According to the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative, major construction at three of China’s large man-made islands in the disputed South China Sea is wrapping up, allowing Beijing to deploy fighter jets and mobile missile launchers to the area at any time. China has continued to militarize the waters as it seeks to reinforce effective control of much of the waterway, through which $5 trillion in trade passes each year. The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei also have overlapping claims.
PetroChina’s profit fell 78% to the lowest on record as the oil price crash punished the country’s biggest oil and gas producer for a third year. Net income dropped to 7.86 billion yuan (US$1.1 billion). While PetroChina expects its crude production to fall a second year in 2017, it sees gas sales rising 10% this year and to be its main growth driver to the end of the decade. PetroChina expects its 2017 global crude production to be 879 million barrels, down 4.5%.
China’s Sinopec has agreed to pay almost $1 billion for a 75 percent stake in Chevron’s South African assets and its subsidiary in Botswana, securing its first major refinery on the continent. The assets include a 100,000 barrel-per-day oil refinery in Cape Town, a lubricants plant in Durban as well as 820 petrol stations and other oil storage facilities. They also include 220 convenience stores across South Africa and Botswana. With a growing middle class, demand in South Africa for refined petroleum has increased by nearly 5 percent annually over the past five years.
Meetings have recently been held between Russia and China on energy: one between Gazprom and the State Council of the People’s Republic of China covering the collaboration between Gazprom and Chinese energy companies and financial organizations; and the other between Gazprom and CNPC which looked at the current progress and future prospects for gas deliveries from Russia to China, the possibilities for underground gas storage facilities and gas-fired power generation in China, as well as the use of LNG as a vehicle fuel along the Europe-China international transport route.
China’s production is forecast to fall by as much as 7 percent this year, extending a record decline in 2016. This is about the same size as the recent output cut agreed by OPEC member Iraq. China’s output slumped in 2016 as state-owned firms shut wells at mature fields that had become too costly to operate after the crash. Crude production fell 6.9 percent in the first 11 months of 2016 to about 4 million barrels a day, the first decline since 2009 and the biggest in data going back to 1990.
China’s crude oil demand will grow by 3.4 percent this year to a record of 11.8 million barrels per day, according to a China National Petroleum Corporation forecast. Total refinery throughput will rise by 3.3 percent to 11.2 million bpd, with refiners adding 702,000 bpd of net capacity. This rising refinery demand will lift crude imports by 5.3 percent to 7.95 million bpd. CNPC predicted that net exports of diesel will surge by 55 percent this year to about 450,000 bpd.
As China’s foreign exchange reserves threaten to tumble below the critical $3 trillion mark, there are fears that it will set off a vicious cycle of more outflows and currency depreciation. China has stepped into both its onshore and offshore yuan markets to shore up the yuan, but if forex reserves continue to be depleted at a fast pace and capital flight continues, some strategists believe China may have to sanction another big “one-off” devaluation that could set off competitive currency devaluations by other struggling emerging economies.
A five-year plan, 2016-2020, to save energy and cut emissions was issued by the Chinese State Council, setting a goal to cut energy consumption by 15 percent in 2020 compared with 2015. A carbon emissions trading market will be set up in 2017, and supportive policies will also be pursued, including a pricing mechanism for resources, monetary and tax incentives and financing support; an environmental protection tax will also be levied. Recyclable energy sources will be encouraged, as well as some substitution of coal by gas.
The Chinese Ministry of Commerce and the National Development and Reform Commission are revising the foreign investment industry catalogue. Areas that will be opened up to foreign companies in the services sector include road transportation, credit surveys and ratings; and in the manufacturing sector include rolling stocks, automotive electronics, motorcycles and corn processing. China expects that the foreign companies will pass on their expertise to domestic companies, thus not contradicting the “Made in China 2025” strategy that calls for core technologies to be mastered by domestic industry.
The Chinese economy stabilized during the middle of 2016, but there is disagreement about the country’s growth outlook. Three forces are likely to determine economic trends in 2017: property development, infrastructure spending and manufacturing investment, but they bring with them much uncertainty about the future of economic policy. China’s challenge is not how to support the creation of new industries but how to facilitate the smooth exit of old industries. And this begs the question: will the government have the courage to bankrupt those inefficient and unprofitable zombie State Owned Enterprises?
China has lost the top position as an investment destination to India, and has now opened up more sectors for foreign investors in order to catch up in the race between the two countries. It is offering a slice of tightly controlled segments like public transport and railway equipment to foreign players. But what prompted Beijing to bite the bullet despite resistance from state-owned enterprises is not just slipping numbers of foreign direct investments, but worries about US President-elect Trump using China’s partially closed market as a reason to launch negative trade actions.
According to the director of the Center for Economic Diplomacy, Fudan University, Shanghai, China’s reputation as the world’s factory is increasingly threatened by rising costs, the accelerated manufacturing resurgence in various developed countries and the growing competitiveness of emerging economies. This situation has prompted numerous Chinese manufacturers to move their factories offshore. Manufacturing has long been at the foundation of China’s rise into a global economic power and the country needs to consolidate this manufacturing foundation. Otherwise China will risk hollowing out its real economy before it grows strong enough.
A transformation is happening in global energy markets that’s worth noting: solar power is becoming the cheapest form of new electricity. At the moment, unsubsidized solar is beginning to outcompete coal and natural gas on a larger scale, and new solar projects in emerging markets are costing less to build than wind projects – a situation that few predicted would happen so soon. A huge part of this story is China which has been rapidly deploying solar and helping other countries finance their own projects.
In 2016 there were more than 260 anti-dumping measures or investigations against Chinese goods. This year’s number represents a roughly 17.7% rise from 2015. The measures were aimed at a wide range of Chinese goods but the main target was Chinese steel products. “All these countries like to blame China for their own problems in the steel industry, but China didn’t create the problems for them, it’s sluggish global demand amid weak economic growth that caused the problem,” said a research fellow at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations.
One feature of crude oil and products pricing is the tug-of-war between long-term structural drivers and short-term factors, a scenario being played out in Asian fuel markets. Profit margins for both gasoline and diesel traded in Singapore have staged strong rallies in the past three months. The main factor behind this has been a tightening of the market, with seasonal maintenance at refineries across the region. This short-term factor has influenced pricing, and it appears to be outweighing the longer-term structural driver of steadily rising Chinese fuel exports.
According to the National Bureau of Statistics of China’s preliminary estimates, the country’s gross domestic product in the first three quarters of this year was 52,997.1 billion yuan, a year-on-year increase of 6.7 percent. The value added of primary industry was 4,066.6 billion yuan, up by 3.5 percent year-on-year; the value-added of secondary industry was 20,941.5 billion yuan, up by 6.1 percent; and that of tertiary industry was 27,989.0 billion yuan, up by 7.6 percent. Third quarter GDP rose by 1.8 percent on a quarter-on-quarter basis.
OEF REVIEW:China’s crude oil output is at a 6-year low as the country’s state-run energy companies continued to pump less from aging, high-cost fields. Production during August dropped 9.9 percent and during the first eight months of the year output dropped 5.7 percent. The country is forecast to lead production declines across Asia, helping tighten the global market as the world’s largest consuming region relies more on overseas supplies. China’s imports rebounded last month to the highest since April. Nomura Holdings Inc. in Hong Kong pointed out that ”China’s crude output won’t see an apparent rebound unless Brent recovers to $60 a barrel level, as most of China’s aging oilfields can’t make a profit below this price,” adding that ”Massive capital expenditure cuts have translated to more oil supply destruction.”
OEF REVIEW:After a long period of dwindling demand, China’s oil consumption showed first signs of stabilizing in June. Total apparent oil demand in the world’s second-largest oil consumer averaged 11.32 million barrels a day that month, up 4% from May. Beijing does not release official data on oil demand and stocks, but Platts, by adding refining output as reported by the National Bureau of Statistics, and net imports as reported by the customs department, apparent demand for gasoil of 3.39 million barrels a day in June was down 6.4% year-on-year but up from the 70-month low of 3.14 million barrels a day in May. Fuel oil demand in June dropped 31.6% year on year to 765,000 b/d, and was 10.9% lower from May levels, and apparent demand for gasoline in June recovered from May, with a 4.6% month-on-month rise to 2.81 million barrels a day, which was also 2.6% higher than the same month last year.
One of the structural flaws driving China’s instability is the existance of a investment situation where profits of state-owned enterprises, known as SOEs, are largely privatised to SOE personnel and losses of SOEs are socialised on to the state budget. This is the cause of the large amount of excess capacity in China’s heavy industries today, and also of the serious non-performing loan problem in state-owned banks. The growing presence of “zombie” firms coincides with the downward trend in the growth of productivity. The social pain resulting from necessary economic adjustments will have to be addressed.
OEF REVIEW:Civilian planes landed on Subi reef and Mischief reef for the first time on July 12th giving China three operational runways in the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. A military transport plane visited Fiery Cross Reef earlier this year but there is no evidence that Beijing has deployed military aircraft to these outposts. The reefs can easily accommodate any fighter-jet in the People’s Liberation Army Air Force or Naval Aviation.