Commercial Awareness Update 8th March 2019

1) NORWAY’S $1TN WEALTH FUND

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The Norwegian oil fund, which is the world’s largest sovereign investor, would dispose of about $7.5bn of oil and gas companies that are focused purely on exploration and production under the proposal from the centre-right government in Oslo.

Analysis

The move is designed to reduce the dependence of Norway — western Europe’s biggest petroleum producer — on an industry that is facing growing questions about its long-term future. Global oil demand is forecast by many experts to peak by the 2030s while climate targets are speeding up efforts to reduce dependence on fossil fuels.

Share prices in oil companies fell following the announcement on Friday morning in Oslo, with UK-based Tullow Oil down almost 3 per cent. Norway has faced cries of hypocrisy over its attempts to balance being one of the world’s largest petroleum producers and an environmentally engaged country, pushing the likes of Indonesia and Brazil to protect their rainforests as well as becoming the leading nation for electric cars

2) CHINA EXPORTS DROP

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China on Friday reported its steepest year-on-year decline in exports in three years, with no clear end in sight to Beijing’s trade dispute with the US that has been hurting the world’s second-largest economy.

Hopes that the trade dispute would soon be resolved have cooled. A summit between US president Donald Trump and Chinese president Xi Jinping has been pushed back from the end of March, as both sides try to pin down details and avoid an embarrassing failure.

While the dates were not yet finalised, a meeting at Mar-a-Lago in Florida had been pencilled in for March 27 or March 28, immediately following Mr Xi’s planned trip to Europe. That is now unlikely. US ambassador to China Terry Branstad told the Wall Street Journal on Friday that no date had been set as the two sides were still negotiating.

Analysis

China’s exports sank 20.7 per cent last month compared with February 2018 in US dollar terms, the biggest monthly fall since February 2016 and four times steeper than the 4.8 per cent decline forecast in a Reuters poll of economists. Imports fell 5.2 per cent, resulting in the smallest trade surplus for China in 11 months. 

Major Chinese stocks recorded their biggest intraday dip since October with the CSI 300 index of Shanghai and Shenzhen-listed stocks ending down nearly 4 per cent. 

Weak Chinese imports are the latest sign of a slowdown in the domestic economy, which analysts have also cited as a key reason for slowing Japanese and South Korean exports. Chinese exports to the US fell disproportionately, down 14.6 per cent in the first two months of the year, while imports from the US fell 35 per cent.

3) EU OFFERS UNILATERAL EXIT

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The EU has offered London a “unilateral exit” from the UK-wide parts of the backstop plan for Northern Ireland, with the aim of showing Great Britain would not be “forced into a customs union against its will” after Brexit.

Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, informed EU ambassadors of a package of proposals offered to Theresa May, which Brussels will publicly announce even though they fall short of the UK’s negotiating demands.

The legally binding package of assurances aims to rescue Theresa May’s exit deal ahead of a House of Commons vote on Tuesday. According to diplomats briefed on the terms, it would include a “unilateral exit clause”, allowing Great Britain to break its customs union with the bloc as long as other parts of the backstop still apply to Northern Ireland.

Analysis

Such a Northern Ireland-only backstop has been rejected by Mrs May in the past because it would create a customs border along the Irish Sea, dividing the UK’s internal market. In recent weeks Mrs May’s team sought alternative exit mechanism from the backstop, the part of the draft exit deal most hated by Brexiters, which would apply to the entire UK.

Mr Barnier told ambassadors that the EU proposals would underline that the EU had no interest in holding Britain in a customs union “against its will”, according to people familiar with the meeting. The EU has long preferred backstop arrangements only applying to Northern Ireland to enable the continuation of an open border on the island of Ireland.

Other proposals made by the EU include a legally binding interpretation of the withdrawal agreement, which would underline the temporary nature of the backstop plan.

Commercial Awareness Director,

Usama Kubo