Showing posts with label Shinzo Abe. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Shinzo Abe. Show all posts

Friday, October 27, 2017

A 'Crude' view from Tokyo: Japan’s delight at oil & gas buyers’ market

The Oilholic is delighted to be back in Tokyo, some 6,000 miles east of London. However, this one’s a splash and dash trip barely days after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s thumping election victory in a snap election the incumbent called. 

Though Abe is not universally popular by any means – as this blogger observed upon interaction with members of the voting public on behalf of IBTimes UK – the incumbent still coasted to an election victory offering a safe pair of hands and an economy that is tagging along nicely. 

It has been unquestionably helped in no small part by an oil and gas buyers’ market that corporate Japan and the country’s policymakers are pleased with. 

More so, as demand in Asia’s most advanced economy is on the decline courtesy of energy efficiencies that are miles ahead of many others in the industrialised world.

In fact, Japan’s oil demand has been in a structural decline for a number of years with the rise of cars with better mileage, usage of alternative fuels, very visible electric vehicles and last but not the least an ageing population. 

According to contacts within the analyst community in Tokyo, Japan’s average crude demand currently stands at 3.5 million barrels per day (bpd), down from its peak of 5.9 million bpd noted back in 2005. India has indeed overtaken Japan to become the world’s third-largest importer of crude oil with an average demand of 4.2 million bpd.

Nonetheless, whatever Japanese importers take is increasingly coming on their terms in a buyers’ market. In fact, the Oilholic’s sources in trading circles suggest spot Brent is at least $1.90 cheaper  per barrel compared to forward delivery toward the end of first quarter of 2018.

The natural gas market, though tied into the long-term contracts, is also spoilt for choice with Qatar, Australia and US consignments jostling for attention, and buyers awash with gas are looking for legislative changes to offload some of their surplus holding to near Asia. 

Most local commentators feel the decoupling of gas prices with the Japan Customs-cleared Crude (JCC), or the Japanese Crude Cocktail, if you would, is nearly complete. But then again, the JCC itself is not as high as it was a mere five years ago, and the days of $12-15 mmbtu gas prices and $10 premiums to the US Henry hub are a thing of the past. 

Unsurprisingly, Japan’s anti-monopoly regulator ended LNG re-sale restrictions over the course of the summer. The decision to end destination restriction clauses is 100% likely to lead to more trading of LNG cargoes by buyers in Japan, who can become sellers of their surplus holdings. And if Japan can do it, the wider region is bound to follow. 

In the fiscal year 2016-17, ended March, Japan imported 85 million tonnes of LNG worth about $30 billion, according to official data. So to say the country is in a strong position to renegotiate supply terms without destination restriction clauses would be an understatement. As the world’s biggest importer of LNG – it is in a commanding position to renegotiate with Qatar and Malaysia its two biggest suppliers. 


Away from crude matters, here is a link to one’s IBTimes UK exclusive on the ongoing Kobe Steel scandal, based on the comments of a whistleblower, who gave his take to your truly on the state of affairs and how a culture of fear led to the ongoing fiasco.

And on that note, it’s time to say goodbye to Tokyo. It was a brief three-day visit, but always a pleasure to be in this vibrant global capital of commerce. 

However, before one takes your leave, here’s a glimpse of some midnight petroheads – driving a convoy of what appears to be go-carts – in the small hours of the night, whom the Oilholic spotted while on pleasant evening walk back from Roppongi Hills to his hotel in Shiba Park. Only in Japan!

That’s all from the land of the rising sun. It time for BA006 back to London Heathrow. More soon. Keep reading, keep it ‘crude’. 

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© Gaurav Sharma 2017. Photo 1: Tokyo skyline, Japan. Photo 2: Midnight go kart racers in Roppongi Hills, Tokyo, Japan © Gaurav Sharma 2017. 

Friday, March 18, 2016

Why Ginza’s bullion traders love BoJ these days

Just happens to be a coincidence that the Oilholic is in Tokyo to witness the conclusion of the Bank of Japan’s two-day monetary policy meeting. There were no major surprises, as Governor Haruhiko Kuroda and his board left the country’s benchmark interest rate unchanged at -0.1% in line with market expectations.

The BoJ remains well below its 2% inflation target, headline economic growth is stagnant, exports are flat and well the Oilholic can personally testify that the yen, a preferred carry trade currency, is soaring making life for overseas visitors all that pricier! The pound sterling was lurking around JPY150 level, while the dollar fell below JPY113.50 following the BoJ’s decision which greeted the market on Tuesday.

Most analysts here think further economic stimulus both from the BoJ as well as the Shinzo Abe administration is all but inevitable, with Governor Kuroda noting: “Japan’s economy has continued its moderate recovery trend.”

Moderate, quite simply might not be enough for most Japanese people, hence the weighting in favour of stimulus is rising. However, not everyone is unhappy about the central bank’s policy stance – gold bullion traders are among those with beaming smiles.

According to Tanaka Kikinzoku Kogyo (KK) store in Tokyo’s Ginza district, cited by Bloomberg, the price of gold bars rose to JPY5027 (£31.14, $44.30) per gram on March 11; that’s the highest since July last year.

“Many customers are wagering that it is better to turn their savings to gold as a safe asset rather than deposit money at banks that offer low interest rates,” a spokesperson for the store told the newswire.

The said interest was going strong even at prices exceeding and staying steady above JPY5000 per gram as the Oilholic prepared to leave Tokyo on Friday with cherry blossoms (or “sakura”) having bloomed a few weeks early on the sidewalks and parks not far from the City's historic bullion district and destination for upmarket shopping.

That’s all from Japan folks as the far eastern adventure comes to an end, and a North American one is about to begin. Next stop Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada! Keep reading, keep it ‘crude’!

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© Gaurav Sharma 2016. Photo: Bank of Japan, Tokyo © Gaurav Sharma, March 2016.

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Geopolitical loving: When Abe met Modi

The Oilholic finds himself roughly 6,000 miles east of London in Tokyo, Japan. While yours truly is here for cultural and ‘crude’ pursuits, another visitor was in town to firm up a crucial strategic tie-up. It was none other than India’s recently elected Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who popped in to see Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe.

There’s been something of a political loving between these two heads of state. Abe hardly follows anyone on Twitter; Modi being one of the only four people he currently does follow! The Japanese PM was the first among international counterparts to congratulate Modi following his stunning mandate after elections in India. If you think that’s not a big deal, well US President Barack Obama got a welcoming handshake from Abe; NHK footage of Modi’s arrival in Japan shows one heck of a ‘best pal’ Abe-Modi bear hug. Protocol and formality not required between friends seems to be the message.

It is only Modi’s second and most prominent foreign visit since he assumed office this year; no offence to Nepal which was the first destination of his choice. Both leaders lean right, though the Indian PM’s right-wing credentials are stronger in a strictly domestic sense. The Japanese and Indian media went positively ballistic over the visit, atop giving it front-page stuff prominence. It’s extraordinary for all of this to be related to a bilateral meeting between two heads of state, with no priors, unless there was a collaborative attitude behind the scenes.

Any analyst worth his/her weight would note that at the heart of it is a move to counterbalance China, a country that has an uneasy relationship with both India and Japan. As if to underscore the point, Modi, visibly moved with the superb reception he received, criticised the “expansionist” maritime agenda of certain states. Wonder who he could possibly be referring to with the South China Sea so close-by?

Both countries are wary of China, have similar economic problems (cue inflationary concerns) and remain major importers of natural resources. As if for good measure, throw religion into the mix as Japan’s primary faith – Buddhism – was founded in the Indian subcontinent. So finding common ground or the pretext of a common ground is not hard for Abe and Modi.

Now is the Abe-Modi summit a big deal? In the Oilholic’s opinion, the answer is yes. We’ll come to natural resources and ‘crude’ matters shortly, but hear this out first – Japan is to invest US$34 billion spread over the next five years in terms of deal valuation. The trade between the two is insipid at the moment, either side of 1% of the total export pile in each case with the Japanese exporting marginally more than they’re importing from India. That makes the announcement a very positive development.

Japan, according to both men, could turn to India for its rare earth needs, a market led by China. While claims of India becoming a wholesale manufacturing base for Japanese electronics and engineering giants are a bit overblown, to quote the Indian PM: “We see a new era of cooperation in high-end defence technology and equipment.”

As for exchanging views on inflation - India’s, until recently was out of control and has only just been somewhat reigned in with the country's economy starting to gain momentum. Japan's on the other hand, “Abenomics” or not, has not managed to gain momentum (economy has shrunk in annualised terms last quarter by 6.8%). Inflation, thanks to a sales tax rise which came into effect in April, is not under control either with the country’s Consumer Prices Index (CPI) up 3.4% in July. That's well above the Bank of Japan’s target rate of 2%.

Given both countries are major importers of crude oil and natural gas, even a minor price rise has a major knock-on effect right from the point of importation to further down the consumer chain. At the moment, both are benefitting from a two-month decline in oil prices. Both PMs think they can work together towards the procurement of liquefied natural gas, according to an Indian source. The idea of two major importers strategising together sounds good, but concrete details are yet to be released.

If there was one hiccup, the two sides did not reach an agreement over the transfer of nuclear technology to India. Politics aside, Japan for its part is still grappling with the effects of Fukushima on all fronts - legal, natural and physical. Tepco, the company which operated the plant, is still in courts. The latest lawsuit - by workers demanding compensation - is a big one.

But not to digress, how did the men describe the summit themselves? For Modi, it was an “upgrade” in bilateral relations. For Abe, it was “a meeting of minds”. China would, and should, view it very differently. There is one not-so-mute point. Abe did not take any direct or indirect swipes at China, Modi (as mentioned above) was not so restrained. One wonders if in Modi’s quest for geopolitical rebalancing in Asia, would it serve in India well to improve relations with Japan and let them deteriorate with China?

That’s all the contemplation from Tokyo for the moment folks. The Oilholic is heading to Hong Kong, albeit briefly, after a gap of over a decade. Its a sunny day here at Narita Airport as one takes off. More soon, keep reading, keep it ‘crude’!

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© Gaurav Sharma 2014. Photo 1: Tokyo Bay Waterfront. Photo 2: Narita International Aiport, Japan © Gaurav Sharma, September 2014.

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