Tag Archives: Mohammed bin Salman

Prospecting black gold

There has been news all over the world, some news is good, some less so and at times we cannot see whether news is good, bad or irrelevant. To see the dangers, or perhaps the opportunity of what is what we need to look back to 2014, and start that issue with a quote from the Marvel Movie: Age of Ultron. The quote originally from Tony Stark was: “As I always say, keep your friends rich, and your enemies rich, and then find out which is which“, it is a reference to the arms industry and the benefit of mutual escalation. Keep this in mind when you consider the article in the Independent (at http://www.independent.co.uk/news/business/news/royal-mail-float-scandal-how-hedge-funds-cleaned-up-9303674.html), the title gives us the immediate threat with ‘Royal Mail float scandal: how hedge funds cleaned up‘, and “Speculators were allowed to buy £150m of shares despite Vince Cable’s pledge to favour long-term investors“, I omitted the claim that it was all due to the postman. That person usually rings twice, especially when Jessica Lange is around. Yet the heart of the matter, like in the movie, is not in the ‘boner’ or the ‘bonee’, it is the aftermath that matters. You see, the gem is seen in the local prosecutor and his ploy to get to the truth by going after one side, yet it is Cora’s Lawyer Katz who stops the evidence to get to the prosecutor, which nullifies whatever was attempted. So consider the part we see in the Independent: “around 20 per cent of the shares it had allocated to 16 preferred investors had gone to hedge funds and other short-term investors. This would equate to around £150m of Royal Mail shares – 13 per cent of the entire stock sold by the Government. The companies bought in at the float price of 330p a share. The shares shot up within seconds of trading, eventually peaking within weeks at more than 600p, allowing the hedge funds to bank vast profits at the taxpayers’ expense“, now consider also that this is a reflection of ‘£150m of Royal Mail shares‘. A system that has issues and allows for ‘deal sweeteners‘, now when you see this, and knowing that the bulk of hedge funds managers seem to get away with murder, consider the arrival of Aramco, better stated, the Financial Times headline ‘The $2tn Saudi Aramco question‘, which is now squarely an issue of titanic proportions (intentional pun towards the sinking dinghy). First things first, you see, this is not a fuel vendor like Shell, or a social media company like Facebook, this is the Privatised Saudi oil company that is larger than the sum of Shell, Facebook, Apple and Google. It is a 2 trillion dollar company, now consider the danger of the floating dangers of something like that, hedge funds managers can clean up and those who do will be set for a decadent life, for the rest of their lives. The dangers of something this big is pretty astounding and the fact that it could happen is not that small. You see, the dangers increases as we consider certain facts. NASDAQ gives us: “OPEC agreed in November last year to curb its output by about 1.2 million barrels per day between January and June“, that is because the stocks are a little higher than expected. This happens, oil will always fluctuate, now consider in the US alone there are 32 oil fired power plants. Production is down (for now) and the moment the first heatwave gets to the US, we see a massive spike in power requirements and 32 of those power makers require fossil fuel. In this I am only mentioning the USA, there has been power issues on a global scale, which is always going to be the case, but one of the largest providers towards the demand is going public and that is what speculators really like, because if the supply & demand need is not properly managed, we see an increase option towards fluctuation. Those speculators only need to get lucky once and the mess would be unrepairable.

The Financial Times gives us some of the goods with: “Privatising Aramco is the first step in rebalancing the economy. By disentangling the company, which accounts for more than two-thirds of government revenues, from the state, Prince Mohammed hopes to make Riyadh less oil-reliant, while providing capital for investment in new industries, ranging from technology, where it is pumping $45bn into the SoftBank Vision Fund, to mining. The privatisation of its national champion is crucial to this process” (at https://www.ft.com/content/7ed59bee-163b-11e7-b0c1-37e417ee6c76), but the heart is seen in: “That is even without looking at the question of how much oil actually lies beneath the desert kingdom’s sands“, when we consider that the oil gains in the North sea is slowing down and this is a signal seen in several places, the fact that at some point (in past, present or future) that something similar will happen to the Aramco goods is a certain fact, it is the when that cannot be anticipated. In addition, going public means that you need to be commercial, when it is government no one really cares, but in the public sector the trend must forever be upwards, so when will we see a similar float in Aramco when the numbers are not as great? It has been an utter certainty that nearly all companies go through, some did it calculated knowing they would kill the numbers within a quarter, some hoping they would kill the numbers and some did it whilst they were desperate for a miracle. Yet floating they went. How much of a $2 trillion dollar company in stock value will tumble when that happens?

And these are the circumstances where the acts were valid and not criminal at all (see UK Mail), I am not making any Tesco assumptions here, because the damage in that case will be devastating to the London Stock Exchange. One firm representing close to 70% of its entire market, there would be no London Stock Exchange after such a disaster. Bloomberg gives us the second tier of risks and dangers with ‘Saudi Aramco Cuts Oil Pricing for Europe Where Russia Dominates‘ (at https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-04-05/saudi-aramco-lowers-some-crude-pricing-for-asia-raises-for-u-s), a market that Russia already dominates. What would happen if let’s say 3 days after going public, Russia decides to slash their prices for a short time? How would the market react? Not just to Aramco having to follow, but the forecasted annual numbers then take a dive, at who’s expense? Consider that the European market is ‘ruled’ by Russia and Norway, together they make up for 50% of that market and the Saudi part is smaller than Norway and 80% of that 50% market is just Russia. So they can influence the market a fair bit. You see, Bloomberg gives us “There is a risk price wars may resume in Europe, raising the possibility the output cut agreement won’t be extended to the second half of this year“, meaning that in the second half Russia could flood the markets and the streets with black gold. That impact would be felt all over the stock market. There is one part that I am uncertain on. You see, it reads like a small and insignificant part. The quote: “Aramco will tweak the benchmark it uses in the region to make it easier for crude buyers to hedge their purchases” seems small, but consider that hedging is done by a few hundred buyers for up to 25,000 barrels. It seems like nothing, but with 179 buyers it is almost a week worth of crude oil, now the ‘stock is full‘ issue becomes a larger one, because this is a level of fluctuation on stock levels that would impact on the stock prices, the mere stock is full a few weeks ago had a $3 impact (or 4.6%), that becomes a little more than insignificant. Now, I could be wrong here as I am not in the oil, yet you see that this is a concern when it impacts a $2T invested interest by more than just hedge funds managers.

The last part comes from the Guardian. In Jan 2016 they stated “Saudi Aramco is likely to be worth well over $1tn (£685bn)“, this is important as we do not see 1.2 or 1.5 trillion, so this given number implies that in a year Saudi Aramco grow by more than 40%, the exact number cannot be determined. Other media stated that Aramco had grown to 2 trillion last year, but none have given enough evidence to state which number is the reliable one. That too impacts this new market, especially the initial dangers of floating a stock. Yesterday (at https://www.theguardian.com/business/2017/apr/05/theresa-may-lse-saudi-aramco-uk-london-stock-exchange-oil) we see: ‘May and LSE chief woo Saudi ministers for $2tn Aramco listing‘, here we see: “Xavier Rolet, has launched a charm offensive in Riyadh to woo Saudi ministers with the prospect of London hosting the upcoming flotation of Saudi state oil company Aramco, which is likely to be the largest of all time“, the word ‘flotation‘ is given and the danger is now out and about, in clear view of all. So as the UK government is trying to appease Khalid Al-Falih, energy minister of Saudi Arabia (and CEO of Aramco), as well as Yasir al-Rumayyan, the director of the Saudi public investment fund – a sovereign wealth fund, I have to wonder where the Rothschild’s are, because there is no way in heaven or hell that the Rothschild family would be absent of a 5% of a $2T company option and not be a player in something with the ROI of billions, especially after the losses they had with Kurdistan and Africa. They have skin in the game now, and they need a victory in this field, their ego demands it from themselves!

In all this the final part given in the Guardian must not be overlooked, because the quote “Downing Street announced on Monday it had drawn up plans with Riyadh to boost support for Saudi’s much-vaunted Vision 2030 strategic plan for diversifying the Saudi economy to decrease its over-reliance on oil, spearheaded by the deputy crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, who met May on Tuesday“, as this now offers the level of revenue to fund the ability to become the largest 5G player in the middle east, with options to diversify into Europe, the far East and America. It is perhaps the first time in history that a public company would shoot to a top position in mobile communication, ready to set the market and their values in a few ways on a global scale. For the simple reason that moving into technology and not go for the new tech that will determine the fate of the large mobile and telecom players between 2019 and 2027 seems extremely short-sighted.

 

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A New Disney

There was an Italian, who has been famous for over 125 years, he is not the first or the only famous Italian. There was this guy who came up with Pizza, There was this other Italian who thought fast Ford cars were a joke and he created Ferrari, then there was this other Italian, who made tractors, disagreed with the previous Italian and created Lamborghini. It is actually none of those. It is Carlo Lorenzini who was born 190 years ago. You might not know the name, perhaps his alternative name? Carlo Collodi! If you are still in the dark, than remember the story of a wooden boy who wanted to become a real live boy. Steven Spielberg used the notion in AI, but the original remains the best, namely Pinocchio!

Yes, the story of a wooden boy going into the world, yet as a wooden boy he was not alone, there was a little Cricket accompanying him and he would be a lot more important than your average Cricket, Jiminy was his name. Today the story is even more relevant, you see, the name Yemini Cricket might be ringing bells, but the truth of the wooden boy is there. The question becomes, who is the wooden boy?

So when I read ‘US, Britain and UN demand Yemen ceasefire within days‘ (at http://www.sbs.com.au/news/article/2016/10/16/us-britain-and-un-demand-yemen-ceasefire-within-days),

Yet when I read “The United Nations envoy, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, said: “We are here to call for an immediate cessation of hostilities, which will be declared in the next few hours.” Cheikh Ahmed said he had been in contact with the rebel Huthi militia’s lead negotiator and with Yemeni President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi’s government“, my recollection does not go towards the classical story, it goes to a reference a little closer to the present (at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZFZrKOCdHFs), the laughter applies to both the sketch and reality. Aleppo is a great example, how 5 years and 400,000-450,000 fatalities later, no solution is there, but they are still flying to places like Switzerland to talk. I wonder when we add up all the costs, how much did the taxpayer pay for this play?

A number of civilian casualties that have now surpassed the total US Military casualties, of those who died during WW2. Doesn’t that look like a clear message that massive change was required a few years ago? I reckon all the players know that, yet, having long conversations with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, whose only concern is to stall so that the population can be made extinct before the resolution passes, reads a lot more like the Friends edition of Pinocchio, than the original by Carlo Collodi, where we see the conscience that is Jiminy Cricket.

So as we see the beginning of the same slow train in Yemen, I have to wonder if creating a new version of Pinocchio with Yemini Cricket is the way to go. It educates politicians as well as bring some hard needed cash towards Hollywood (or Bollywood).

So why is this different?

To one degree it is not, towards the other degree it is very much so. The problem is that both Syria and Yemen could be on the same page, no degrees of separation. In this case there are two at least. You see, Yemen has limited ties to Russia, making it less complicated, what is the issue is that the Houthi’s are actively shooting missiles at the US Navy complicating matters a lot more. It only takes one direct hit, and Yemen would technically be in a state of war with the US. Now, normally, a bankrupt nation is not that much a bother, but Yemen is not an economic or military superpower, so going against America sounds like a PR approach to get them ‘involved’. What is an issue is that Yemen, the neighbour of Saudi Arabia could get lucky at some point, what happens after the hit will be an issue, because Americans tend to get cranky when you successfully blow up something American. Interesting is that there are now multiple sources claiming that Iran is now moving towards the Red sea. An interesting story as the Red sea is on the other side of the Persian Gulf and Iranian war ships have no actual business there (which could also apply to the Americans). The question becomes how is Saudi placed into all this? Here there are issues too. There is no stating if there is even any link but the changes and the Attention that members of the Saudi government are drawing attention to themselves become a factor (speculation from my side).

One part is from the Australian Financial Review (at http://www.afr.com/news/world/middle-east/saudi-prince-mohammed-bin-salmans-shatters-decades-of-tradition-20161017-gs3yt5), where we see the title ‘Saudi Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s shatters decades of tradition‘, is not giving us the ‘goods’. The first quote is “He has slashed the state budget, frozen government contracts and reduced the pay of civil employees, all part of drastic austerity measures as the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is buffeted by low oil prices“, which would be quite acceptable in one view, at least it appears that one government in this world is dealing with its budget issues, although not in the most ‘desirable’ way, when a nation is so dependent on oil, there might not be too many options. The second quote is “While vacationing in the south of France, Prince Mohammed spotted a 134-metre yacht. He dispatched an aide to buy the ship, the Serene, then owned by Russian vodka tycoon Yuri Shefler. The deal was done within hours, at a price of approximately €500 million (roughly $720 million today)“, which implies the opposite. The question is not the cut-backs or spending spree, the issue is neither quote, it is the quote I will give now “Many young Saudis admire him as an energetic representative of their generation who has addressed some of the country’s problems with uncommon bluntness. The kingdom’s media have built his image as a hardworking, businesslike leader less concerned than his predecessors with the trappings of royalty” as well as “Others see him as a power-hungry upstart who is risking instability by changing too much, too fast“. So is the prince a go-getter or power-hungry? I cannot tell as this is all based on third degree of information, what matters is how the view and the actions will reflect the counteractions of the US and Iran in regard to Yemen. The moment the conflict results in a direct attack on Saudi grounds, what then? Iranian warships in the Red Sea would only complicate that, making a harsh response from the Saudi Military even more destabilising.

In my view there are two sides within Saudi Arabia, yet how they should be seen is another matter. I do not claim to have a proper view. I have questions. You see Mecca is an Islamic Holy city (the most important one) and it is part of Saudi Arabia, so as Saudi Arabia is the caretaker of this holy site, the involvement if Iran is more than just a small issue. Whatever they decide to escalate could have large repercussions all over the Middle East. The Sovereign State of Saudi Arabia has every right to defend it in every way possible, so Saudi Prince Mohammed bin Salman is also Minister of Defence and the youngest one in the world, which as a stat sounds nice, yet it also means that in light of other decisions, he is ready to do that what the US has been unable to do, declare war on its enemy by actually acting against them! Not that the US needed to declare war, but in light of Syria, doing anything actively would have been nice, an absence of resolution that His Royal Highness Mohammad bin Salman Al Saud is less likely to show.

What is a problem is the fact that the complications are more and more likely as days go by and that is the one spark that this powder keg does not need. Iran cannot be denied access to international waters, which will not lessen the impact. One of the elements in all this is seen in the second quote regarding the ‘power hungry’ side of it. You see, the AFR article is also mentioning “Mohammed bin Nayef, the interior minister and longtime counter-terrorism czar“, which is now an element in all this. You see, whatever happens next is all surrounding the need for intelligence. So whatever issues there are between His Royal Highness Muhammad bin Nayef bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and His Royal Highness Mohammad bin Salman Al Saud gives wake to the Disney sequel, a tale of two princes. A new approach to the classic Dickens story where the plight of two members of the Royal family of Al Saud are protecting the Sovereign state of Saudi Arabia as well as the safety and security of all Muslims that are in and nearby Mecca. Even as the papers are expecting a ceasefire, the issue is that stalling is equally a tactic here. There is no way of telling why Iran is involving its warships in that region, other than trying to complicate matters and demanding a seat at the table of decision, which would only change the time table in the worst of ways. What the Deutsche Welle did give was the quote “the Saudi-led coalition has blamed an airstrike that killed over 140 people at a funeral ceremony in Yemen on “erroneous information” received from a “party” affiliated with the country’s embattled government“, it matters, because it gives light to the essential issue that the two princes need to rely on quality intelligence, sources that can be scrutinised. And in this matter, mentioning the yacht was to iterate that spending that money on a satellite over the area might not have been the worst personal idea I am having. And let’s face it, any prince that can claim that he has his own satellite wins the discussion with any other prince relying on yacht and status. So many have a yacht, but how many of these rich individuals (very wealthy people in general) would own their own satellite? Especially if it becomes a source of intelligence.

Of course there is a lot more to owning one’s own satellite, but I hope we can all agree that intelligence will be key in whatever escalates over the next week. My issue is that too many players have their own agenda, yet would those agenda’s be truly 100% be focussed on whatever is best for Yemen and/or Saudi Arabia? You see, oil prices are down now, but why and for how long? What happens when prices go through the roof again? What happens then? Suddenly all these political issues are all linked to the price of Oil and the profit it brings?

I do not claim to have these answers, but the fact that too many sources are not asking the questions that require asking is troubling, yet the AFR article gives us a lot more, even more than I bargained for, which is comforting to say the least. What becomes a matter of discussion is the one quote that shows the elements “People who have met Mohammed bin Salman said he insisted that Saudi Arabia must be more assertive in shaping events in the Middle East and confronting Iran’s influence in the region – whether in Yemen, Syria, Iraq or Lebanon“, giving the links that require addressing and the prince is not afraid to do just that, however it take two to dance rings around Iran and taking away its influence in the Middle East. As I see it, Riyadh will have to make changes to some degree. Counter-Intelligence will be key in dealing with Iran and the impression I get when I see a quote like “has deep ties to Washington and the support of many of the older royals” shows the speculative possibility of the older ‘let us see how this plays out‘ against the younger ‘let us get this party started through action‘. It is not about the balance, but about what works best. In that regard both princes might have to make changes a lot faster than they are comfortable with, because if the news is correct, the Iranian ships and submarines will soon be active in the Red Sea, but active to what extent is something that remains speculative, whatever they do, the fact that it includes Iranian submarine presence (as reported but not confirmed), will also raise tensions with Israel.

As I see it, the biggest issue is Iran and what they are trying to get out of it. Putting themselves in the middle of a conflict where they are now trying to imply that it is all about them (especially as they are in the Red Sea), yet is their presence less valid than that of the US? It seems to me that we are creating a new Vietnam, just not with the Russians involved (like Syria). So there are two solutions to consider. One is that the US is replaced by for example the Commonwealth, or France, which takes away the Iranian-US issues. That is, if Saudi Arabia would be willing to consider that move. No matter what, the navy that does that, could find themselves in an armed conflict with Iran, so it better be a competent and modern Navy which leaves not that many options. The Netherlands, the UK, France, South Korea and India. Giving the option to either South Korea or India would benefit, as Iran cannot spin some NATO link story. In addition Iran cannot afford to piss of too many additional nations as either could make short work of the ego of Iran as these navies decide to sink Iranian war vessels like rubber dinghies, because they pushed one button too many.

No matter what happens, Saudi Arabia must do what it can to keep safe and the Yemeni issue is one that tests many sides of those who see and witness it, because there is a dilemma in conscience. A revolution that got out of hand, a set government overthrown with its own agenda. When we see the Houthi’s slogan “God is great, death to the US, death to Israel, curse the Jews, and victory for Islam“, can we really show any kind of support or sympathy?

The most important part to realise is that we need to set aside our version of what is acceptable, we have seen the US and Europe at large impose their version of ‘civility’, whilst bending over, grabbing their ankles and let the financial industry quite literally get away with murder in many ways. We impose rules and expectations, whilst having no clue how to manage a budget or how to stem greed to the point of strangulation. In all this, we have given up the high ground in several fronts, so we are no lecturer with any level of confidence. It is my opinion, that the Middle East can only be decently governed by someone in the Middle East. I personally believe that Saudi Arabia should be at the centre of it, there is no doubt that it would beneficial that a coalition that would include Egypt, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates, but I am not knowledgeable enough to see whether it is just them, or that other players should be seriously considered. What does matter is that both General Intelligence Directorate (GID, aka Mukhabarat) and Jordanian General Intelligence Directorate would be important in ascertaining Iran’s hostile actions and if need be counter them. From my academic point of view is the challenge that the SIGNT of the three would pose to get one coherent reporting and analytical solution on Iranian intelligence. One that would definitely benefit all three nations. Yet perhaps that will evolve into a third Disney project, which could be the next big thing. It’s all just a thought, but think it over for yourself and ask yourself the question you did not hear voiced, this is important, because this stage could get ugly in a hurry and possibly before Christmas this year.

 

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