Petrodollar Alert: Putin Prepares To Announce “Holy Grail” Gas Deal With China

If it was the intent of the West to bring Russia and China together – one a natural resource (if “somewhat” corrupt) superpower and the other a fixed capital / labor output (if “somewhat” capital misallocating and credit bubbleicious) powerhouse – in the process marginalizing the dollar and encouraging Ruble and Renminbi bilateral trade, then things are surely “going according to plan.”

For now there have been no major developments as a result of the shift in the geopolitical axis that has seen global US influence, away from the Group of 7 (most insolvent nations) of course, decline precipitously in the aftermath of the bungled Syrian intervention attempt and the bloodless Russian annexation of Crimea, but that will soon change. Because while the west is focused on day to day developments in Ukraine, and how to halt Russian expansion through appeasement (hardly a winning tactic as events in the 1930s demonstrated), Russia is once again thinking 3 steps ahead… and quite a few steps east.

While Europe is furiously scrambling to find alternative sources of energy should Gazprom pull the plug on natgas exports to Germany and Europe (the imminent surge in Ukraine gas prices by 40% is probably the best indication of what the outcome would be), Russia is preparing the announcement of the “Holy Grail” energy deal with none other than China, a move which would send geopolitical shockwaves around the world and bind the two nations in a commodity-backed axis. One which, as some especially on these pages, have suggested would lay the groundwork for a new joint, commodity-backed reserve currency that bypasses the dollar, something which Russia implied moments ago when its finance minister Siluanov said that Russia may regain from foreign borrowing this year. Translated: bypass western purchases of Russian debt, funded by Chinese purchases of US Treasurys, and go straight to the source.

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Here is what will likely happen next, as explained by Reuters:

Igor Sechin gathered media in Tokyo the next day to warn Western governments that more sanctions over Moscow’s seizure of the Black Sea peninsula from Ukraine would be counter-productive.

 

The underlying message from the head of Russia’s biggest oil company, Rosneft, was clear: If Europe and the United States isolate Russia, Moscow will look East for new business, energy deals, military contracts and political alliances. 

 

The Holy Grail for Moscow is a natural gas supply deal with China that is apparently now close after years of negotiations. If it can be signed when Putin visits China in May, he will be able to hold it up to show that global power has shifted eastwards and he does not need the West.

More details on the revelation of said “Holy Grail”:

State-owned Russian gas firm Gazprom hopes to pump 38 billion cubic meters (bcm) of natural gas per year to China from 2018 via the first pipeline between the world’s largest producer of conventional gas to the largest consumer.

 

“May is in our plans,” a Gazprom spokesman said, when asked about the timing of an agreement. A company source said: “It would be logical to expect the deal during Putin’s visit to China.”

Summarizing what should be and is painfully obvious to all, but apparently to the White House, which keeps prodding at Russia, is the following:

The worse Russia’s relations are with the West, the closer Russia will want to be to China. If China supports you, no one can say you’re isolated,” said Vasily Kashin, a China expert at the Analysis of Strategies and Technologies (CAST) think thank.

Bingo. And now add bilateral trade denominated in either Rubles or Renminbi (or gold), add Iran, Iraq, India, and soon the Saudis (China’s largest foreign source of crude, whose crown prince also happened to meet president Xi Jinping last week to expand trade further) and wave goodbye to the petrodollar.

As reported previoisly, China has already implicitly backed Putin without risking it relations with the West. “Last Saturday China abstained in a U.N. Security Council vote on a draft resolution declaring invalid the referendum in which Crimea went on to back union with Russia. Although China is nervous about referendums in restive regions of other countries which might serve as a precedent for Tibet and Taiwan, it has refused to criticize Moscow. The support of Beijing is vital for Putin. Not only is China a fellow permanent member of the U.N. Security Council with whom Russia thinks alike, it is also the world’s second biggest economy and it opposes the spread of Western-style democracy.”

This culminated yesterday, when as we reported last night, Putin thanked China for its “understanding over Ukraine.” China hasn’t exactly kept its feelings about closer relations with Russia under wraps either:

Chinese President Xi Jinping showed how much he values ties with Moscow, and Putin in particular, by making Russia his first foreign visit as China’s leader last year and attending the opening of the Winter Olympics in Sochi last month.

 

Many Western leaders did not go to the Games after criticism of Russia’s record on human rights. By contrast, when Putin and Xi discussed Ukraine by telephone on March 4, the Kremlin said their positions were “close”.

The punchline: “A strong alliance would suit both countries as a counterbalance to the United States.” An alliance that would merely be an extension of current trends in close bilateral relations, including not only infrastructure investment but also military supplies:

However, China overtook Germany as Russia’s biggest buyer of crude oil this year thanks to Rosneft securing deals to boost eastward oil supplies via the East Siberia-Pacific Ocean pipeline and another crossing Kazakhstan.

If Russia is isolated by a new round of Western sanctions – those so far affect only a few officials’ assets abroad and have not been aimed at companies – Russia and China could also step up cooperation in areas apart from energy. CAST’s Kashin said the prospects of Russia delivering Sukhoi SU-35 fighter jets to China, which has been under discussion since 2010, would grow.

China is very interested in investing in infrastructure, energy and commodities in Russia, and a decline in business with the West could force Moscow to drop some of its reservations about Chinese investment in strategic industries. “With Western sanctions, the atmosphere could change quickly in favor of China,” said Brian Zimbler Managing Partner of Morgan Lewis international law firm’s Moscow office. 

Russia-China trade turnover grew by 8.2 percent in 2013 to $8.1 billion but Russia was still only China’s seventh largest export partner in 2013, and was not in the top 10 countries for imported goods. The EU is Russia’s biggest trade partner, accounting for almost half of all its trade turnover.

And as if pushing Russia into the warm embrace of the world’s most populous nation was not enough, there is also the second most populated country in the world, India.

Putin did take time, however, to thank one other country apart from China for its understanding over Ukraine and Crimea – saying India had shown “restraint and objectivity”.

He also called Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to discuss the crisis on Tuesday, suggesting there is room for Russia’s ties with traditionally non-aligned India to flourish.

Although India has become the largest export market for U.S. arms, Russia remains a key defense supplier and relations are friendly, even if lacking a strong business and trade dimension, due to a strategic partnership dating to the Soviet era.

Putin’s moves to assert Russian control over Crimea were seen very favorably in the Indian establishment, N. Ram, publisher of The Hindu newspaper, told Reuters. “Russia has legitimate interests,” he added.

To summarize: while the biggest geopolitical tectonic shift since the cold war accelerates with the inevitable firming of the “Asian axis”, the west monetizes its debt, revels in the paper wealth created from an all time high manipulated stock market while at the same time trying to explain why 6.5% unemployment is really indicative of a weak economy, blames the weather for every disappointing economic data point, and every single person is transfixed with finding a missing airplane.

http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2014-03-21/petrodollar-alert-isolated-west-putin-prepares-announce-holy-grail-gas-deal-china

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By 
Emily Glazer
The whispers among employees had been around for years. They finally heard some facts during a conference call in June led by managers in Wells Fargo WFC +3.17% & Co.’s foreign-exchange operation: Some of its business customers had been cheated, according to two employees who were on the call.
An internal review showed that out of roughly 300 fee agreements based on anything from informal handshakes to emails to signed documents, only about 35 companies were charged the actual price they had been offered for currency trades handled by Wells Fargo, the employees say.
The phone call was part of a continuing cleanup that has led Wells Fargo to fire four foreign-exchange bankers and federal prosecutors to open their own investigation of the operation, people familiar with the matter have said.
“Wells Fargo remains committed to our foreign exchange business,” the bank said in a statement Monday. “If we find a problem, we fix it.” The bank said its foreign-exchange business is “under new management.”
The business is tiny compared with foreign-exchange operations at J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. and Citigroup Inc. but could become another huge headache for the San Francisco bank, still grappling with fallout from the sales-practices scandal in its retail operations. The scandal led to last year’s abrupt retirement of Wells Fargo’s chief executive, a $185 million regulatory settlement and numerous federal and state investigations, which are continuing.
Wells Fargo retail employees had to hit lofty goals to keep their jobs or get bonuses, which led some employees to open potentially 3.5 million accounts with fictitious or unauthorized customer information from 2009 to 2015.
Foreign-exchange employees got bonuses based solely on how much revenue they brought in, say more than a dozen current or former Wells Fargo employees. No other big bank in the U.S. calculated bonuses of currency traders in such a defined and individual way. Wells Fargo said Monday that it began making changes to those compensation plans earlier this year.
The bank also charged some of the highest trading fees around, according to current and former employees. For more than a decade, customers were sometimes charged anywhere from 1% to 4% on basic transactions such as converting euros to dollars and complicated trades like hedging.
Those percentages can be at least two to eight times higher than the middle-market industry average of 0.15% to 0.5%, depending on the trade, customer and volume, according to foreign-exchange bankers throughout the industry.
Wells Fargo disputes the descriptions of its foreign-exchange fees by current and former employees. The bank said Monday its fees in 2016 had a weighted average of 0.09 percentage point across all transaction sizes. Clients served by its middle-market banking team were charged a weighted average of 0.18 percentage point, according to Wells Fargo.
Some foreign-exchange bankers at Wells Fargo relied on the fact that customers often didn’t bother to double-check how much they were charged, fee levels weren’t straightforward, and complaints could be batted away, the current and former employees say.
‘Time fluctuation’
One former Wells Fargo manager says employees would tell customers who expressed surprise at the size of a trading fee that market prices were different at the moment when the transaction was executed and blame “time fluctuation” for any difference.
The bank’s foreign-exchange customers have included telecommunications firm CenturyLinkInc., vehicle-parts supplier Federal-Mogul Holdings Corp. and nonprofit groups such as the National Bone Marrow Donor Program.
Regulators have been investigating the foreign-exchange business at Wells Fargo, including a big trade involving Restaurant Brands International Inc., the owner of Burger King, Tim Hortons and Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen, according to people familiar with the matter.
A Burger King in Tokyo. The fast-food chain’s owner got a refund from Wells Fargo after disputing a trade handled by the bank.
A Burger King in Tokyo. The fast-food chain’s owner got a refund from Wells Fargo after disputing a trade handled by the bank. PHOTO: KIM KYUNG-HOON/REUTERS
The trade resulted in a loss to Restaurant Brands, people familiar with the matter have said, which led to a dispute between the Oakville, Ontario, company and the bank. The dispute centered on how bank employees handled the trade, rather than its pricing. Wells Fargo refunded about $900,000 to Restaurant Brands, people familiar with the refund say.
The foreign-exchange business’s problems run far deeper than what is known inside Wells Fargo as “the Burger King trade” or what has been previously reported. The extent of the trouble seems to have become apparent to top Wells Fargo executives earlier this year.
Small FryForeign-exchange spot contracts as apercent of a bank's total derivativesportfolioTHE WALL STREET JOURNALSource: Office of the Comptroller of the Currency
Bank ofAmericaCitigroupJ.P. MorganWells Fargo0%102030
The business was moved in early 2017 from Wells Fargo’s international division into its investment-banking and capital-markets operation. Since then, executives have changed internal systems, added more stringent rules around pricing and required more frequent compliance checks, current and former employees say.
Issues with the Burger King trade were found following those checks and customer complaints, people familiar with the matter say. The continuing internal review of Wells Fargo’s foreign-exchange operation is separate from the review sparked by the sales scandal, some of the people said.
A compliance training session in early November detailed what Wells Fargo called “approved margins” for different volumes of foreign-exchange transactions, according to an internal document reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. Employees say fee levels remain higher than industry norms, and some compensation practices aren’t due to change until next year.

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Foreign-exchange trading has been a problem area for many banks. In 2015, several large U.S. and European banks agreed to multibillion-dollar settlements with U.S. regulators and pleaded guilty to criminal charges filed by U.S. authorities over alleged collusion among currency traders.
Bank of New York Mellon Corp. agreed in 2015 to pay $714 million to resolve allegations it defrauded pension funds and other clients by overcharging them on currency transactions.State Street Corp. agreed in 2016 to pay $530 million to settle similar allegations.
Both banks admitted giving some clients far worse pricing on currency transactions than the banks implied the clients would get.
The Journal reported in October that the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of California is investigating the Restaurant Brands currency trade and has subpoenaed information from Wells Fargo.
Potential issues related to that trade also are being examined by the Federal Reserve, the Journal reported. Examiners from the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency are auditing Wells Fargo’s foreign-exchange business, according to employees at the bank. A Wells Fargo executive says the audit is “normal course of business.”

Payment Plans

Some current and former Wells Fargo employees say its charges on foreign-exchange trades encouraged employees to cheat customers.

Fees for some currency trades
Industry average
Wells Fargo
Fee: 0.15 - 0.5%
Fee: 1% - 4%
For a $10 million trade
Fee:
$100,000 - $400,000
Fee:
$15,000 - $50,000
How Wells Fargo compensated bankers
If a banker had a revenue target of $5 million
and brought in $6 million ...
Revenue target: $5 million
Revenue that exceeded target: $1 million
.. the banker would earn a bonus of $100,000,
or 10% of the $1 million
Bonus
Source: People familiar with the bank
Current and former bank employees say its pricing practices were rooted in a culture and compensation system that looked to maximize revenue. Bonuses were defined as 10% of revenues exceeding revenue targets.
If a banker’s revenue target was $5 million and the person brought in $6 million, he or she would earn a $100,000 bonus, or 10% of the additional $1 million in revenue. Bankers typically received such bonuses twice a year in cash, rather than stock, as part of a signed contract, they added.
It’s rare among foreign-exchange groups in other banks to have so-called defined-bonus plans focused on individual earnings, according to people in the industry.
After Wells Fargo moved the foreign-exchange business into its investment bank earlier this year, managers began telling employees that bonuses would become “discretionary” by the end of 2017. Under this more typical arrangement, management would decide employee bonuses, and bankers wouldn’t know exactly how much they would receive. It would be based on a variety of factors, not just revenue.
Wells Fargo has 18 foreign-exchange sales and trading offices, including in New York, San Francisco, Charlotte, N.C., London and Hong Kong. A few hundred people work in the group world-wide.
Current and former employees say Wells Fargo’s foreign-exchange customers are largely midsize businesses that don’t tend to trade in large volumes. As a result, those clients don’t have the same insight into the market as larger firms that are more-active traders.
Some Wells Fargo clients have complained to the bank. In November 2016, Ecolab Inc., a water, hygiene and energy company based in St. Paul, Minn., bought and sold currency in a so-called swap arranged by the bank, according to people familiar with the deal. These people say Wells Fargo collected 1% on one part of the $100 million deal.
Ecolab contested the fee charged by Wells Fargo on a transaction arranged by the bank.
Ecolab contested the fee charged by Wells Fargo on a transaction arranged by the bank. PHOTO:ARIANA LINDQUIST/BLOOMBERG NEWS
After Ecolab compared the full trade, including fees, to overall market prices, the company contested the bank’s fee. Wells Fargo refunded hundreds of thousands of dollars to Ecolab in December 2016, according to current and former employees.
A spokeswoman for Ecolab confirmed the details of the trade and said it was the only fee issue Ecolab had with Wells Fargo.
Fee issues arose for some Wells Fargo clients even when they had a pricing agreement. The bank agreed within the past 18 months to a specified rate with data-management firm Veritas Technologies LLC, according to bank employees. After making one trade on behalf of Veritas, Wells Fargo bankers told Veritas that the bank’s fee was 0.05 percentage point higher than the agreed rate, the employees say.
Unusually high fees
The result: The bank made an extra $50,000 on a $100 million trade, the employees say. Wells Fargo later made a refund to Veritas, according to people familiar with the matter. A Veritas spokeswoman declined to comment.
Wells Fargo’s foreign-exchange business also charged unusually high fees for trades with different currency conversions, known as “Bswift” transactions, current and former employees say.
“And if anybody did complain, it was an easy tap dance,” one former employee says. He says employees would say the pricing had been done automatically by the bank’s computer system so “there’s no accountability for the spread.”
Wells Fargo sent an internal email Nov. 2 detailing new guidelines for Bswift transactions, according to a copy of the email reviewed by the Journal. The guidelines include specific handling and pricing procedures for those trades.
The operation also charged high fees to other parts of Wells Fargo. Wells Fargo Rail, which leases locomotives and railcars, and the bank’s corporate-trust division are often charged 1% to 1.5% on currency transactions, according to current and former employees.
The bank’s foreign-exchange management often celebrated big trades and the money they made for the bank, the current and former employees say. Sara Wardell-Smith, who led the foreign-exchange group, emailed the group to hail big trades, naming clients and spelling out revenue generated. The employees say managers used to encourage employees to ring a brass bell in the San Francisco office when the bank made a lot of money on a trade.
In mid-October, the bank announced that Ms. Wardell-Smith would lead its financial institutions group in the Americas region, according to a memo reviewed by the Journal and confirmed by a bank spokeswoman.
Current employees say the move was viewed within Wells Fargo as a demotion, coming just months after Ms. Wardell-Smith had been promoted to co-lead the bank’s division focusing on trading of rates, currencies and commodities. She didn’t respond to requests for comment.
The other co-leader, Ben Bonner, now leads that group on his own and is overseeing foreign-exchange trading, a bank spokeswoman confirms.
Mr. Bonner has been working with other executives to fix the problems in the currency business, according to several current employees.
Last month, the bank sent a memo to foreign-exchange employees that instructs them not to create informal or oral pricing agreements. The memo, reviewed by the Journal, also said employees are “responsible for ensuring customers are not misled regarding” pricing.
Current and former employees say some Wells Fargo employees expressed concerns about pricing practices to top executives before the bank’s internal cleanup efforts began earlier this year. Some employees say they were reluctant to press for sweeping changes, citing what they saw happen to one manager in the foreign-exchange operation about a decade ago.
During a meeting of foreign-exchange managers in the mid-2000s, Cathy Witt said it wasn’t right to celebrate high fees by ringing a bell, people familiar with the situation say. Ms. Witt, an employee in the bank’s Chicago foreign-exchange group, warned that Wells Fargo could become known as a “bucket shop,” a derisive term for a disreputable finance firm, some of the people say.
A few weeks later, Ms. Witt was summoned to a meeting in St. Louis, told that her comments had been offensive and demoted on the spot, according to people familiar with the matter. She also was told to apologize to other managers for her unprofessional behavior, the people say. She later left the bank.
—Aruna Viswanatha contributed to this article.

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