Russia’s Rosatom says Egypt nuclear talks in final stages

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ABU DHABI (Reuters) – Russia’s state-owned nuclear firm Rosatom is in the final stages of talks for a contract to build a nuclear power plant in Egypt, a senior official of the company said on Wednesday.

Anton Moskvin, Rosatom Overseas vice president, said that the deal was expected to be signed by the end of the year.

Speaking on a visit to the United Arab Emirates, Moskvin said construction of the the first reactor of the plant at Dabaa in Egypt’s north would finish by 2022 if a contract was signed by the end of 2015. The contract would involve a loan from Russia to Egypt, he said.

“The sooner we finish the better,” Moskvin said.

“We can start site assessment work next year and then see how soon we can start real site work,” he said.

Egypt has been considering building a plant in Dabaa, situated in the Matrouh governorate, on and off since 1981.

Cairo froze its nuclear programme after the 1986 nuclear disaster at Chernobyl, but announced in 2006 it planned to revive it. Plans for a tender were being prepared when President Hosni Mubarak was deposed in February 2011.

In February this year, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said he had signed a memorandum of understanding with Russia for the project.

The Dabaa plant will have four reactors when complete by 2025. Rosatom is currently the only firm in negotations with Egypt over the project.

“There are some 200 people from both sides meeting every month and sometimes twice a month to discuss commercial, technical and other issues,” Moskvin said.

Rosatom is also in talks with Saudi Arabia’s nuclear government body, the King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy, over the kingdom’s nuclear plans.

“We are in constant contact with the King Abdullah City, the latest meetings took place in September,” Moskvin said. “Our primary interest there is in a building contract.”

Saudi Arabia and Russia signed an agreement to cooperate on nuclear energy development in June. [ID:nL5N0Z5163]

In 2012, Saudi Arabia said it aimed to build 17 gigawatts (GW) of nuclear power by 2032 as well as around 41 GW of solar capacity. The oil exporter currently has no nuclear power plants.

(By Maha El Dahan, Reuters)

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Energy Subsidy Reform In Gulf Nations

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Gas price subsidies originally intended to level the playing field for the major oil producing nations now fall under heavy scrutiny for a variety of reasons. Reduction of fuel prices resulting from these subsidies leads to increased wasteful consumption and pollution. Reform policies now meet resistance from residential consumers and commercial interests. 

The six primary Gulf state producers all figure among the top 10 per capita energy consumers worldwide. While awareness is high among the producers that the subsidies desperately require reform, steps toward actual reform are gradual. Qatar, where gasoline and electricity subsidies are highest, is number one on the list, with 18,500 kg oil-energy-equivalence per capita, a level of consumption almost three times that of the USA or England.

Gas is so heavily subsidized in the Gulf States that consumers in Europe and America must find the prices shocking. Qatar, Bahrain, and Kuwait are all under $0.30 per liter as of the time of this writing. Although low fuel prices obviously bring about a trend of excessive and wasteful consumption, the big six producers’ lethargic reforms are not driven by a sense of urgency. Starting mid-2014, Qatar, Bahrain, and Kuwait raised diesel fuel prices by 50% with no fixed index, but rather with prices remaining a function of world market prices. Saudi Arabia has yet to establish any price reforms. 

GCC governments could once afford to subsidize energy prices and this works against reform today. When a falling oil price reduces profit there is additional resistance to subsidy reform. While in theory reducing subsidies should serve to diversify the industrial base of a country, it is not clear that this is a strong motivational force among the actual producers. After all it is a competitive force at work against reform. Awareness of other important factors is high, such as depletion of energy resources, damage to the environment, and slowed economic growth. But awareness does not lead to discipline, and energy consumption in the big six is higher than ever.

Less than $0.01 per kilowatt hour in Kuwait

Energy consumptionApproximately half of the subsidies are for electricity, and the growth rate in consumption of electricity here is approaching 10%. In Kuwait for example, the price of electricity is fixed at less than $0.01 per kilowatt hour. According to energy think tanks such levels of subsidisation and consumption are absolutely unsustainable. However with electricity consumption divided almost equally among commercial and residential interests, there is stalwart resistance to reform these programs which cap prices and keep consumers happy.

In countries like Saudi Arabia and Iran, subsidies for energy consumption are up to two to three times their expenditures for education and health care. Tempting though it may be to view this as a window on the way a society prioritizes its use of valuable resources, it is instead a residential consumer base of individuals devouring 58% of available electricity. Reduced air quality and other forms of environmental impact do not as yet serve to dissuade individual consumers from excessive use. 

UAE the first GCC country to eliminate price controls

Perhaps the most substantial step forward is United Arab Emirates’ announcement to deregulate transportation fuel prices in 2015. This makes UAE the first to eliminate price controls, and to take an extraordinary measure toward subsidy reform. This year with falling oil prices all of the GCC nations are under new pressure to institute subsidy reforms, especially in Saudi Arabia, where pre-tax energy subsidies to fiscal expenditure were more than 10% last year. 
As OPEC and IMF predict oil prices to remain below 2014 levels for at least the next five years, subsidy reform is clearly the mandate among the GCC nations. With consumption accelerating, the depletion of oil reserves and an inflationary rise in the cost of living may leave these energy-rich nations no alternative.

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Zimbabwe proposes 10% black empowerment tax

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HARARE (Reuters) – Zimbabwe plans to impose a 10 percent tax on foreign-owned firms to fund a black economic empowerment programme that is designed to bring the companies under local majority control, a minister was quoted as saying on Monday.

Some of the companies that could be affected by the new tax include the world’s top two platinum producers Anglo American Platinum and Impala Platinum Holdings, which both have operations in the southern African nation.

Under Zimbabwe’s Indigenisation and Economic Empowerment Act passed in 2008, the minister of youth and empowerment can, with the approval of the finance minister, levy a tax on any company to raise money to fund the black economic empowerment programme.

Youth and Empowerment Minister Patrick Zhuwao told the government’s Herald newspaper that he would propose a 10 percent levy on all foreign-owned firms that have not complied with the law, known locally as indigenisation.

The money raised would fund mostly rural community trusts to invest in businesses, said Zhuwao, adding that the government expected to raise $93 million annually.

“For us to be able to fund empowerment programmes in the long term, we are proposing the introduction of an empowerment levy and we are empowered by law to propose the levy,” Zhuwawo was quoted as saying by the newspaper.

Zhuwao, a nephew to President Robert Mugabe who was appointed to his job on Sept. 11, could not be reached to comment further.

Efforts to introduce the levy in 2012 failed after then finance minister Tendai Biti, from the opposition Movement for Democratic Change party, refused to sanction its implementation.

Zhuwawo’s comments come more than a month after the previous empowerment minister said the government was relaxing the law in a bid to attract foreign investment.

Zimbabwe’s economy is expected to grow by 1.5 percent this year, half the government’s initial forecast, after weak global commodity prices hit exports and a drought halved the staple maize crop harvest.

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Malawi to revise national budget after IMF suspends credit facility

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LILONGWE (Reuters) – The International Monetary Fund has suspended loans to Malawi for failing to cut its wage bill and improve revenue collection, making it less likely Western donors will resume budgetary aid, the finance minister said on Thursday.

This is the second time the Fund has suspended the program within a period of three years. It was halted in 2012 when the Malawi government failed to devalue its currency, the kwacha, and reform public financial management.

“Things are now out of hand because this completely jeopardises our chances of getting back budget support suspended under the Joyce Banda administration,” Finance Minister Goodall Gondwe told Reuters.

Gondwe said the Treasury was already working on revising the $1.5 billion budget, which was passed in July this year.

“We welcome the observations from the IMF and we already planned to reduce the budget by cutting down on total expenditure during the mid-term budget review meeting of parliament in February next year,” he said.

Budget assistance from Western donors worth millions of dollars has been withheld for two years now after revelations of corruption under ex-President Banda. Such aid has historically accounted for about 40 percent of the national budget.

The IMF said the loan facility would remain suspended until Malawi’s government met certain targets.

“The extended credit facility is off-track because Malawi failed to meet set targets by end-June 2015 and we have discussed a number of measures to bring it back on track starting with a revised budget,” said Oral Williams, the IMF mission head to Malawi.

“Fiscal slippages equivalent to about 2 percent of GDP emerged during the second half of the 2014/15 fiscal year, in part because of overspending on the wage bill, and these were exacerbated by revenue and external finance shortfalls.”

Williams said the mission reached an understanding on measures to bring programme back on track, including “a revised fiscal framework sufficient to meet the end December 2015 program target on net domestic financing and a tight monetary stance to maintain positive real interest rates.”

The IMF said Malawi had met targets on net international reserves and net domestic assets.

The IMF said on Wednesday that Malawi’s economic growth would slow to 3 percent this year from 5 percent in 2014, reflecting a decline in the maize harvest and weak private- sector investment and consumption.

Floods in January destroyed more than 60,000 hectares of crop fields cutting output for the staple maize by 27 percent.

(By Mabvuto Banda, Reuters)

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Tentative Optimism as Cote D’Ivoire Heads Into First Election Since 2010 Violence

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By Sheldon Mayer, Managing Editor

In the first step towards their landmark election, nine candidates have formally announced that they will run in the October election against incumbent Alassane Ouattara.

While the official campaign season does not begin until October 11th, just two weeks before the election on October 25th, the announcement by the Constitutional Council is an unofficial green light for candidates to begin their campaigning.


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Sudan’s finance ministry scraps subsidy for wheat imports

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Khartoum (Reuters) – Sudan has scrapped a special U.S. dollar/Sudanese pound exchange rate used for wheat imports, effectively removing a subsidy, the finance ministry said on Monday.

The subsidy removal is part of a government plan to liberalize wheat imports during a time of low global wheat prices, allowing the government to save money on importing wheat while also avoiding politically-sensitive price hikes.

The rate changed from 4 Sudanese pounds to 6, bringing it in line with the official exchange rate.


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Ibe Emmanuel Kachikwu Takes on Corruption at Nigeria’s State Oil Company

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nigeria oil

by Enu Afolayan, Contributor

The President of Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari, is committed to fighting corruption in his country. On June 26th, immediately after being elected, he ordered the dissolution of the board of the Nigerian petroleum company NNPC. Nigeria extracts two million barrels of crude every day, which makes it the largest producer of black gold in Africa. By attacking the petroleum sector, Buhari made a brave attempt to solve the country’s most serious mismanagement and corruption problem.

In 1970s, Buhari was the Minister of Oil and oversaw the birth of the NNPC. Corruption began to spread in the corporation as early as 1978, when it failed to repay the Treasury of Nigeria. Now, the “Father of the NNPC” is determined to put an end to the widespread corruption. He appointed Ibe Kachikwu as the new head of the petroleum corporation to take on this challenge.

Kachikwu arrived at the helm of NNPC right after the publication of an independent analysis by the Resource Governance Institute (NRGI). The analysis unveiled that over $32 billion in oil revenue was lost by Nigeria due to money laundering at the NNPC.


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“Don’t panic,” Nigerian central bank head urges banks

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ABUJA (Reuters) – Nigerian central bank Governor Godwin Emefiele ruled out on Thursday a naira devaluation and told people not to panic about the government shifting its bank accounts to the central bank, a move that would drain billions of dollars from the financial system.

In an interview with Reuters, Emefiele said he was ready to inject liquidity if needed into the interbank market, which dried up this week following a directive to government departments to move their accounts into a “Treasury Single Account” at the central bank.

The policy is part of new President Muhammadu Buhari’s drive to fight corruption, but analysts say it could suck up as much as 10 percent of banking sector deposits in Africa’s biggest economy – hammering banks’ liquidity ratios.

Amid confusion over implementation of the policy, overnight interbank lending rates spiked to 200 percent this week, but Emefiele denied the policy had provoked a liquidity crisis.

“There is no shortage of liquidity,” he said, pointing to an oversubscribed sale of treasury bills on Wednesday. “A spike is a momentary action. It’s sentiment,” he said.

Emefiele said less than one trillion naira ($5 billion) would be moved into the single account but did not give details.

Emefiele was also emphatic about maintaining the naira currency – which has dived in the past year due to a collapse in oil revenues – at its current level of 197 to the dollar.

“There will not be a devaluation because right now the currency is appropriately priced,” he said.

In a series of unconventional interventions to protect the naira, the bank has blocked access to foreign currency to import items ranging from soap and toothpicks to cement and private jets.

Emefiele said the list of restricted items could be expanded to encourage local production.

He rejected claims by Nigerian firms about the difficulties of getting hold of dollars and ruled out the possibility of a default by any company with dollar-denominated debt.

(By Julia Payne and Ulf Laessing, Reuters)


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A decade after write-offs, Africa sliding back into debt trap

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JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – With their economies floundering and currencies sinking, African states that have borrowed heavily in dollars may be slipping back into the debt trap – and ultimately default – only a decade after a far-reaching round of debt forgiveness.

Some are looking to issue more Eurobonds to refinance existing foreign currency loans, but with U.S. interest rates set to rise soon, the inevitably higher borrowing costs will do little to alleviate pressure on creaking state budgets.

Top of the list of ‘at risk’ countries, according to experts, is Ghana, the first African sovereign after South Africa to go to the international markets when it launched a debut $750 million Eurobond in 2007.

Since then, Accra has issued two more bonds of $1 billion each, helping pushing total public debt to 71 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), according to data published this week.

This compares to 50 percent in 2005, the year anti-poverty campaigners Bono and Bob Geldof persuaded rich countries to write off billions of dollars owed by Ghana and other African nations.

Ghana’s central bank governor Henry Kofi Wampah dismissed the levels of debt – half of it in dollars – as “not very dangerous” but most analysts disagree, mainly due to the decline in the West African nation’s currency.

When it launched its debut bond in 2007 with an 8.5 percent interest rate, the cedi was virtually at parity with the dollar. It is now around 4, meaning the government is in effect servicing a loan equivalent to $3 billion.

Accra agreed a $918 million, 3-year rescue package with the International Monetary Fund in April, but even if the programme works the Fund admits the government’s interest payments are likely to stabilise at an eye-watering 40 percent of revenues.

And in reality the IMF package – essentially a dollar loan with slightly more favourable interest rates – is merely papering over the cracks.

“It’s a case of using one credit card to pay off another credit card,” said Carmen Altenkirch, an African sovereign debt analyst at Fitch. “Ultimately, the only ways to get your debt levels down are to raise your income or cut your expenditure.”

With growth slowing and a depressed outlook for commodity prices, balancing the books looks unlikely.

“The longer the commodity slump continues, the more countries will enter into crisis – and then you just can’t get out,” said Tim Jones, an economist for the London-based Jubilee Debt Campaign, an anti-poverty group.



Overall, Fitch says African sovereign debt levels have risen to 44 percent of GDP from 34 percent five years ago, with Zambia and Kenya – which are running budget deficits approaching 10 percent of output – looking particularly vulnerable.

Zambian finance minister Alexander Chikwanda told Reuters this week he would prefer not to have to go to the IMF for help – like Ghana, the southern African copper producer faces an election next year – but his options are narrowing.

As with Ghana, domestic yields are as high as 24 percent and since Chinese growth has cooled, leaders from Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe to Angola’s Jose Eduardo dos Santos have found Beijing to be an increasingly reluctant lender.

The cost of refinancing through more global bond issuance is also rising, as shown by the hefty 9.375 percent interest rate Zambia had to pay when it sold a $1.25 billion bond in July.

There is also the issue of moral hazard for the IMF, which, in positioning itself as a backstop, can be accused of encouraging reckless behaviour – both by rich-country lenders who know they will be bailed out, and by governments who fail to live within their means or wean their economies off commodities.

Oil producer Angola has told Reuters it plans to borrow $10 billion this year. The IMF expects Angolan public borrowing to hit 57 percent of GDP by end-2015.

“For all the talk of reform, Africa is still a commodity exporter,” said Ravia Bhatia, an Africa credit analyst at Standard and Poor’s. “‘Africa Rising’ masked the story that the fiscal deficits had been rising. Now it’s come home to roost.”



Assessments by credit agencies do not suggest defaults are imminent, but the ratings trend is downwards and negative outlooks prevail.

If it comes down to it, default and restructuring is likely to be messier than 2005 due to the presence of so many commercial investors in Africa’s debt mix, as opposed to the bilateral lending that prevailed before then.

“As sub-Saharan African sovereigns are moving away from bilateral and concessional lending and more towards market lending, debt forgiveness is less likely,” said Matt Robinson, an African sovereign ratings analyst at Moody’s.

“It makes it much more complicated.”

(By Ed Cropley, Reuters)

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Congo’s president approves new oil code

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congo oil

KINSHASA (Reuters) – Democratic Republic of Congo President Joseph Kabila has approved a new oil code intended to impose order on a haphazardly regulated sector, according to a copy of the law seen by Reuters on Monday.

The code, which Kabila signed last month but has not yet been published online in the Official Gazette, contains no major changes from the text passed by parliament in June.

Some activists feared that Kabila would alter the text before signing, as he has sometimes done in the past.

The code imposes steep capital gains taxes and expands the state’s role in the sector though it leaves unanswered important questions about its implementation, including the criteria for exploration permits.

Congo pumps just 25,000 barrels of oil per day but hydrocarbons contribute close to half a billion dollars in annual state revenues. The government hopes exploration off the Atlantic coast and near its eastern border with Uganda will boost production.

The code, which replaces a 1981 law, institutes a minimum capital gains tax of between 35 and 45 percent on producers, a measure some analysts have said could deter investment.

The Anglo-French oil and gas company Perenco is Congo’s only oil producer. France’s Total and a company owned by Israeli billionaire Dan Gertler are exploring near Lake Albert, which straddles the border with Uganda.

Perenco’s director in Congo, Yvonne Mbala, was not available for comment. She had told Reuters after the bill was adopted that the company’s existing permits would be protected from new taxes in the code.

The law also stipulates that the state must hold at least a 20 percent stake in all hydrocarbons projects.

It introduces transparency measures, requiring public tenders for exploration and exploitation permits, and publication of the names of bidding companies.

Campaign groups have praised those rules but say they do not go far enough to stamp out corruption.

The law does not require the disclosure of beneficial ownership of investors and is vague about the management of a fund earmarked for future generations.

Other key provisions, including the criteria for selecting candidates for exploration and production permits, must be elaborated by the government, a process the hydrocarbons minister’s chief of staff, Jean Muganza, said was under way.

Muganza defended the law’s transparency safeguards, saying some groups would never be satisfied.

By Aaron Ross (Reuters)

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