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  • News
    Australian Associated Press

    Microsoft flaw exposes firms worldwide

    More than 20,000 US organisations have been compromised through a back door installed via recently patched flaws in Microsoft Corp's email software, a person familiar with the US government's response says.The hacking has already reached more places than all the tainted code downloaded from SolarWinds Corp, the company at the heart of another massive hacking spree uncovered in December.

  • Business
    Australian Associated Press

    China's iron ore imports up on demand

    China's iron ore imports rose 2.8 per cent for the first two months of 2021 from a year earlier, with demand for the steelmaking ingredient supported by a firm consumption outlook.

  • Saudi Arabia’s Bold Plan to Rule the $700 Billion Hydrogen Market
    News
    Bloomberg

    Saudi Arabia’s Bold Plan to Rule the $700 Billion Hydrogen Market

    (Bloomberg) -- Sun-scorched expanses and steady Red Sea breezes make the northwest tip of Saudi Arabia prime real estate for what the kingdom hopes will become a global hub for green hydrogen.As governments and industries seek less-polluting alternatives to hydrocarbons, the world’s biggest crude exporter doesn’t want to cede the burgeoning hydrogen business to China, Europe or Australia and lose a potentially massive source of income. So it’s building a $5 billion plant powered entirely by sun and wind that will be among the world’s biggest green hydrogen makers when it opens in the planned megacity of Neom in 2025.The task of turning a patch of desert the size of Belgium into a metropolis powered by renewable energy falls to Peter Terium, the former chief executive officer of RWE AG, Germany’s biggest utility, and clean-energy spinoff Innogy SE. His performance will help determine whether a country dependent on petrodollars can transition into a supplier of non-polluting fuels.“There’s nothing I’ve ever seen or heard of this dimension or challenge,” Terium said. “I’ve been spending the last two years wrapping my mind around ‘from scratch,’ and now we’re very much in execution mode.”Hydrogen is morphing from a niche power source — used in zeppelins, rockets and nuclear weapons — into big business, with the European Union alone committing $500 billion to scale up its infrastructure. Huge obstacles remain to the gas becoming a major part of the energy transition, and skeptics point to Saudi Arabia’s weak track record so far capitalizing on what should be a competitive edge in the renewables business, especially solar, where there are many plans but few operational projects.But countries are jostling for position in a future global market, and hydrogen experts list the kingdom as one to watch.The U.K. is hosting 10 projects to heat buildings with the gas, China is deploying fuel-cell buses and commercial vehicles, and Japan is planning to use the gas in steelmaking. U.S. presidential climate envoy John Kerry urged the domestic oil and gas industry to embrace hydrogen’s “huge opportunities.”That should mean plenty of potential customers for the plant called Helios Green Fuels. Saudi Arabia is setting its sights on becoming the world’s largest supplier of hydrogen — a market that BloombergNEF estimates could be worth as much as $700 billion by 2050.“You’re seeing a more diversified portfolio of energy exports that is more resilient,” said Shihab Elborai, a Dubai-based partner at consultant Strategy&. “It’s diversified against any uncertainties in the rate and timing of the energy transition.”Blueprints are being drawn and strategies are being announced, but it’s still early days for the industry. Hydrogen is expensive to make without expelling greenhouse gases, difficult to store and highly combustible.Green hydrogen is produced by using renewable energy rather than fossil fuels. The current cost of producing a kilogram is a little under $5, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency.Saudi Arabia possesses a competitive advantage in its perpetual sunshine and wind, and vast tracts of unused land. Helios’s costs likely will be among the lowest globally and could reach $1.50 per kilogram by 2030, according to BNEF. That’s cheaper than some hydrogen made from non-renewable sources today. It’s more expensive to produce renewable energy in Europe, and the continent’s anticipated demand while implementing a Green Deal should exceed its own supply, Terium said. That $1 trillion-plus stimulus package will try to make the continent carbon-neutral.“By no means will they be able to produce all the hydrogen themselves,” he said. “There’s just not enough North Sea or usable water for offshore wind.”Terium, who is Dutch, joined Neom in 2018 to design its energy, water and food networks. His enthusiasm for technologies such as electric vehicles and digital networks wasn’t matched by Innogy’s investors, but it is by the backers of Neom.The most important of those is Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the 35-year-old de facto ruler, who envisions Neom as a zero-emissions exemplar helping transform society and the economy. The hydrogen plant is part of that vision. But while Neom’s $500 billion price tag prompts questions about whether it will go ahead exactly as planned, the hydrogen effort doesn’t depend on the megacity’s overall success.There are other challenges, too: The country produces one-eighth of the world’s oil supply, but its operational renewables capacity is small by regional standards, and it’s starting from zero with green hydrogen.The government is partnering with Acwa Power, a Riyadh, Saudi Arabia-based power developer partly owned by the kingdom’s sovereign wealth fund, and Air Products and Chemicals Inc., a $58 billion company based in Allentown, Pennsylvania, to build the green hydrogen plant.The trio is splitting the costs of Helios, which will use 4 gigawatts of solar and wind power.“As the first gigawatt plant, we will have an advantage in developing further innovation,” Terium said. “This is not going to be the end of the game.”For starters, Helios will produce 650 tons of hydrogen a day by electrolysis – enough for conversion to 1.2 million tons per year of green ammonia. Air Products will buy all of that ammonia, which is easier to ship than liquid or gaseous hydrogen, and convert it back upon delivery to customers.Enough green hydrogen will be produced to maintain about 20,000 city buses. There are about 3 million buses operating worldwide, and Air Products wants to be a mainstay in depots switching to hydrogen, said Simon Moore, vice president of investor relations.“We’re not going to wait until this project comes on-stream in 2025 to think about additional capacity,” he said.Fuel-cell vehicles could capture as much as 30% of bus-fleet volume globally by 2050, with growth coming primarily from China and the European Union, according to BNEF. Moore declined to identify Helios’s clients.Hydrogen will cost more than polluting alternatives at first, but enough governments and businesses face stringent carbon targets that need the gas to meet them, Moore said. Thirteen nations have hydrogen strategies in place, and another 11 are preparing theirs, according to BNEF.Germany said it needs “enormous” volumes of green hydrogen, and it hopes Saudi Arabia will be a supplier.“The interest Saudi Arabia has had from investors leads us to believe that there is a sound economic case for hydrogen, even at current prices,” a spokesman for the Energy Ministry said.At the same time, the government is trying to boost its own scant use of renewable energy. Currently, under 700 megawatts operate nationwide -- less than 2% of Spain’s installed capacity. The nation plans to meet half of its power needs from renewables by 2030 and has several projects under construction or soon to start.Saudi Arabia also is one of the few countries regularly burning crude to make electricity. The highly polluting practice reached a four-year peak in August, and critics say the energy used by the Neom plant should be diverted into the national grid instead.Yet the focus remains on exports. Petrostates stand to lose as much as $13 trillion by 2040 because of climate-change targets, and Saudi Arabia is among those expected to be most affected.The hydrogen plant will produce 15,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day at most, hardly a match for the 9 million barrels of crude the kingdom pumps daily. Even so, finding a way to corner part of the clean-fuels market represents a necessary economic lifeline.“It’s sponsored at the highest possible level, so if any project happens, it’s got to be this,” Elborai said.For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

  • Credit Suisse Missed Many Warnings Before Greensill’s Collapse
    Business
    Bloomberg

    Credit Suisse Missed Many Warnings Before Greensill’s Collapse

    (Bloomberg) -- Long before Credit Suisse Group AG was forced to wind down a $10 billion group of funds it ran with financier Lex Greensill, there were plenty of red flags.Executives at the bank knew early on that a large portion of the assets in the funds were tied to Sanjeev Gupta, a Greensill client whose borrowings were at the center of a 2018 scandal at rival asset manager GAM Holding AG. They were also aware that a lot of the insurance coverage the funds relied on depended on a single insurer, according to a report. Credit Suisse even conducted a probe last year of its funds that detected potential conflicts of interest, yet failed to prevent their collapse months later.On Friday, the bank finally pulled the plug and said it would liquidate the strategy, a group of supply chain finance funds for which Greensill had provided the assets and which had been held up as a success story. The funds, which have about $3.7 billion in cash and equivalents, will start returning most of that next week, leaving about two-thirds of investor money tied up in securities whose value may be uncertain.The decision caps a dramatic week that started when Credit Suisse froze the funds after a major insurer for its securities refused to provide coverage on new notes. The move sent shock waves across the globe, prompted Greensill Capital to seek a buyer for its operations, and forced rival GAM Holding AG to shutter a similar strategy. For Credit Suisse and its new Chief Executive Officer Thomas Gottstein, it’s arguably the most damaging reputational hit after an already difficult first year in charge.While the financial toll on the bank may be limited, fund investors are left with about $7 billion locked up in a product that was presented as a relatively safe but higher-yielding alternative to money markets.The Greensill-linked funds were one of the fastest-growing strategies at Credit Suisse’s asset management unit, attracting money from yield-starved investors in a region that had for years had to contend with negative interest rates. The bank started the first of the funds in 2017, but they really took off in 2019, the year rival asset manager GAM finished winding down a group of bond funds that had invested a large chunk of their money in securities tied to Greensill and one of his early clients, Gupta’s GFG Alliance.The Credit Suisse funds, too, were heavily exposed to Gupta early on. As the bank ramped up the strategy, the flagship supply-chain finance fund had about a third of its $1.1 billion in assets in notes linked to Gupta’s GFG Alliance companies or his customers as of April 2018, according to a filing.Credit Suisse executives were aware but denied at the time that it was an outsized risk, according to people familiar with the matter. They argued that most of the loans were to customers of Gupta and not directly to GFG companies, the people said, asking not to be identified because the information is private.Over time, the proportion of loans linked to GFG and customers appeared to decrease, while new counterparties popped up in fund disclosures that packaged loans to multiple borrowers -- making it harder to determine who the ultimate counterparty is. Many of the vehicles were named after roads and landmarks around Lex Greensill’s hometown in Australia.The executives in charge of the fund also knew that much of the insurance coverage they relied on to make the funds look safe was dependent on just a single insurer, according to the Wall Street Journal. They considered requiring the funds to secure coverage from a broader set of insurers, with no single firm providing more than 20% of the coverage, but never put the policy in place, the newspaper said.A spokesman for Credit Suisse declined to comment.Greensill, meanwhile, was looking for new ways to fuel the growth of his trade finance empires after the collapse of the GAM funds removed a major buyer of his assets. In 2019, SoftBank Group Corp. stepped in, injecting almost $1.5 billion through its Vision Fund to become Greensill’s largest backer. It also made a big investment in the Credit Suisse supply chain finance funds, putting in hundreds of millions of dollars, though the exact timing isn’t clear.Over the course of 2019, the flagship fund more than doubled in size, but soon questions arose about the intricate relationship between Greensill and SoftBank that fueled the growth. The funds had an unusual structure in that they used a warehousing agreement to buy the assets from Greensill Capital, with no Credit Suisse fund manager doing extensive due diligence on them. Within the broad framework set by the funds, the seller of the assets -- Greensill -- basically decided what the funds would buy.Credit Suisse started an internal probe that found, among other things, that the funds had extended large amounts of financings to other companies backed by SoftBank’s Vision Fund, creating the impression that SoftBank was using them and its sway over Greensill to prop up its other investments. SoftBank pulled its fund investment -- some $700 million -- and Credit Suisse overhauled the fund guidelines to limit exposure to a single borrower.Neither Gottstein nor Eric Varvel, the head of the asset management unit, or Lara Warner, the head of risk and compliance, appeared to see a need for deeper changes. The bank reiterated it had confidence in the control structure at the asset management unit.Credit Suisse’s review didn’t mention at the time that Greensill had also extended financing to another of his backers, General Atlantic. The private equity firm had invested $250 million in Greensill Capital in 2018. The following year, Greensill made a $350 million loan to General Atlantic, using money from the Credit Suisse funds, according to the Wall Street Journal. The loan is currently being refinanced, said a person familiar with the matter.A spokeswoman for General Atlantic declined to comment.Shortly after the Credit Suisse probe concluded, more red flags popped up. In Germany, regulator BaFin was looking into a small Bremen-based lender that Greensill had bought and propped up with money from the SoftBank injection. Greensill was using the bank effectively to warehouse assets he sourced, but BaFin was worried that too many of the those assets were linked to Gupta’s GFG -- a risk that the Credit Suisse’s managers, for their part, had brushed off earlier.SoftBank, meanwhile, was quietly starting to write off its investment in a stunning reversal from a bet it had made only a year earlier. By the end of last year, it had substantially written down the stake, and it’s considering dropping the valuation close to zero, people familiar with the matter said earlier this month.Credit Suisse, however, was highlighting the success of the funds to investors. Varvel, the head of asset management, listed them in a Dec. 15 presentation as an example of the “innovative” and “higher-margin” fixed-income offerings that the bank was planning to focus on.By that time, Greensill already knew that a little-known Australian insurer called Bond and Credit Company had decided not to renew policies covering $4.6 billion in corporate loans his firm had sourced. The policies were due to lapse on March 1, prompting a last-ditch effort from the supply-chain firm to take the insurer to court in Australia. That day, a judge in Sydney struck down Greensill’s injunction, triggering the series of events that have since reverberated around the world.Credit Suisse didn’t know until very recently that the insurance was about to lapse, according to a person with knowledge of the matter.In an update to investors Tuesday, Credit Suisse said that several factors “cumulatively” led to the decision to freeze the funds, and that it was looking for ways to return cash holdings. But in a twist that may complicate the liquidation of the remainder, it also said that Greensill’s German Bank was one of the insured parties and plays a role in the claims process, and that bank was just shuttered by BaFin.Many of the assets in the funds have protection to make them more appealing to investors seeking an alternative to money market funds. Yet the second-biggest of them, the High Income Fund, doesn’t use insurance. It’s also the fund with the least liquidity, with less than 20% of the net assets in cash.Credit Suisse has said it wasn’t aware of any evidence suggesting financial irregularities with the papers issued by Greensill or by the underlying companies. The bank still hasn’t commented on how many of the assets in the funds are tied to Gupta’s GFG Alliance.For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2021 Bloomberg L.P.