Greenland Bets on Oil, Metals, Cows as Ticket to Independence
By Marianne Stigset
May 12 (Bloomberg) -- Greenland is betting a two-year commodity-price boom will bring it closer to ending almost three centuries of Danish colonial rule.
The Arctic island is becoming a hotspot for drillers as easier-to-access resources dwindle, crude prices tripled since 2008 and tighter legislation in the Gulf of Mexico attracts companies such as Royal Dutch Shell Plc and Exxon Mobil Corp. Waters off Greenland may hold 48 billion barrels of oil equivalent, the U.S. Geological Survey estimates, almost double 2009 U.S. oil reserves. The island has also become a target for companies seeking minerals such as iron and diamonds.
“There’s a stronger belief that we can free ourselves from Denmark’s economic and political domination,” Prime Minister Kuupik Kleist, 53, said in an interview in the capital Nuuk.
Greenland got a record 17 applications from 12 companies in last year’s oil licensing round to explore its Baffin Bay after two wells drilled by Cairn Energy Plc in 2010 indicated hydrocarbons. The Scottish producer is drilling as many as four wells this year in a campaign that will top $1 billion.
Cairn’s exploration “has resulted in more interest from the international oil industry, higher tax revenue, higher employment in certain areas and greater political focus on the opportunities for mineral exploitation,” Kleist said.
Greenland, which gets about half its exports from shrimp, is also trying to carve out a niche in food production and targets cattle and sheep farming in its warmer southern parts, Kleist said. The push comes as global food prices have surged amid weather shocks, including drought.
Cattle breeding “we had 100 years ago, and then it disappeared -- now it’s coming back,” Kleist said. “We import large quantities of food products, while at the same time we have a lot of potential to produce food ourselves, so we’re investing a lot on replacing imports with production.”
The island had 49 cows in 2008, up from 5 in 2000, according to a 2010 fact book from Greenland’s statistics agency. It had more than 20,000 sheep in 2008.
While the island was granted home rule in 1979 and broader domestic governance in 2009, it still relies on an annual subsidy from Denmark of about $674 million, or 30 percent of the economy and equivalent to almost $12,000 per person.
The ties between the two countries date back to Viking chief Erik the Red, who moved to Greenland in 982 after being banished from Iceland for murder. Legend has it that the island’s name was crafted to attract settlers. Denmark colonized Greenland in the 18th century.
Oil production “could start in five years time at the very earliest -- we’ll see this summer what indications we get” from Cairn, Kleist said.
Greenland and Denmark have an agreement to split petroleum revenue in excess of 75 million kroner ($14 million), Kleist said. “That mechanism continues until we reach 6.4 billion kroner. When we reach that point, we’ll say ‘OK, we want a new deal,’ but what that will consist of we haven’t decided yet as it’s so far into the future.”
The island is also benefiting from soaring prices in the metals industry as producers and miners race to secure access to minerals such as iron ore. London Mining Plc, which says it wants to become one of the world’s 10 biggest producers of iron ore, is investing $2 billion in the Isua project north of Nuuk.
The country granted 40 mineral licenses last year, bringing the total up to 120, and hopes to employ more than 1,000 people in the industry over the next five to 10 years, according to the Bureau of Minerals and Petroleum. Natural resources include a number of basic metals, as well as gold, platinum and uranium.
The Standard & Poor’s GSCI Index of 24 commodities has doubled since the end of 2008, and is up 12 percent even after slumping 11 percent last week. Investors retreated after funds had made near-record bets on gains and the index reached the highest since August 2008.
Global warming is helping Greenland’s economic prospects, as thawing ice eases access to its shores. The island may also be able to generate more revenue from shipping as the thaw creates routes once impassable, Kleist said.
The annual temperature increase in the Arctic since 1980 has been twice as high as in the rest of the world, meaning the Arctic Ocean may during the summer months be largely ice-free by 2050, according to a May report by the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program.
Greenland, where 9.2 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, is trying to reduce an unemployment measure of about 7.7 percent, on average, last year. Average life expectancy is 71 years, according to the CIA Factbook, nine years below the average for industrialized countries.
“Greenland’s economy is extremely sensitive,” said Kleist, who leads Greenland’s socialist Inuit Ataqatigiit party and in been in power with the Demokraatit and Kattusseqatigiit parties since June 2009. “The main focus of my government is on improving living standards.”
Chinese Demand Rides to Uranium's Rescue
By ANDREA HOTTER
China's voracious appetite for growth has been the savior of many commodity markets over the last few years, and now it's coming to the rescue of another mineral: uranium.
While much of the world questions the future of nuclear energy following Japan's earthquake and tsunami, China is pushing ahead with plans to increase its nuclear generating capacity to a level that will make it the world's fourth-largest consumer of uranium this year behind the U.S., Japan and France.
China's dramatic pace of nuclear-plant construction is set to more than make up for the postquake drop in Japanese uranium demand and will easily soak up any surplus production from new mines coming on stream.
The price of uranium, the ore used to fuel nuclear-power plants, had been experiencing something of a renaissance since high oil and gas prices—plus environmental concerns over pollution from traditional fossil fuels like coal—sparked a revival of the nuclear sector.
Before the earthquake crippled Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear complex, spot uranium was trading at around $73 a pound, and analysts were preparing to upgrade their price forecasts for this year and next.
But the post-Fukushima closure of more than a quarter of Japan's nuclear reactors cut spot prices by 30% in a week to around $50 a pound, and questions over the future of the sector have been hotly debated ever since.
Not so in China. Warren Edney, senior mining analyst at UBS, said China plans to increase its 13 operable reactors with an additional 110 by 2018, with 27 already under construction.
Nuclear power currently makes up less than 2% of China's generation. The reactors need to be built to meet the country's 12th Five Year Plan's targets on emissions and power generation. The aim is to raise the percentage of electricity produced by nuclear power to 6% by 2020.
There are 62 nuclear reactors in construction globally, of which only 3% are from Group of Seven countries. State-run projects like those in China continue to be pushed through, whatever the backdrop, while privately run projects can struggle from access to capital and can be swayed by negative public opinion and lobbying.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel's government reacted to the Japan crisis by suspending a plan to extend the lives of Germany's 17 reactors pending a three-month safety review, and committed to an accelerated exit from nuclear-power generation. The government also temporarily suspended the country's seven oldest nuclear reactors. The Italian government reacted to the Japan crisis by slapping a two-year moratorium on nuclear development and scrapped further elements of the program this week.
It couldn't be more different in Russia, where 10 reactors are under construction, 14 are planned and a further 30 are proposed, as well as in India, where five are under construction, 18 are planned and 40 have been proposed. Opposition to projects in all of these countries is restricted.
"The fundamental difference between reactors from the G-7 and those from growing economies is that the reactors in growing economies are state-run entities that have very little input from the public," Amir Adnani, the chief executive of U.S.-based uranium producer Uranium Energy Corp., said in a recent interview.
Kazakhstan, meanwhile, is driving uranium supply growth. The country already produces around a third of the world's supply of the ore, known as yellowcake in its powder form, and is slated to boost production further this year. Other major supply increases are planned in Australia, Namibia, Malawi and the U.S. But once more, China looks set to provide strong price support.
"China is more than capable of mopping this surplus up, and in 2011-2012 in particular, is expected to be willing to continue stockpiling Kazakh uranium, keeping the market ex-China tight, so prices in these years should hold up," said Macquarie Bank's Max Leyton.
Barring a game-changing event like another nuclear-reactor crisis, uranium prices look likely to be well-supported for the next few years.
Analyst consensus is for spot prices to average $60 a pound this year, and the market's fortunes further out are even better. On Wednesday the price was at about $57. Mark Pervan, head of commodity research at ANZ Bank, said he expects uranium to average $60 a pound in 2011, rising steadily over the next several years to peak at an average of $80 in 2014. Japan may have provided a short-term jolt to uranium prices, but the new generation of nuclear plants slated for the world's fastest growing economies is still intact.
Berkshire Profit Falls to $1.51 Billion on Catastrophe Costs
By Noah Buhayar and Andrew Frye
April 30 (Bloomberg) -- Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc. said first-quarter profit fell 58 percent as catastrophes led by Japan’s earthquake last month caused an underwriting loss at the company’s insurance units.
Net income dropped to $1.51 billion from $3.63 billion the same period last year, Berkshire said today in a statement. Natural-disaster losses exceeded $1.6 billion. Operating earnings declined 28 percent to $1.59 billion from $2.22 billion. Buffett, 80, is Berkshire’s chairman, chief executive officer and largest shareholder.
Earthquakes in Japan and New Zealand and Cyclone Yasi in Australia lifted claims at reinsurers including Munich Re, the world’s largest. Berkshire is third-biggest by policy sales among reinsurers, companies that provide backup coverage to primary carriers.
“We had some major catastrophes in the Pacific Asian areas, and that hit the reinsurance industry particularly hard,” Buffett said today at Berkshire’s annual meeting in Omaha, Nebraska.
Berkshire’s Class A shares have risen 3.6 percent this year in New York Stock Exchange trading. They declined $55 to $124,750 yesterday.
The insurance segment posted an underwriting loss of $821 million, compared with a profit of $226 million a year earlier. The Japan earthquake cost the firm $1.06 billion, a tremblor in Christchurch, New Zealand $412 million, and the Australian catastrophes $195 million, according to the statement.
It was “one of the most loss-afflicted first quarters in the history of reinsurance in terms of natural catastrophes,” Munich Re Chief Executive Officer Nikolaus von Bomhard said April 20 when he told investors his company was unprofitable in the period.
Berkshire had a loss of $82 million on derivatives and investments compared with $1.41 billion gain on the holdings a year earlier. Liabilities on the company’s so-called equity- index puts widen when four stock indexes fall further from the levels they were at when Buffett made the deals near the market’s peak in 2006 and 2007.
Japan’s Nikkei 225 Stock Average, one of four benchmarks covered by Buffett’s bets, dropped 4.6 percent in the first quarter, led by declines after the earthquake in that country. The stock-price declines in Japan are a “buying opportunity” for equity investors, Buffett said at a news conference in Bangalore in March. The other three benchmarks, including the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index, advanced in the period.
‘Very, Very Bullish’
Profit from regulated businesses, such as the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad and utility unit MidAmerican Energy Holdings Co., surged to $908 million from $505 million a year earlier. Matt Rose, the CEO of Burlington Northern, said he is confident about economic expansion led by trade with Asia.
“I’m very, very bullish about the recovery,” Rose said today in an interview in Omaha. “It’s really driven by worldwide demand, specifically China.”
Manufacturing, service and retailing jumped to $558 million in the first quarter from $477 million in the same period in 2010. That group includes Marmon Holdings Inc., a maker of construction materials; carpet manufacturer Shaw Industries; and Fruit of the Loom, which produces underwear and other clothing, according to the company’s annual report. Berkshire didn’t break down results by unit.
“Pretty much all of our businesses with the exception of those that are related to residential housing are getting better,” Buffett said today.