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Putin’s isolation from Europe could usher in natural gas opportunities for Africa

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BONNY ISLAND, NIGER DELTA, Nigeria: A ship loads liquefied natural gas from the Nigerian Liquefied Natural Gas plant October 12, 2004 on Bonny Island, Nigeria.

Jacob Silberberg/Getty Images

With the U.S., EU and U.K. looking to phase out Russian gas imports, Western leaders could look to liquified natural gas projects in sub-Saharan Africa to soften the landing.

Russia and the West remain at odds over payment for natural gas exports, on which Europe, in particular, is heavily dependent, with Moscow insisting “unfriendly” countries pay for gas deliveries in Russian rubles, a demand G-7 nations have rebuffed.

The divergence comes in the wake of an unprecedented and coordinated barrage of international sanctions leveled against Russia for its invasion of Ukraine.

The U.S. has declared a complete ban on Russian oil, gas and coal imports, while the U.K. intends to phase out Russian oil by the end of the year and the EU aims to cut its reliance on Russian imports by two-thirds.

Russia accounts for around 40% of the EU’s natural gas exports, with Germany and Italy particularly exposed. Germany issued an “early warning” on Wednesday that natural gas rationing could be required if a full supply shortage ensues.

The EU has struck a deal with the U.S. for an additional 15 billion cubic meters of LNG, though former U.S. Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette said Monday that this would not be enough to fill the Russian shortfall.

Italian Foreign Minister Luigi di Maio told CNBC on Tuesday that over the past month, he had traveled to countries such as Mozambique, the Republic of Congo and Angola in a bid to forge new LNG supply partnerships.

“Energy security is fundamental for countries that are global manufacturing powers like Italy and many others, and we must be able to diversify our energy sourcing,” Di Maio said.

“We are diversifying away from our dependence on Russia to avoid any eventual threats from Russia on our gas supply and to continue our green transition with new and different energy sources.”

In a research note last week, Africa analysts at political risk consultancy Verisk Maplecroft said that while the continent cannot fill the void left by Russian natural gas imports, it could help to shore up supply.

Oil majors BP, TotalEnergies and Eni have all established a presence on the African subcontinent from which to build, along with U.S. oil majors such as Exxon Mobil.

Verisk Maplecroft noted that BP is furthest along in efforts to bring online a major LNG project in sub-Saharan Africa and could double down on these, particularly at the Tortue gas fields straddling the border between Senegal and Mauritania.

Eni CEO Claudio Descalzi announced earlier this month the Italian giant is able to provide Europe with an additional 14 trillion cubic feet of gas between now and 2025 from assets situated around the world, including in Angola, Congo, Nigeria and Mozambique. Angola and Congo have already agreed to boost gas exports to Italy, with Eni serving as an intermediary.

Huge potential, significant obstacles

Analysts Alexandre Raymakers, Maja Bovcon and Eric Humphery-Smith highlighted that Senegal, Mauritania, Nigeria and Angola are best placed to increase production, though the bulk of new supply will not arrive until the second half of the decade.

“The political and fiscal stability in Senegal and Mauritania mean that projects are well placed for LNG development, while the likely re-election of the MPLA in Angola in August 2022 will also enable an uptick in investment,” Verisk Maplecroft said.

Mozambique is also host to colossal natural gas reserves, with several European energy giants establishing facilities in the country, but it is beset by a violent Islamist insurgency that has forced shutdowns at some of these facilities in recent years.

Pemba, Mozambique – Families wait outside the port of Pemba on April 1, 2021, for the boat of evacuees from the coasts of Palma. More than a thousand people evacuated from the shores of the town of Palma arrived at the sea port of Pemba after insurgents attacked Palma on March 24, 2021.

Alfredo Zuniga/AFP via Getty Images

There is also room for expansion among other major LNG players in the Gulf of Guinea, Verisk Maplecroft suggested, such as Nigeria, Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea.

“An improved gas price environment could swing the balance of profitability for a number of projects in Nigeria, allowing for additional supply for existing and planned LNG projects,” the report said.

“For instance, the Ukraine crisis will likely increase the attractiveness of the long-planned Nigeria LNG Train 7 that is expected to come online in 2026 and will require an additional 1,200mmcfd of gas supply from Nigerian gas projects.”

The analysts also noted the beginnings of a revival of interest in the dormant Fortuna FLNG project in Equatorial Guinea.

However, a rise in piracy in the region, including opportunistic attacks on LNG tankers in recent years, may prove a deterrent.

Ultimately, Verisk Maplecroft estimates that even if all known greenfield LNG projects in sub-Saharan Africa were active and operating at maximum capacity, they would still only account for approximately half of Russia’s gas supply to Europe.

“The improved gas demand and price environment means sub-Saharan Africa region can help fill some of the gap left by embargoed Russian gas supplies, but it can’t solve the problem alone,” the report concluded.



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Goldman Sachs CEO David Solomon gets 29% pay cut to $25 million

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David Solomon, Chairman & CEO of Goldman Sachs, speaking on Squawk Box at the WEF in Davos, Switzerland on Jan. 23rd, 2023. 

Adam Galica | CNBC

Goldman Sachs CEO David Solomon will get a $25 million compensation package for his work last year, the bank said Friday in a regulatory filing.

The package includes a $2 million base salary and variable compensation of $23 million, New York-based Goldman said in the filing. Most of Solomon’s bonus— 70%, or $16.1 million, is in the form of restricted shares tied to performance metrics, while the rest is paid in cash, the bank said.

Solomon’s pay, while large by most any measure, is about 29% lower than the $35 million he was granted for his 2021 performance. Meanwhile, Goldman’s full year earnings fell by 48% to $11.3 billion, thanks to sharp declines in investment banking and asset management revenue, the company said last week.

While the bank was primarily hit by industrywide slowdowns in capital markets activity as the Federal Reserve raised interest rates, Solomon also faced his own set of issues last year. Goldman was forced to scale back its ambitions in consumer finance and lay off nearly 4,000 workers in two rounds of terminations in recent months.

Solomon’s pay package is smaller than that of rivals Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan Chase and James Gorman of Morgan Stanley, who were awarded $34.5 million and $31.5 million respectively.



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Fiji fires police commissioner and end security deal with China

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Police operate a security check point in the Fijian capital of Suva in December following general elections. The Pacific island nation has played an important regional role amid competition between China on the one side and Australia, New Zealand and the United States on the other.

Saeed Khan | Afp | Getty Images

Fiji’s president on Friday suspended the commissioner of police following a general election saw the first change in government in the Pacific island nation in 16 years, after the military earlier warned against “sweeping changes.”

President Ratu Wiliame Katonivere said Commissioner of Police Sitiveni Qiliho had been suspended on the advice of the Constitutional Offices Commission, “pending investigation and referral to and appointment of, a tribunal.”

The Supervisor of Elections Mohammed Saneem was also suspended by the commission, the statement said.

Qiliho declined to comment to local media because he said he will face a tribunal over his conduct. He was seen as being close to former prime minister Frank Bainimarama, who led Fiji for 16 years before a coalition of parties narrowly won December’s election and installed Sitiveni Rabuka as leader of the strategically important Pacific nation.

The day before a coalition agreement was struck, Qiliho and Bainimarama called on the military to maintain law and order because they said the hung election result had sparked ethnic tensions, a claim disputed by the coalition parties.

The Pacific island nation, which has a history of military coups, has been pivotal to the region’s response to competition between China and the United States, and struck a deal with Australia in October for greater defence cooperation.

No more China policing deal

On Thursday, Fiji Times reported that Rabuka said his government would end a police training and exchange agreement with China.

“Our system of democracy and justice systems are different so we will go back to those that have similar systems with us,” the prime minister was quoted as saying, referring to Australia and New Zealand.

The prime minister’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Republic of Fiji Military Forces Commander Major General Jone Kalouniwai earlier this month warned Rabuka’s government against making “sweeping changes,” and has insisted it abide by a 2013 constitution which gives the military a key role.



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Inventory glut and underused factories

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Intel CEO Pat Gelsinger, with U.S. President Joe Biden (not pictured), announces the tech firm’s plan to build a $20 billion plant in Ohio, from the South Court Auditorium on the White House campus in Washington, January 21, 2022.

Jonathan Ernst | Reuters

Intel’s December earnings showed significant declines in the company’s sales, profit, gross margin, and outlook, both for the quarter and the full year.

Investors hated it, sending the stock over 9% lower in extended trading, despite the fact that Intel did not cut its dividend.

The earnings report, which was the eighth under CEO Pat Gelsinger’s leadership, shows a legendary technology company struggling with many factors outside of its control, including a deeply slumping PC market. It also highlights some of Intel’s current issues with weak demand for its current products and inefficient internal performance, and underscores how precarious the company’s financial health has become.

“Clearly, the financials aren’t what we would hoped,” Gelsinger told analysts.

In short: Intel had a difficult 2022, and 2023 is shaping up to be tough as well.

Here are some of the most concerning bits from Intel’s earnings report and analyst call:

Weak and uncertain guidance

Intel didn’t give full-year guidance for 2023, citing economic uncertainty.

But the data points for the current quarter suggest tough times. Intel guided for about $11 billion in sales in the March quarter, which would be a 40% year-over-year decline. Gross margin will be 34.1%, a huge decrease from the 55.2% in the same quarter in 2021, Gelsinger’s first at the helm.

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But the biggest issue for investors is that Intel guided to a 15 cent non-GAAP loss per share, a big decline for a company that a year ago was reporting $1.13 in profit per share. It would be the first loss per share since last summer, which was the first loss for the company in decades.

An inventory glut

Dropoff in gross margin

Underpinning all of this is that Intel’s gross margin continues to decline, hurting the company’s profitability. One issue is “factory load,” or how efficiently factories run around the clock. Intel said that its gross margin would be hit by 400 basis points, or 4 percentage points, because of factories running under load because of soft demand.

Ultimately, Intel forecasts a 34.1% gross margin in the current quarter — a far cry from the 51% to 53% goal the company set at last year’s investor day. The company says it’s working on it, and the margin could get back to Intel’s goal “in the medium-term” if demand recovers.

“We have a number of initiatives under way to improve gross margins and we’re well under way. When you look at the $3 billion reduction [in costs] that we talked about for 2023, 1 billion of that is in cost of sales and we’re well on our way to getting that billion dollars,” Gelsinger said.

The not-so-bad news: Dividend and self-driving

Long-term investors have always closely watched how the company balances the near-term need to placate shareholders with the massive capital spending needed to stay competitive in the semiconductor manufacturing business.

If Intel is cutting costs and still needing to invest in chip factories to power its turnaround, analysts say it may want to reconsider its dividend. Intel spent $6 billion on dividends in 2022, but did not cut its dividend on Thursday.

Meanwhile, the company said it wants to cut $3 billion in costs for 2023 and analysts believe it wants to spend around $20 billion in capital expenditures to build out its factories.

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Gelsinger was asked about this dynamic on Thursday.

“I’d just say the board, management, we take a very disciplined approach to the capital allocation strategy and we’re going to remain committed to being very prudent around how we allocate capital for the owners and we are committed to maintaining a competitive dividend,” Gelsinger replied.

There was at least one bright spot for Intel on Thursday.

Mobileye, its self-driving subsidiary that went public during the December quarter, reported earlier in the day, showing adjusted earnings per share of 27 cents and revenue growth of 59%, to $656 million. It also forecast strong 2023 revenue of between $2.19 billion and $2.28 billion. Shares rose nearly 6% during regular trading hours Thursday.



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