Archive for January, 2011

Pipeline begins supplying oil from Russia to China

Saturday, January 1st, 2011 | Finance News

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BEIJING (AFP) – The first oil pipeline between Russia and China, feted as a mark of growing ties between the world's biggest oil producer and its biggest energy consumer, started operation Saturday, state media said.

Oil began flowing through the pipeline that links Siberia with refineries in the northeastern Chinese city of Daqing at 11:50 am (0350 GMT) after two months of testing, according to the Xinhua news agency.

Chinese President Hu Jintao and his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev had symbolically opened the pipeline -- which stretches for 2,694 kilometres (1,673 miles) on the Russian side and 930 kilometres in China -- on September 27.

It can carry 30 million tons of oil each year and will help China achieve its goal of diversifying energy imports, state media said. Under a 2009 deal China will receive oil for 20 years in exchange for loans worth 25 billion dollars.

China has overtaken the United States as the largest energy consumer, and derives 70 percent of its energy from coal combustion but aims to diversify its sources to include gas, nuclear and renewables such as wind energy.

In October 2009, during a visit to Beijing by Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin, the Russian giant Gazprom and China National Petroleum Company (CNPC) signed a framework agreement providing for deliveries of 70 billion cubic metres of Russian gas to China each year.

But the agreement has so far not come into force because of disagreements between the two emerging giants over gas prices.

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GM’s turnaround now fully in Akerson’s hands

Saturday, January 1st, 2011 | Finance News

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DETROIT, Michigan (AFP) – The future of General Motors is now firmly in the hands of Dan Akerson, who on Saturday expanded his role to become both chairman and chief executive officer of the iconic American carmaker.

Akerson replaced Ed Whitacre as chief executive in September, but the straight-talking Texan who came out of retirement to lead GM through a government-backed bankruptcy and back to profitability remained chairman until the end of the year.

Akerson has built on Whitacre's success, leading GM through a 23.1-billion-dollar initial stock offering -- the largest in history.

He insists that the work of transforming GM is far from over, and gives every appearance of relishing the challenge.

"I expect GM to be a very different company in five years," Akerson said recently.

Akerson, who loves to reminisce about his days in the US Navy, believes in the old adage that what's good for GM is good for America, and hopes it will lead a resurgence of the nation's manufacturing base.

He acknowledges that the company has a lot of work to do to win back the trust and excitement of consumers after years of shoddy, unattractive products and poor marketing.

Akerson, 62, is pushing the company to develop lighter, more fuel-efficient vehicles in anticipation of rising oil prices. He is also working to boost the automaker's environmental credentials through the recent high-profile launch of the plug-in electric Chevy Volt.

GM also has to reduce its reliance on debt and limiting increases in structural costs will be a key element of GM's operating strategy, he said.

"We need a robust balance sheet," he said.

Akerson is also working to change GM's corporate culture.

"GM is in a highly cyclical industry," Akerson noted during a recent appearance in Washington.

But it hasn't always acted that way. While sales climb and then drop steadily, the automaker did little in the past to link costs to revenue shifts.

Akerson said his ultimate goal is to manage GM for the long term, which requires contemplating what kind of impact a decision might have on the company's operations in the future.

"That wasn't always done in the past," he said.

Akerson has faced some blowback from GM insiders who don't see him as a "car guy."

He is a widely traveled corporate insider who earned high marks as a strategist.

Akerson graduated from the US Naval Academy in 1970 with a bachelor of science in engineering and later earned a masters in economics from the London School of Economics.

He spent much of the 1980s and 1990s working in the telecom and tech industries.

During his 1996 to 1999 tenure as chief executive of Nextel Communications, he transformed the company from a regional walkie-talkie provider into one of the nation's leading cell phone companies.

He then took the helm of XO Communications, where he led a successful restructuring, before moving into private equity work.

Akerson was head of the Carlyle Group's global buyout activities when he volunteered to join GM's new board of directors when it emerged from bankruptcy in July 2009.

"I believe it was important to the country," Akerson said.

By his own account, Akerson became hooked on the business as he served as one of Whitacre's chief lieutenants.

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Nunavut Iron ups bid in battle for Baffinland

Saturday, January 1st, 2011 | Finance News

TORONTO (Reuters) – Nunavut Iron hiked its bid for Baffinland Iron Mines (BIM.TO) late on Friday, refusing to back down in a fight with steel giant ArcelorMittal (ISPA.AS) for control of the junior miner and its vast undeveloped iron ore deposit in Canada's Arctic.

Nunavut Iron -- backed by U.S. private equity firm Energy & Minerals Group and formed solely to bid for Baffinland -- raised its offer by 5 Canadian cents a share to C$1.45 a share, valuing the company at about C$570 million ($570 million). But it is still seeking to buy just 60 percent of its common shares.

Luxembourg-based ArcelorMittal on Friday sweetened its offer for Baffinland to C$1.40 per share for all of the company, valuing it at about C$550 million.

Baffinland shares rose 3.6 percent to C$1.43 on Friday, as some traders correctly bet a higher offer might be in the works.

ArcelorMittal has plenty of ammunition if the contest heats up further, with cash and cash equivalents of $3.5 billion as of the end of September.

A successful bid would give the steelmaker, which wants to be about 80 percent self-sufficient in iron ore supply, more direct access to the key raw material at a time when miners like BHP Billiton (BHP.AX) hold a strong hand in supply negotiations.

Before the latest increase in Nunavut Iron's offer, Baffinland's board recommended on Friday that investors accept ArcelorMittal's sweetened bid.

Nunavut started the takeover battle in September, offering 80 Canadian cents a share. ArcelorMittal initially countered with an offer of C$1.10 a share, later raising it to C$1.25.

"This increase means our Offer remains the clearly superior choice for Baffinland shareholders," Bruce Walter, chairman of Nunavut Iron, said in a statement released just before midnight on December 31.

"In light of ArcelorMittal's amendment to its offer announced earlier today, Nunavut Iron is continuing to assess its options beyond the increase of the Offer price to C$1.45."

Nunavut Iron said its offer is valid until 11:59 p.m. EST on January 10. This is also when ArcelorMittal's offer expires.

HUGE IRON ORE DEPOSIT

The takeover battle revolves around Baffinland's huge iron ore deposit on Baffin Island in the northern Canadian territory of Nunavut. The deposit is thought to be large enough to meet all of Europe's needs for many years, although developing the Mary River mine will be a major logistical and environmental challenge.

For ArcelorMittal, iron ore access is a significant issue given tight global supplies and healthy demand from Chinese steel mills. That demand has given major producers such as Rio Tinto (RIO.AX) and Vale (VALE5.SA) more clout in supply negotiations with steelmakers.

($1=$1.00 Canadian)

(Editing by Eric Beech)

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