Oil down on demand concerns from quake-hit Japan

According to analysts, there could be some demand disruptions due to the Japanese earthquake in the short-term, but the lost nuclear power capacity is expected to boost imports in the near-term

Singapore: Oil fell in Asian trade today on concerns demand from quake-hit Japan would be affected, reports PTI.

New York's main contract, light sweet crude for delivery in April, dipped $1.28 to $99.88 per barrel while Brent North Sea crude for April delivery lost $1.39 to $112.45, analysts said.

"In the short term, there might be some demand disruptions due to the Japanese earthquake, but there will be an increase in fuel oil imports due to the lost nuclear power capacity, which will be supportive of fuel oil prices in the near term," said Chen Xin Yi, commodities analyst for Barclays Capital.

Crude futures fell immediately last week in reaction to Friday's massive 8.9-magnitude earthquake off Japan, unleashing a tsunami that battered the country's northeast coast and stretched across the Pacific.

Traders worry that the disaster will affect energy consumption in Japan, the world's third-largest economy.

Tokyo shares fell sharply in opening trade today as investors remained jittery over the economic consequences from the biggest earthquake in Japan's history and the devastating tsunami.

Shares fell 5.42% in a post-quake sell-off as the key index sank below 10,000 to its lowest levels since November. The Nikkei index fell 556.06 points shortly after opening to 9,698.37.

Meanwhile, investors are also keeping a nervous eye on the unrest in Libya where rebels continue to battle forces loyal to leader Moamer Gadhafi.

Qatar's energy minister Mohammed Saleh al-Sada had said on Sunday that the world oil output was sufficient despite the unrest in Libya which had slashed the country's crude production.

Libya was producing 1.69 million barrels per day (bpd) before the unrest, according to the International Energy Agency. Of this 1.2 million bpd was exported, mostly to Europe but with China and the United States also major customers.

Oil giant Total said on Friday that the unrest has cut Libya's output by 1.4 million bpd to under 300,000. The price of oil on world markets has soared since the mid-February outbreak of the anti-government uprising.


Nippon Life to acquire 26% stake in Reliance Life for $680 million

The transaction pegs the total valuation of Reliance Life Insurance at approximately Rs11,500 crore, or $2.6 billion. Reliance Life is the largest among the 22 private life insurers in India having sold over 7 million policies so far

New Delhi: Japanese insurance firm Nippon Life Insurance Company will acquire a 26% stake in Reliance Life Insurance for $680 million, reports PTI.

"Nippon Life Insurance will invest an aggregate value of Rs3,062 crore ($680 million) to acquire a 26% strategic stake in Reliance Life Insurance," the Anil Dhirubhai Ambani Group (ADAG) firm said in a statement today.

The transaction pegs the total valuation of Reliance Life Insurance at approximately Rs11,500 crore ($2.6 billion), the statement said, adding that the transaction is subject to necessary regulatory approvals.

Nippon is the 6th largest life insurer in the world and the top private life insurer in Asia and Japan.

Commenting on the development, Reliance Capital chairman Anil Ambani said, "At this time, our thoughts are with the people of Japan, bravely facing an unprecedented natural catastrophe. We pray for strength to the country, its people and our new partners in the entire Nippon Life family, to overcome the trauma of the tragic loss of life and devastation caused by this calamity."

Reliance Capital currently holds a 100% stake in Reliance Life.

"We both share the same passion and philosophy and, together, we believe we can develop a strategic partnership to help Reliance Life Insurance become a world-class insurance company in India," said Nippon Life Insurance president Kunie Okamoto.

As per the current rules, a foreign entity can hold up to 26% stake in an Indian insurance firm. Reliance Capital wholly owns Reliance Life, a business it acquired from AMP Sanmar in 2005.

Reliance Life is the largest amongst the 22 private life insurers in India in terms of the number of individual policies sold. The company has sold over 7 million policies through its network of nearly 1,250 offices and over 2,15,000 advisors.

Reliance Life managed assets of over Rs17,000 crore ($3.7 billion) as of 31 December 2010.

Commenting on the deal, Reliance Capital CEO Sam Ghosh said, "As a strategic partner, Nippon Life will bring vast experience, expertise and global best practices in areas of product development, underwriting, investment management, distribution, customer relationship management and risk management."

Shares of Reliance Capital were up 6.40% at Rs538.75 on the Bombay Stock Exchange in morning trade.


China squeezing out fast-growing private businesses?

Chinese small- to medium-size private companies that contribute nearly two-third of the GDP, are being starved of capital, which is monopolised by large state-run enterprises. If these businesses close down, can the Chinese economy remain unaffected?

According to the Anglo-American newsmagazine The Economist, "China's success owes more to its entrepreneurs than its bureaucrats." Is this true? Is the Chinese economy really dominated by dynamic, small- to medium-sized private companies that are responsible for its phenomenal growth rate? If so, what would happen if these companies did not exist?

According to China's National Bureau of Statistics, China has between 40 million and 43 million small to medium-sized enterprises. Depending on the statistic, 93% of them are private and they employ between 75% and 92% of the countries workers. They also produce 68% of China's industrial output. In theory, according to one study, private businesses grew by more than 30% a year between 2000 and 2009.

Statistics and China should be taken with a grain of salt. According to a WikiLeaks document, vice-Premier and potentially the next Premier, Li Keqiang "confessed to the US ambassador that he did not believe official figures for GDP. They were "for reference only". This is certainly true regarding statistics about private or public enterprises in China for several reasons. The main problem is that all of the statistics and documents are in the hands of the government. In a country where an Olympic gymnast's birthday can change and there are strict limits on journalists, the reality may be quite different.

There is also a question as to whether private businesses in China are growing. In 2008 a survey in Guangdong province estimated that 10-20% of the 70,000 factories had closed and another 10-20% expected to close within two years. Of the 3,631 toy exporters, 52% had shut down in 2008 even before the crash, which probably created more devastation. In contrast, in 2009 alone local governments set up over 8,000 state-owned investment companies in order to take advantage of the cascade of stimulus cash.

What does appear to be true is that private companies tend to dominate factory-assembled exports, clothing and food. Like Korea, this sector of the economy is highly fractured and filled with very small businesses. Large industries like finance, communications, transportation, mining and metals are under the control of the central government.

A paper by a professor at the University of Hong Kong estimates the profits of businesses owned by the state were only 4% and that small private firms accounted for 75% of profits. In contrast, the Chinese department that technically owns the largest state-owned businesses insists that their profits rose 22% from 2003 to 2009 and that their share of GDP has been rising.
Even if we assume that private firms in China are more efficient and profitable than public firms, their future is not necessarily guaranteed. The main reason is that they have very limited access to capital.

Over the past two years, a great wall of money has been lent by state-owned banks. Most of the money went to state-owned enterprises and local governments. Only 4% or less went to small and medium-size enterprises.

The only source of capital for these smaller companies can be found in the shadow banking system which covers everything from loans from relatives, to Mafia-style loan sharking. Interest rates can exceed 300% with the average between 12 and 15%. The size of this banking system is unknown, but estimates of its loans last year are approximately 6 trillion renminbi or slightly smaller than the 7 trillion renminbi loans by the state banks.

Capital starvation is not the only threat to private businesses in China. According to Prof Huang Yashang of MIT, there was a huge expansion of state-owned enterprises in 2009. In certain industries like coal and steel and rare earths, state firms have either taken over or bought out private firms often utilising the excuse of safety.
In 2006 there were eight private airlines in China, now there is only one. The other seven were run of business through a combination of a price war and other obstacles like the refusal of the state oil firm to provide jet fuel. According to an agreement with the World Trade Organisation, China is supposed to open its telecommunications industry. Eight years later, it has yet to issue one license and the industry remains 100% in state hands.

It is often assumed that inefficient state-owned enterprises in China and many other countries would simply wither away in the face of competition from more efficient and globalised smaller firms. This is not true, if only for the simple reason that state-owned firms everywhere are an extension of political power and the last thing a politician likes to lose is that power.

Which leads us to the final question, if Chinese policy is guo jin min tui: state advances, private retreats, or renationalisation, then will the Chinese economy retreat along with its entrepreneurs?

(The writer is president of Emerging Market Strategies and can be contacted at [email protected] or [email protected])



Shadi Katyal

6 years ago

One should read The Economist article "Let a Million Flowers bloom"which contradicts this writer. It explains that small industry are unable to get loans from banks thus a side industry flourishes with interest running upto 400 percent even and yet people are flourishing as they take risks and borrow from such moneylenders.
The state indeed will like to keep most of the idnsutry in her hand yet demand is much higher than goods produced

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