ACIL may be made new operator for Assam oil field

Oil regulator Directorate General of Hydrocarbons had last year found ACIL competent to takeover operatorship of the field from Canoro who held 60% stake in the field

With Delhi High Court upholding termination of Canadian firm Canoro Resources' contract for Amguri oilfield, the petroleum ministry may appoint Assam Co India Ltd (ACIL) as the operator of the oilfield in Assam.

A single judge Bench of the Delhi High Court on 7th March upheld termination of Canoro's production sharing contract (PSC) for the discovered Amguri field in Assam. Officials privy to the development said ACIL, which holds 40% interest in the Amguri fields, is likely to be appointed the operator.
Oil regulator Directorate General of Hydrocarbons (DGH) had last year found ACIL competent to takeover operatorship of the field from Canoro who held 60% stake in the field.

"The government of India may consider the request for appointment of ACIL as an operator for Amguri field replacing Canoro Resources and allocation/transfer of 60% interest (of Canadian firm) to ACIL," DGH had written to the oil ministry on 28 July 2010.

The termination followed Canoro not taking government consent for selling controlling stake to Mass Financial Corp.

Canoro had raised Canadian $95 million, or Rs430 crore, last April 2009 through a mix of debt and equity from Barbados-based Mass Financial Corp without the required consent of the government.

Delhi High Court's Justice Vipin Sanghi in the 7th March order stated: "I am of the prima facie view that the State, as a sovereign, cannot be understood to have irretrievably given up all its rights while entering into a contract, such that it is rendered helpless in a situation which threatens the national interest or security of State."

"An interpretation, either of a law or a contract, which impinges on the sovereign power of the State to safeguard its vital and strategic interests (and not just commercial interests), would be eschewed by the Court to save the law, or the contract, from validity on the ground of it being opposed to public policy," the court said.

The centre had issued a termination notice to Canoro on 1 June 2010 citing "national interests and government's sovereign power on the national resources" as a reason.

In the termination order 28th August last year, the ministry said Canoro had violated Article 29.2 of the PSC by not seeking the government's consent before making a "material change" in the shareholding of the company. Canoro had challenged the termination.

After the High Court order, Canoro said: "The issue of whether the company is in breach of the Amguri PSC remains subject to the determination of an arbitration panel. The company is reviewing all its options in connection with the said decision, including, without limitation, an appeal to a higher court."

On Thursday, ACIL ended 0.28% up at Rs17.60 on the Bombay Stock Exchange, while the benchmark Sensex declined 0.77% to 18,327.


Rising oil prices and a drop in Chinese demand depress prices of base metals

Prices of base metals—especially copper—were going up due to investment demand. In this quarter, buyers were restocking inventories, the market seems adequately supplied, and high prices are leading to a slowdown in Chinese demand

Prices of base metals, particularly copper, have started falling on concerns of slow demand in China and rising crude oil prices-that could hurt global economic growth.

Yesterday, copper for three-months delivery on the London Metal Exchange (LME) closed at $9,275 per tonne, from a close of $9,530 per tonne on Tuesday. On 9th March, the inventory level of copper on the LME stood at 425,725 tonnes, which is the highest level since July 2010.

Copper prices had touched a record level of $10,190 per tonne on 15th February on the back of high demand and large deficit of the metal in international markets.

However, investors' confidence has been shaken after crude oil prices started soaring due to political unrest in oil-producing countries, which could slow down economic growth and curb demand for base metals. On top of this, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) has also added fuel to the fire, saying that there is "no need" to hold an emergency meeting to increase oil production.  

Higher prices and sufficient domestic supply of copper in China, the world largest copper consumer, has led to cooling down of prices in international markets.

"Prices of copper were mainly rising because of investment demand. In this quarter, we have seen that buyers were engaged in restocking their inventories amid huge deficit. Now there are enough supplies in the country's market at a time when prices are very high and that has led to slow demand in China," an analyst from a Mumbai-based research firm told Moneylife, preferring anonymity.

"But we have to wait and watch for a while to check whether there are fundamental changes or just a reaction on geopolitical issues," added the analyst.

According to JP Morgan Securities, copper deficit would be between 500,000 tonnes and 600,000 tonnes in 2011.

"Now there are some reports that China would not enjoy robust growth, and rising prices of crude oil has also caused prices to come down," added the analyst. "But I don't think that prices of copper will come down the below $7,500 per tonne level."

According to a report which appeared today, China's trade balance has slipped into a $7.3 billion deficit in February, its largest in seven years, as exports and imports plunged.

According to the General Administration of Customs of China, imports of copper and allied products came down by around 35% to 235,469 metric tonnes from 364,240 metric tonnes in January.

"The fall in copper imports does not indicate that demand has been affected drastically. It happened four months back, before this copper rally. Until any trend continues for two to three months, it is difficult to jump to any conclusion," added the analyst.

Zinc, used to make steel rust-resistant, has also plunged by 6% to $2,240 per tonne, which is a session lowest, yesterday, due to higher inventories and rising fuel prices. Aluminium traded at $2,598 per tonne from $2,596 per tonne on Tuesday.

"It's a basic trend that aluminium and zinc follow copper's footstep. Prices of aluminium and zinc were going up because copper prices soared in the international market. But copper has strong fundamentals as it is on high demand amid huge deficit. However, aluminium and zinc are in surplus," said the analyst.

"If there is any kind of fundamental correction, then zinc and aluminium would be the worst victims," added the analyst.

The Chinese government is expected to increase interest rates to curb inflation and that could impact demand for base metals. However, experts believe that it would not have much impact.

"The country has already increased interest rates four to five times in the last four months, but we have not seen much impact of the same on the demand or production side. However, if the government takes strict steps, then aluminium and zinc may see a large fall in prices," said the analyst.


Not in our interest

I am here to vent my frustration not at you, but on the sad state of the economy. India has some ‘great’ economists like Dr Manmohan Singh, Dr Montek Singh Ahluwalia, finance minister Pranab Mukherjee, Harvard-educated P Chidambaram and former Reserve Bank of India (RBI) governors—Dr C Rangarajan, Dr YV Reddy—and the current governor, D Subbarao, to name a few.

Despite such stalwarts, why...

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