China Offers Russia Help With Currency Swap Suggestion By Bloomberg News – Dec 22, 2014, 2:35:41 AM

Two Chinese ministers offered support for Russia as President Vladimir Putin seeks to shore up support for the ruble without depleting foreign-exchange reserves.

China will provide help if needed and is confident Russia can overcome its economic difficulties, Foreign Minister Wang Yi was cited as saying in Bangkok in a Dec. 20 report by Hong Kong-based Phoenix TV. Commerce Minister Gao Hucheng said expanding a currency swap between the two nations and making increased use of yuan for bilateral trade would have the greatest impact in aiding Russia, according to the broadcaster.

The ruble strengthened 4.1 percent against the dollar today amid the signs of willingness by China, the world’s second-largest economy, to prop up its neighbor. Russia, the biggest energy exporter, saw its currency tumble as much as 59 percent this year as crude oil prices slumped and U.S. and European sanctions hurt the economy. President Xi Jinping last month called for China to adopt “big-country diplomacy” as he laid out goals for elevating his nation’s status.

“Many Chinese people still view Russia as the big brother, and the two countries are strategically important to each other,” said Jin Canrong, Associate Dean of the School of International Studies at Renmin University in Beijing, referring to the Soviet Union’s backing of Communist China in its first years. “For the sake of national interests, China should deepen cooperation with Russia when such cooperation is in need.”

Swap Line

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, shakes hands with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping, right, before their meeting at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Beijing, China, on Nov. 9, 2014. Photographer: Mikhail Klimentyev/AFP/Getty Images
China and Russia signed a three-year currency-swap line of 150 billion yuan ($24 billion) in October, an agreement that can be expanded with the consent of both parties. The People’s Bank of China published a chart detailing how such an agreement works in a microblog dated Dec. 19 and the official People’s Daily newspaper said today that the explanation was provided to address concerns the nation could suffer losses if Russia used the facility to obtain funds.

“As all we pay out and receive in return are renminbi, we don’t have to bear exchange-rate risks,” the PBOC said in the microblog, using an alternative name for the yuan. The swap amount can be adjusted to allow for changing circumstances and prevailing exchange rates, rather than pre-determined, are used, it said.

China is promoting the yuan as an alternative to the dollar for global trade and finance and the PBOC has signed currency-swap agreements with 28 other central banks to encourage this. The nation’s foreign-exchange reserves of $3.89 trillion are the world’s largest and compare with Russia’s $374 billion.

“Irreplaceable Partner”

“Russia is an irreplaceable strategic partner on the international stage,” according to an editorial today in the Global Times, a Beijing-based daily affiliated with the Communist Party. “China must take a proactive attitude in helping Russia walk out of the current crisis.”

Still, “China’s help for Russia will be limited,” the editorial said. While China can offer capital, technical and market support, it can’t address Russia’s economic structure and excessive reliance on energy exports, the editorial said.

China signed a three-decade, $400 billion deal to buy Russian gas earlier this year. Oil imports from Russia hit an all-time high in November, according to China’s General Administration of Customs.

Russia isn’t in talks with China about any financial aid, said Dmitry Peskov, a spokesman for President Putin, on Dec. 20.

Argentina

Russia wouldn’t be the first country in financial strife to turn to China for support this year. Argentina’s central bank utilized a cross-currency swap with the PBOC to stem a slide in the peso, which dropped 24 percent against the greenback this year as the government defaulted on dollar bonds. The peso has weakened 0.3 percent this month following a similar decline in November.

A similar move by Russia could help stabilize the ruble, according to Jan Dehn, the London-based head of research at Ashmore Group Plc, which manages about $70 billion in emerging-market assets. It would also bolster Chinese efforts to make the yuan a global reserve currency, he wrote in a Dec. 18 report.

To contact Bloomberg News staff for this story: Fion Li in Hong Kong at fli59@bloomberg.net; Xin Zhou in Beijing at xzhou68@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: James Regan at jregan19@bloomberg.net Malcolm Scott

Exxon Mobil Shows Why U.S. Oil Output Rises as Prices Plunge By Joe Carroll, Bloomberg Dec 18, 2014, 9:57:23 AM

Crude oil production from U.S. wells is poised to approach a 42-year record next year as drillers ignore the recent decline in price pointing them in the opposite direction.

U.S. energy producers plan to pump more crude in 2015 as declining equipment costs and enhanced drilling techniques more than offset the collapse in oil markets, said Troy Eckard, whose Eckard Global LLC owns stakes in more than 260 North Dakota shale wells.

Oil companies, while trimming 2015 budgets to cope with the lowest crude prices in five years, are also shifting their focus to their most-prolific, lowest-cost fields, which means extracting more oil with fewer drilling rigs, said Goldman Sachs Group Inc. Global giant Exxon Mobil Corp. (XOM ▲ 0.44% 89.41), the largest U.S. energy company, will increase oil production next year by the biggest margin since 2010. So far, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries’ month-old bet that American drillers would be crushed by cratering prices has been a bust.

Oil Prices

“Companies that are already producing oil will continue to operate those wells because the cost of drilling them is already sunk into the ground,” said Timothy Rudderow, who manages $1.5 billion as chief investment officer at Mount Lucas Management Corp. in Newtown, Pennsylvania. “But I wouldn’t want to have to be making long-term production decisions with this kind of volatility.”

A U.S. crude bonanza that has handed consumers the cheapest gasoline since 2009 has left oil exporters like Russia and Venezuela flirting with economic chaos. The ruble sank as much as 19 percent on Dec. 16 to a record low of 80 per dollar before recovering to close at 68; Russian bond and equity markets also crumbled. In Venezuela, the oil rout is spurring concern the country is running out of dollars needed to pay debt and swaps traders are almost certain default is imminent.

Profitable Wells

U.S. oil production is set to reach 9.42 million barrels a day in May, which would be the highest monthly average since November 1972, according to the Energy Department’s statistical arm.

Output from shale formations, deep-water fields, the Alaskan wilderness and land-based wells in pockets of Oklahoma and Pennsylvania that have been trickling out crude for decades already have pushed demand for imported oil to the lowest since at least 1995, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Existing wells remain profitable even as benchmark crude futures hover near the $55-a-barrel mark because operating costs going forward are usually $25 or less, Tom Petrie, chairman of Petrie Partners Inc., said in a Dec. 15 interview on the Bloomberg Surveillance television program.

Shut Ins

That’s why prices that have tumbled 47 percent from this year’s peak on June 20 haven’t prompted any American oil producers to shut down wells, said Petrie, a U.S. Military Academy at West Point graduate who has advised Saudi Arabia, Alaska and the U.S. government on energy issues.

The average cost to operate an existing well in most parts of the U.S. “is about $20 a barrel,” Petrie said. “It might be $5 higher or it might be $5 lower, that’s the out-of-pocket costs that we’re talking about. Until you dip into that and start losing money on a cash basis day in, day out, you don’t think about shutting in” wells.

Benchmark U.S. crude futures rose 0.3 percent to $56.63 a barrel at 9:55 a.m. in New York Mercantile Exchange trading. The futures are still on track for their fourth straight weekly decline.

Once oil companies sink cash into drilling wells, lining them with steel pipes and concrete, blasting the surrounding rocks into rubble with hydraulic fracturing, and linking them to pipeline systems, they have no incentive to scale back production, said Andrew Cosgrove, an analyst at Bloomberg Intelligence in Princeton, New Jersey.

Sunk Costs

Those investments, which represent “sunk costs,” are no longer a drain on cash flow, Cosgrove said. Instead, they generate capital companies use to repay debt, fund additional drilling, pay out dividends and buy back shares, he said.

Exxon, the world’s biggest oil producer by market value, is expected to boost crude and natural gas output by 2.8 percent next year to the equivalent of 4.1 million barrels a day, based on the average of eight analyst estimates compiled by Bloomberg.

Russia’s fast track to ruin DECEMBER 16, 2014 AT 1:26 AM BBC

Here are the numbers that explain why the Russian economy is imploding in the face of a tumbling oil price and Western sanctions.
Oil and gas energy represents two thirds of exports of around $530bn (£339bn). Without them, Russia would have a massive deficit on its trade and financial dealings with the rest of the world – which is why Russia’s central bank expects a capital outflow of well over $100bn this year and next.

And public expenditure is almost completely supported by energy-related revenues. In their absence, the government would be increasing its indebtedness by more than 10% a year, according to IMF data.

So the massive and unsustainable non-oil deficits in the public sector and trade explain why investors don’t want to touch the rouble with even the longest barge pole.
And Western sanctions, imposed to punish Putin for his Ukraine adventure, make it all the harder for Russia’s undersized non-oil economy to trade the country out of its mess.
Desperate government?

Little wonder then that the rouble has halved this year, more-or-less in line with the tumbling oil price.

That raises the spectre of rampant inflation – prices are already rising more than 9% a year on the backward-looking official measure.
And there is the twin nightmare of a fully fledged slump: Russia’s central bank expects the economy to contract not far off 5% next year.

But even so the decision of Russia’s central bank to raise its policy interest rate from 10.5% to 17% is eye-catching (ahem).
It might work to stem the rouble’s fall. Then again it could reinforce investors’ fears that the government is increasingly desperate and powerless in the face of a market tsunami.
Global ripples

Russia isn’t bust yet. In the middle of the year, it was projected by the IMF to hold reserves equivalent to about a year’s worth of imports. That will probably be down to nearer 10 months now, but provides some kind of cushion.

What does it mean for the rest of us? Well it doesn’t help that Russia is sucking demand from a global economy that is already looking a bit more ropey, as the eurozone stagnates and China slows.

As for the exposure of overseas banks – at $364bn, including guarantees – that is serious but not existentially threatening (and loans made by UK banks are just a few percentage points of that).

There are also about half a trillion dollars of Russian bonds trading, with about a third of those issued by the government. Most of those will be viewed by investors as junk, even if they are not officially classified as such by the rating agencies.

Or to pull it all together, Russia is massively leaking cash. And absent an entente with the West over Ukraine, which does not look imminent, it is challenging to see how the hole can be plugged.

The Russian Currency Crisis Just Got Even Worse DECEMBER 12, 2014 AT 3:56 AM Business Insider / Tomas Hirst

The Russian Currency Crisis Just Got Even Worse
DECEMBER 12, 2014 AT 3:56 AM
Business Insider / Tomas Hirst

The Russian rouble has fallen over 3% against the dollar in early trading, shrugging off the central bank’s attempt to halt the slide by raising interest rates.

The country’s central bank increased interest rates by 1% on Thursday to 10.5% in an effort to slow the pace of rouble falls. However, the currency has continued to track the oil price downwards as WTI crude dropped below $60 a barrel, down from $107 a barrel in June, and Brent slid to $63.12 on Friday.

At the time of writing $1 would buy you over 57 roubles, a new record level.

While the country still has around $416 billion in reserves and low government debt equal to only 9.2% of GDP, concerns have been focused on Russia’s corporate sector. In particular a number of Russian businesses borrowed heavily in dollars over the past few years, and repaying those loans is quickly becoming a much more expensive prospect.

Russia debt

Russian corporates are scheduled to pay around $35 billion on this debt in December and over $100 billion in 2015. These firms, and especially Russia’s banks, face major challenges funding this bill with Western sanctions freezing them out of global capital markets on the one hand and a weakening domestic economy putting pressure on profits on the other.

This problem is being compounded by concerns that the country’s financial sector may be running low on collateral that banks can use to access dollar reserves at the central bank. Usually it is the job of the central bank to provide emergency funding for a country’s financial institutions. In Russia this is typically done through what are known as “currency repo auctions,” in which banks offer collateral (like high-quality bonds) in exchange for access to currency, especially dollars, that they need to meet foreign-currency obligations.

Last week the Russian central bank cut the foreign exchange repo rate, the interest rate it charges on the currency it gives to banks. The rate fell from 1.5% above the London Interbank Offered Rate (Libor) — the benchmark interest rate at which banks lend to one another — to 0.5% above Libor. A lower interest rate should make it less expensive for banks to borrow from the central bank and therefore more appealing.

The rate cut illustrates that the central bank is growing concerned about the ability of Russian banks to meet their debt repayments. Underlining the point, in her statement following the interest rate hike on Thursday Elvira Nabiullina, head of the Russian central bank, announced that “the Bank of Russia plans to consider the introduction of foreign currency lending on the security of non-marketable assets”.

That suggests the central bank is considering expanding the types of assets that it will accept as collateral, by which it likely means accepting lower quality, less easily traded loans or financial securities. In other words, the state is having to take on more risk as the private sector struggles.

Markets Continue to Slide on Oil Shock Currencies in Russia, Norway Fall to Multiyear Lows

By JOSIE COX WSJ
Updated Dec. 12, 2014 5:46 a.m.
Oil’s persistent slide continued to drive global financial markets Friday, sending currencies in Russia and Norway to fresh multiyear lows, and stocks in energy companies tumbling.

In early trade, the ruble surpassed 57 against the dollar for the first time on record. Norway’s krone hit a new five-year low against the euro and an 11-year low against the dollar as Brent crude slumped to $63 a barrel and West Texas Intermediate settled below $60—both five-year lows.

Russia’s central bank on Thursday raised its key interest rate to 10.5% from 9.5%, and its deposit rate to 9.5% from 8.5%, in an attempt to halt the ruble’s slide, but economists broadly agree that isn’t enough.

“In my view the risk of a full-scale currency crisis is still high and the Bank of Russia may have to use all tools at its disposal to stem ruble rout,” said Piotr Matys, a currency strategist at Rabobank. He said he had been expecting a 2.5-percentage-point increase in the key interest rate. “The decision taken proved insufficient.”

The ruble was battered earlier this year by geopolitical tensions and resulting sanctions, but its decline has been exacerbated in recent months by the oil shock, especially after the 12-member Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries last month rejected calls for drastic action to cut their output. Around 50% of Russia’s annual budget revenue stems from oil and gas exports.

Also on Thursday Norges Bankcut its key interest rate to 1.25% from 1.5% to combat slowing domestic growth, specifically citing the tanking price of oil. Norway is Europe’s biggest crude exporter and Norges Bank said in a statement that “activity in the petroleum industry is set to be weaker than projected earlier.”

The Stoxx Europe 600 index was trading 1.5% lower midmorning, with major losers including Afren PLC, Genel Energy PLC, Tullow Oil and Petrofac Ltd.

London’s FTSE 100 index, with a very high exposure to the oil and gas sector was down 1.6%, putting it on track for its worst weekly loss in around two years. In the U.S, the S&P 500 was indicated opening 0.6% lower on the day. Futures, however do not necessarily mirror moves after the opening bell.

The European subindex of oil and gas companies declined 1.8% and economists said that the chills were starting to filter into debt markets, too.

“Falling oil prices have sparked weakness in the U.S. high-yield markets, which amid thin liquidity is intensifying volatility across fixed income assets,” Barclays economists wrote in a note.

The CBOE Volatility Index, commonly considered a fear gauge of financial markets, rose 8% overnight, reflecting investors’ appetite for assets considered safest during times of stress. The yield on German 10-year government bonds hit a record low of 0.652%. Yields fall when prices rise.

Beyond oil, lasting jitters stemming from political uncertainty in Greece additionally pressured equities.

Earlier in the week, the Greek government announced that Parliament would vote on a new president on Dec. 17—two months ahead of schedule—to replace Karolos Papoulias, whose five-year term was slated to end in March.

The move sparked fears that Greece’s radical left opposition Syriza party could win national elections if presidential voting rounds fail to find a solution acceptable to all.

“We wouldn’t rule out the possibility that mainstream parties can cobble together the majority needed to win support for a presidential candidate. Nevertheless, the political outlook for Greece remains highly fraught,” Citigroup economists write in a note.

Athens’s main stock exchanged tumbled 7% on Thursday having already closed around 12% lower during Wednesday’s session. On Friday it opened lower but later retraced some of that move, to climb around 1.5% by midmorning.

The yield on the country’s 10-year government bond stood at 8.9% Friday morning, around 0.08 percentage point tighter on the day. Only earlier this week, however, it was around 7.2%.

Back in currency markets, the euro was marginally higher against the dollar at around $1.243, little changed after figures showed that factory output across the 18 countries that share the euro rose for the second straight month in October, albeit at a modest pace.

Employment and industrial production, however, remain well below their pre-crisis levels and there is no indication that the eurozone’s recovery is set to accelerate to a pace that would quickly create large numbers of new jobs or end a long period of very low inflation.

Many analysts expect the European Central Bank to announce a government bond purchase plan to stimulate the recovery as soon as its Jan. 22 meeting—a forecast that was reinforced by weak demand for the second installment of a four-year lending program for banks. Results for that were published Thursday.

— Paul Hannon contributed to this article

Write to Josie Cox at josie.cox@wsj.com