Daily Archives: January 29, 2012
The (ESM) will replace the (EFSF): EU leaders to agree on permanent bailout fund, balanced budget ???
BRUSSELS | Sun Jan 29, 2012 6:40pm EST
(Reuters) – EU leaders will sign off on a permanent rescue fund for the euro zone at a summit on Monday and are expected to agree on a balanced budget rule in national legislation, with unresolved problems in Greece casting a shadow on the discussions.
The summit – the 17th in two years as the EU battles to resolve its sovereign debt problems – is supposed to focus on creating jobs and growth, with leaders looking to shift the narrative away from politically unpopular budget austerity.
The summit is expected to announce that up to 20 billion euros ($26.4 billion) of unused funds from the EU’s 2007-2013 budget will be redirected toward job creation, especially among the young, and will commit to freeing up bank lending to small- and medium-sized companies.
But discussions over the permanent rescue fund, a new ‘fiscal treaty’ and Greece will dominate the talks.
Negotiations between the Greek government and private bondholders over the restructuring of 200 billion euros of Greek debt made progress over the weekend, but are not expected to conclude before the summit begins at 9:00 a.m. EST.
Until there is a deal between Greece and its private bondholders, EU leaders cannot move forward with a second, 130 billion euro rescue program for Athens, which they originally agreed to at a summit last October.
Instead, they will sign a treaty creating the European Stability Mechanism (ESM), a 500-billion-euro permanent bailout fund that is due to become operational in July, a year earlier than first planned. And they are likely to agree the terms of a ‘fiscal treaty’ tightening budget rules for those that sign up.
PERMANENT RESCUE FUND
Leaders hope the ESM will boost defenses against the debt crisis, but many – including Italian premier Mario Monti, IMF chief Christine Lagarde and U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner – say it will only do so if its resources are combined with what remains in the EFSF, creating a super-fund of 750 billion euros ($1 trillion).
The International Monetary Fund says an agreement to increase the size of the euro zone ‘firewall’ will convince others to contribute more resources to the IMF, boosting its crisis-fighting abilities and improving market sentiment.
But Germany is opposed to such a step.
Chancellor Angela Merkel has said she will not discuss the issue of the ESM/EFSF’s ceiling until leaders meet for their next summit in March. In the meantime, financial markets will continue to fret that there may not be sufficient rescue funds available to help the likes of Italy and Spain if they run into renewed debt funding problems.
“There are certainly signals that Germany is willing to consider it and it is rather geared toward March from the German side,” a senior euro zone official said.
The sticking point is German public opinion which is tired of bailing out the euro zone’s financially less prudent. Instead, Merkel wants to see the EU – except Britain, which has rejected any such move – sign up to the fiscal treaty, including a balanced budget rule written into constitutions. Once that is done, the discussion about a bigger rescue fund can take place.
After nearly three years of crisis, some economists believe the combination of tighter budget rules, a bigger bailout fund and a commitment to broader structural reforms to boost EU productivity could help the region weather the storm.
“The fiscal compact and the ESM will shape a better future,” said Carsten Brzeski, a euro zone economist at ING.
“Combined with ongoing austerity measures and structural reforms in peripheral countries, and, of course, with a lot of ECB action, the euro zone could master this stage of the crisis.”
Economists say the pivotal act in recent months was the European Central Bank‘s flooding of the banking sector with cheap three-year money, a measure it will repeat next month.
While EU leaders are managing to put together pieces of legislation and financial barriers that might help them stave off a repeat of the debt crisis, immediate concerns – especially over Greece and potentially Portugal – remain.
By far the most pressing worry is the seven-month-long negotiation over private sector involvement in the second Greek rescue package. A deal in the coming days may help restore investor confidence, although Greece will still struggle to reduce its debts to 120 percent of GDP by 2020 as planned.
“If there is a deal, the heads of state and government can endorse it, welcome it and say that now it is up to Greece to agree to and deliver on reforms to get the second financing package,” the euro zone official said.
Negotiators believe they have until mid-February to strike a deal. Failure to do so by then would likely force Greece to miss a 14.5 billion euro repayment on its debt due in mid-March.
Even if Athens can strike a deal with private bondholders to accept a 50 percent writedown on the nominal value of their bonds, it may still not be enough to close Greece’s funding gap.
The IMF has suggested it may be necessary for public sector holders of Greek bonds – including the ECB and national central banks in the euro zone – to write off some of their holdings in order to close the gap.
Such a move would not necessarily involve the ECB or national central banks incurring losses, they would just be expected to forego any profit on the bonds they have bought.
But German ECB board member Joerg Asmussen told Reuters there was no possibility of the ECB taking part in the private-sector restructuring of Greece’s debt.
(Reporting By Jan Strupczewski, editing by Mike Peacock)
- German Chancellor Angela Merkel Deflects Pressure to Boost Eurozone Bailout Funds (ibtimes.com)
- Eurozone’s score card (bbc.co.uk)
- EU summit on debt crisis faces Brussels disruption as unions strike (guardian.co.uk)
- Germany opposes combining ESM, EFSF: reports (marketwatch.com)
- Germany, France press for rapid Greek debt deal (revolutionizingawareness.com)
- S&P downgrades euro zone bailout fund (jhaines6.wordpress.com)
- EU Leaders Are Considering Doubling The Euro Bailout Fund At The Last Minute (businessinsider.com)
- ESM’s & EFSF’s.. its just shuffling the chairs on the Titanic (seeker401.wordpress.com)
- Presenting Today’s Deux Ex Rumor (zerohedge.com)
- EC President Barroso: ‘EU should put hand in pockets AGAIN to beef up bailout fund’ (dailymail.co.uk)
- S&P Downgrades Eurozone’s Bailout Fund (ibtimes.com)
Kaduna refinery (photo from nigerianbestforum.com)
Published: 29 January, 2012, 11:11
As Nigeria spirals into instability, historian and economic researcher Frederick William Engdahl argues a recent government decision to lift subsidies on imported fuel in the oil-rich nation bears the mark of Washington Consensus shock therapy.
In the article below, Engdahl explains his view.
Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation and its largest oil producer, is from all evidence being systematically thrown into chaos and a state of civil war. The recent surprise decision by the government of Goodluck Jonathan to abruptly lift subsidies on imported gasoline and other fuel has a far more sinister background than mere corruption, and the Washington-based International Monetary Fund (IMF) is playing a key role. China appears to be the likely loser along with Nigeria’s population.
The recent strikes protesting the government’s abrupt elimination of gasoline and other fuel subsidies, that brought Nigeria briefly to a standstill, came as a surprise to most in the country. Months earlier, President Jonathan had promised the major trade union organizations that he would conduct a gradual four-stage lifting of the subsidy to ease the economic burden. Instead, without warning he announced an immediate full removal of subsidies effective January 1, 2012. It was “shock therapy” to put it mildly.
Nigeria today is one of the world’s most important producers of light, sweet crude oil—the same high-quality crude oil that Libya and the British North Sea produce. The country is showing every indication of spiraling downward into deep disorder. Nigeria is the fifth largest supplier of oil to the United States and twelfth largest oil producer in the world on a par with Kuwait and just behind Venezuela with production exceeding two million barrels a day.
The curious timing of IMF subsidy demand
Despite its oil riches, Nigeria remains one of Africa’s poorest countries. The known oilfields are concentrated around the vast Niger Delta roughly between Port Harcourt and extending in the direction of Lagos, with large new finds being developed all along the oil-rich Gulf of Guinea.Nigeria’s oil is exploited and largely exported by the Anglo-American giants—Shell, Mobil, Chevron, Texaco. Italy’s Agip also has a presence and most recently, to no one’s surprise, the Chinese state oil companies began seeking major exploration and oil infrastructure agreements with the Abuja government.
Ironically, despite the fact that Nigeria has abundant oil to earn dollar export revenue to build its domestic infrastructure, government policy has deliberately let its domestic oil refining capacity fall into ruin. The consequence has been that most of the gasoline and other refined petroleum products used to drive transportation and industry, has to be imported, despite the country’s abundant oil. In order to shield the population from the high import costs of gasoline and other refined fuels, the central government has subsidized prices.
Until January 1, 2012, that is. That was the day when, without advance warning President Goodluck Ebele Azikiwe Jonathan announced immediate removal of all fuel subsidies. Prices for gasoline shot up almost threefold in hours from 65 naira (35 cents of a dollar) a liter to 150 naira (93 cents). The impact rippled across the economy to everything including prices of grains and vegetables.
In justifying the move, Central Bank Governor Lamido Sanusi insisted that “The monies will be used in provision of social amenities and infrastructural development that will benefit Nigerians more and save the country from economic rift.”President Goodluck Jonathan says he is phasing out the subsidy as a part of a move to “clean up the Nigerian government.” If so, how he plans to proceed is anything but apparent.
The huge unexpected price hike for domestic fuel triggered nationwide protests that threatened to bring the economy to a halt by mid-January. The president deftly took the wind out of protester sails by announcing a partial rollback in prices, still leaving prices effectively double that of December. The trade union federation immediately called off the protests. Then, revealingly, Goodluck Jonathan’s government ordered the military to take to the streets to “keep order” and de facto prevent new protests. All that took place during one of the bloodiest waves of bombings and murder rampages by the terrorist Boko Haram sect creating a climate of extreme chaos.
The smoking gun of the IMF
What has been buried from international accounts of the unrest is the explicit role the US-dominated International Monetary Fund (IMF) played in the situation. With suspicious timing IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde was in Nigeria days before the abrupt subsidy decision of President Jonathan. By all accounts, the IMF and the Nigerian government have been careful this time not to be blatant about openly announcing demands to ends subsidies as they were in Tunisia before food protests became the trigger for that country’s Twitter putsch in 2011.
During her visit to Nigeria Lagarde said President Jonathan’s ‘Transformation Agenda’ for deregulation “is an agenda for Nigeria, driven by Nigerians. The IMF is here to support you and be a better partner for you.” Few Nigerians were convinced.On December 29 Reuters wrote, “The IMF has urged countries across West and Central Africa to cut fuel subsidies, which they say are not effective in directly aiding the poor, but do promote corruption and smuggling. The past months have seen governments in Nigeria, Guinea, Cameroon and Chad moving to cut state subsidies on fuel.”
Further confirming the role US and IMF pressure on the Nigerian government played, Jeffery Sachs, Special Adviser to the United Nations (UN) Secretary General, during a meeting with President Jonathan in Nigeria in early January days after the subsidy decision, declared Jonathan’s decision to withdraw petroleum subsidy “a bold and correct policy.”
Sachs, a former Harvard economics professor, became notorious during the early 1990s for prescribing IMF “shock therapy” for Poland, Russia, Ukraine and other former communist states, which opened invaluable state assets for de facto plundering by dollar-rich western multinationals.
Even more suspicious is the manner in which Washington and the IMF are putting pressure on only select countries to end subsidies. Nigeria, whose oil today sells for the equivalent of $1 a liter or roughly $3.78 a US gallon, is far from cheap. Brunei, Oman, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Saudi Arabia all offer their petrol very cheap to their people. The Saudis sell their oil at 17 cents, Kuwait at 22 cents. In the US gasoline averages 89 cents a liter.
That means the IMF and Washington have forced one of the poorest economies in Africa to impose a huge tax on its citizens on the implausible argument it will help eliminate corruption in the state petroleum sector. The IMF knows well that the elimination of subsidies will do nothing about corruption in high places.
Were the IMF and World Bank genuinely concerned with the health of the domestic Nigerian economy, they would have provided support for rebuilding and expanding a domestic oil refinery industry that has been allowed to rot, so that the country need no longer import refined fuels using precious state budget resources.The easiest way to do that would be to expedite a two-year-old deal between China and the Nigerian government to invest some $28 billion in massive expansion of the oil refinery sector, to eliminate need for importing foreign gasoline and other refined products.
Quite the opposite—the criminal cabal inside the Nigerian National Petroleum Company (NNPC) and the Government making huge profits on the old subsidy system are suddenly making double and potentially triple more to maintain the old corrupt import system, and, of course, to sabotage Chinese refinery construction that could put an end to their gravy train.
Cutting their nose to spite the face…
Rather than benefit ordinary Nigerians as the IMF proclaims to want, the elimination of the subsidies has further pauperized the 90 per cent living on less than $2 a day, according to Mallam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, the Nigerian Central Bank governor. An estimated 40 million Nigerians are unemployed in the country of 148 million.
Because transport costs are a significant factor in delivery of food to the cities, food price inflation has soared along with costs of public transportation for the majority of poorer Nigerians. According to the Nigerian Leadership Sunday, “prices of commodities which shot up as a fallout of the fuel pump price increase have refused to come down.” Everything from street vegetable sellers to carwashes to roadside photographers are feeling the shock of the rise in fuel prices. Unemployment is rising as small businesses fold.
The argument of the IMF and the Jonathan administration is that by freeing fuel prices, funds would be available to more social services and rebuilding Nigeria’s “infrastructure.” Both the IMF and the government know it would have been far more economically viable to replace the current corrupt system of importing refined gasoline and fuels with investing in rebuilding Nigeria’s domestic refining capacity.
Son Gyoh of the Nigerian Awareness for Development organization asks, “Would it not be more expedient to pressure government to service the refineries to full production capacity, given the implications on overhead and competitiveness for local industries?”
Gyoh pointed to the source of the problem: “Why have successive governments left the refineries in a state of disrepair while spending huge on subsidy? Is there any chance that the savings from subsidy withdrawal will go directly into rehabilitating the refineries? Does deregulation imply NNPC will no longer operate a monopoly in importation of refined petroleum product, or is this lobby a self-serving lifeline to continue its monopoly? ” He concludes, “In any case, there is good reason to doubt subsidy removal will solve the fuel scarcity problem as the cabal will only regroup to change tactics, a fact Nigerians are only too aware of.”
After Nigeria partly nationalized its oil sector in the late 1970s, it also took control of Shell Oil’s Port Harcourt I refinery. In 1989, Port Harcourt II refinery was built. Both refineries fell into serious disrepair after 1994, when the Abacha military dictatorship cut the “take” of the Nigerian National Petroleum Company NNPC from domestic sale of refined oil products such as gasoline from 84% to 22%. That caused a cash crisis for NNPC and a halt to refinery maintenance. Today only one of four refineries operates at all.
What developed since was a system of NNPC importing foreign gasoline and other refined products for Nigeria’s domestic needs, naturally at a far more expensive cost. The price subsidies were to relieve that higher import cost, hardly a sensible solution but a very lucrative one for those corrupt elements in the state and private sector making a killing, literally, off the import process.
NNPC criminal enterprise
The IMF is well aware of the real cause of Nigeria’s fuel industry problems. A Nigerian legislative committee examining the sources of the industry’s problems recently released a report documenting that at least $4 billion annually is taken from taxpayers in fuel industry corruption with the state Nigerian National Petroleum Company (NNPC) at the center. According to the commission, “every day, fuel importers drop off 59 million liters of fuel. The country consumes 35 million liters daily. That leaves 24 million liters of oil available for smugglers to export, paid for by government fuel subsidies. This costs the Nigerian people roughly $4 billion yearly, according to Reuters.”
The Nigerian government has said that the 7.5 billion dollars spent yearly on fuel subsidies could be used to provide desperately needed infrastructure. But they omit any mention of the rampant siphoning off of $4 billion of oil by black market smugglers, reportedly with connivance of high NNPC government officials, to sell to neighboring countries at a hefty profit. The refined imported fuel is reportedly smuggled into neighboring countries like Cameroon, Chad and Niger where petrol prices are far higher, according to Abdullahi Umar Ganduje, Deputy Governor of Kano State.
China as IMF target?
One major geopolitical factor that is generally ignored in recent discussion of Nigerian oil politics is the growing role of China in the country. In May 2010, only days after President Jonathan was sworn in, China signed an impressive $28.5 billion deal with his government to build three new refineries, something that in no way fits into the plans of either the IMF, or of Washington, or of the Anglo-American oil majors.
China State Construction Engineering Corporation Limited (CSCEC) signed the deal to build three oil refineries with Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), in the biggest deal China has made with Africa. Shehu Ladan, head of NNPC, said at the signing ceremony that the added refineries would reduce the $10 billion spent annually on imported refined products. As of January 2012, the three Chinese refinery projects were still in the planning stage, reportedly blocked by the powerful vested interests gaining from the existing corrupt import system.
A report in China Daily last November quoted Nigeria’s Olusegun Olutoyin Aganga, the minister of trade and investment, that Nigeria was seeking added Chinese investors for its energy, mining and agribusiness industries. Last September on a visit to Beijing, Nigeria central bank governor Lamido Sanusiannounced his country planned to invest 5 per cent to 10 per cent of its foreign exchange reserves in China’s currency, the renminbi (RMB) or yuan, noting that he sees the yuan becoming reserve currency. In 2010 China’s loans and exports to Nigeria exceeded $7 billion, while Nigeria exported $1 billion of crude oil, Sanusi stated.
Until now Nigeria has held some 79% of her foreign currency reserves in dollars, the rest in Euro or Sterling, all of which look dicey given their financial and debt problems. The move of a major oil producer away from dollars, added to similar moves recently by India, Japan, Russia, Iran and others, augurs bad news for the continued role of the dollar as dominant world reserve currency. Clearly some in Washington would not be happy with that.
The Chinese are also bidding to get a direct stake in Nigeria’s rich oil reserves, until now an Anglo-American domain. In July 2010, China’s CNPC (China National Petroleum Corporation) won four prospective oil blocks – two in the Niger Delta and two in the frontier Chad Basin, with plans to become core investor in the Kaduna refinery, and construction of a double track Lagos-Kano railway. China’s oil company, CNOOC Ltd also has a major offshore production area in Nigeria.
The IMF and Washington pressure to lift subsidies on imported fuels is at this point in question, as is the future of China in Nigeria’s energy industry. Clear is that lifting subsidies in no way will benefit Nigerians. More alarming in this context is the orchestration of a major new wave of terror killings and bombings by the mysterious and suspiciously well-armed Boko Haram. This we will look at next in the context of Nigeria’s recent transformation into a major narcotics hub.
F. William Engdahl, author of A Century of War: Anglo-American Oil Politics and the New World Order
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.
- Viewpoint: Nigeria’s President Jonathan backs down (bbc.co.uk)
- Seun Kuti: ‘End of fuel subsidy is treason against Nigerians’ (worldnewsflesh.wordpress.com)
- Nigerian leader Goodluck Jonathan defends fuel cut (direcmood.wordpress.com)
- Nigeria’s government squeezed by subsidy protests, militant movements (cnn.com)
- Occupy Nigeria – a reactionary occupy movement? (ethanzuckerman.com)
- REVELATIONS FROM HOUSE PROBE: Wanted; Subsidy on sincerity (vanguardngr.com)