year to challenge Paypal and regional rival MercadoLibre by offering online payments.
It also provides some financial services in Mexico, Brazil, Peru and Chile, with plans to offer digital banking in Colombia this year.
VIENNA: OPEC told the European Union on Monday that current and future sanctions on Russia could create one of the worst ever oil supply shocks and it would be impossible to replace those volumes, and signalled it would not pump more.
European Union officials held talks in Vienna with representatives of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries amid calls for the group to increase output and as the EU considers potential sanctions on Russian oil.
“We could potentially see the loss of more than 7 million barrels per day (bpd) of Russian oil and other liquids exports, resulting from current and future sanctions or other voluntary actions,” OPEC Secretary General Mohammad Barkindo said, according to a copy of his speech seen by Reuters.
“Considering the current demand outlook, it would be nearly impossible to replace a loss in volumes of this magnitude.”
The European Union reiterated its call in the meeting for oil-producing countries to look at whether they can increase deliveries to help cool soaring oil prices, a European Commission official told Reuters.
EU representatives also pointed out that OPEC has a responsibility to ensure balanced oil markets, the official said.
OPEC has resisted calls by the United States and the International Energy Agency to pump more crude to cool prices, which reached a 14-year peak last month after Washington and Brussels imposed sanctions on Moscow following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
In the meeting with OPEC, the EU said OPEC could provide more production from its spare capacity, according to an OPEC document seen by Reuters.
Still, Barkindo said the current highly volatile market was a result of “non-fundamental factors” outside OPEC’s control, in a signal the group would not pump more.
OPEC+, which consists of OPEC and other producers including Russia, will raise output by about 432,000 barrels per day in May, as part of a gradual unwinding of output cuts made during the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The EU-OPEC meeting on Monday afternoon was the latest in a dialogue launched between the two sides in 2005.
Russian oil has been excluded from EU sanctions so far. But after the 27-country bloc agreed last week to sanction Russian coal — its first to target energy supplies — some senior EU officials said oil could be next.
The European Commission is drafting proposals for an oil embargo on Russia, the foreign ministers of Ireland, Lithuania and the Netherlands said on Monday at a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Luxembourg, although there was no agreement to ban Russian crude.
Australia, Canada and the United States, who are less reliant on Russian supply than Europe, have already banned Russian oil purchases.
EU countries are split over whether to follow suit, given their higher dependency and the potential for the move to push up already high energy prices in Europe.
The EU expects its oil use to decrease 30 percent by 2030, from 2015 levels, under its planned policies to fight climate change — though in the short term, an embargo would trigger a dash to replace Russian oil with alternative supplies. 
ANKARA: Turkish authorities are considering raising the share of foreign currency revenues that exporters are required to sell to the central bank to as high as 50 percent from 25 percent now, a person with knowledge of the matter said on Monday.
A final decision has not been made, the person said, requesting anonymity. Authorities could decide not to change the level or hike it by any amount to as high as 50 percent, the source added. The mandate only covers revenues in US dollars or euros. 
Turkey’s central bank declined to comment on the matter.
In January, the government mandated exporters to sell 25 percent of their foreign currency revenues to the central bank, which is seeking to bulk up its reserves in the wake of a currency crisis late last year.
The amount of foreign currency the central bank has purchased so far from exporters has not been disclosed.
The lira firmed to 14.64 after the Reuters report, strengthening 0.7 percent from Friday’s close of 14.7505.
Orhun Sevinc, executive director at the Research and Monetary Policy Department, has said rediscount loan payments (lira loans to exporters that are repaid in foreign currencies), a lira deposit protection scheme and foreign currency purchases from exporters had all helped build reserves
Turkish exports totaled $225 billion in 2021. The government and economists expect they will reach $250 billion this year.
The central bank’s net foreign currency reserves hit a record low of $7.55 billion in January, mainly due to years of market interventions to prop up the lira. They have moved higher over the past three months.
The central bank has met market demand for at least $30 billion of foreign currency since December through its reserves, in addition to direct interventions in the market in 2019-2020, when it sold $128 billion to support the lira.

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