Unrest in Kazakhstan raises concerns about oil and uranium.
A potential disruption “has not been on anybody’s radar screen,” an energy expert said.
Workers at an oil and gas field in the Mangistau region of Kazakhstan.Credit…Pavel Mikheyev/Reuters
Kazakhstan, where violent protests against the government have been raging, has some of the largest oil fields on earth and more than 40 percent of the world’s uranium production.
So far the unrest does not seem to have cut into production of either oil or uranium, but it has the potential to ripple through critical energy markets.
Uranium prices, which have risen in recent months on hopes of a revival of the nuclear industry to combat climate change, rose 8 percent on Wednesday amid reports of clashes in the Central Asian country. Some 22 percent of the uranium purchased by nuclear plants in the United States in 2020 came from Kazakhstan, according to U.S. government statistics. “Without Kazakhstan right now, the world would not be anywhere near well-supplied for uranium,” said Jonathan Hinze, president of UxC, which tracks the market, though he noted that utilities buy the fuel with long lead times.
Any drop in oil output from Kazakhstan, which produces about 2 percent of world supplies, is also likely to be felt in an already tight market. Some oil producers are not meeting the quotas allocated to them under agreements by the so-called OPEC Plus producers group.
Kazakhstan, a member of the group, has been substantially exceeding its quota and is one of the few producers that looked likely to be able to increase output in the coming months.
“This is the sort of supply risk that has not been on anybody’s radar screen,” said Bill Farren-Price, director for intelligence at Enverus, an energy research firm. He added that oil analysts had mostly focused on problems elsewhere, including tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran, and recent cuts in production in Libya because of political turmoil.
Since becoming independent with the fall of the Soviet Union three decades ago, Kazakhstan has been a magnet for Western energy investment. The Tengiz oil field, in the western part of the country near the Caspian Sea, is one of the world’s largest. Chevron and Exxon Mobil, the two largest American oil companies, are in the midst of an estimated $37 billion expansion at Tengiz field, which is a critical source of earnings for Chevron.
Exxon, Shell, France’s Total, and Italy’s Eni are all shareholders in another huge field called Kashagan in the Caspian.
These fields have helped make Kazakhstan a substantial oil producer, pumping about 1.6 million barrels a day (more than Nigeria, comparable to Mexico) and one of the few that is growing. The oil operations are also a crucial source of revenue for the Kazakh government.
The fields are in remote areas, but oil workers have demonstrated at the Chevron-operated Tengiz field in sympathy with the protests.
“A number of contractor employees are gathered at the Tengiz field in support of protests taking place across Kazakhstan,” said a statement on Thursday from Tengizchevroil, the Chevron-led joint venture in the country. It added, “Production operations continue.”
Mr. Farren-Price said that the locations of these fields would tend to insulate them from disruption. But if the unrest gains momentum, he said, the oil companies might encounter operating problems, like difficulties moving people and supplies in and out of the sites.
The widespread disorder could also hurt Kazakhstan’s prospects for investment and credit.
In a comment on Thursday, Standard & Poor’s, the credit rating group, attributed the civil unrest to what it called “structural weaknesses” in Kazakhstan’s institutions. The agency said that government policy was subject to what it called “succession risk,” with the longtime leader Nursultan Nazarbayev having been succeeded by another strongman, President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, in 2019, and noted that “perceived corruption is high.”
Stocks on Wall Street fell on Thursday, led lower again by technology stocks as government bond yields continued to climb.
The S&P 500 dropped about 0.3 percent, while the Nasdaq composite fell about 0.6 percent. Trading was volatile, with both indexes starting the day with a small gain that quickly faded.
The S&P 500 had dropped nearly 2 percent on Wednesday, its biggest decline since late November, while the tech-heavy Nasdaq slid 3.3 percent in its worst one-day performance since February 2021. Those losses came after minutes from the Federal Reserve’s December meeting suggested that officials could raise interest rates, which have remained near zero since the start of the pandemic, faster than anticipated.
Many investors expect central bank officials could begin raising interest rates as soon as March as the Fed tries to cool down inflation. Higher interest rates make investors rethink putting money into riskier assets, like stocks, and make government bonds more attractive.
Tech stocks have been dragging major indexes lower this week as investors contend with the prospects of interest rate increases. The Nasdaq composite is already about 4 percent lower this week.
In the bond market, yields on government bonds rose on Thursday, as they have all week. The yield on 10-year Treasury notes up to 1.73 percent from 1.71 percent on Wednesday, and sharply above where it stood last Friday.
“Over the last month the fears had been percolating on the Street around a more hawkish Fed and what this would mean for valuations and tech stocks in 2022,” Daniel Ives, an analyst at Wedbush Securities, wrote in a note to clients. “We did not have to wait long to see a massive and brutal tech sell-off in the first three trading days of the year.”
The Labor Department is set to publish closely watched data on hiring on Friday, with economists forecasting that employers in the United States added 400,000 jobs last month.
Ahead of that report, the Labor Department said on Thursday that about 207,000 Americans filed new claims for unemployment benefits last week, an increase of 7,000 from the previous week. Still, the figure remains close to the lowest levels in decades.
Mark Hamrick, an analyst at Bankrate, said the data “suggests workers can be reasonably confident about job security and an upbeat employment outlook for this year.”
With coronavirus cases surging across New York State, employees at the only company-owned Starbucks store that is unionized staged a walkout on Wednesday to protest what they say are unsafe working conditions.
Kyli Hilaire, a barista at the store, which is in Elmwood in the Buffalo area, said that it was understaffed, that workers were struggling to enforce masking rules and that many of them were anxious about their health as they watched Covid-19 case counts spike in the region.
“One of our requests was to close the store to let the outbreak of Covid run its course so we can return with a full staff rather than burning out the partners who are able to work,” Ms. Hilaire, 20, said. “They’re refusing to take the necessary precautions so our partners are not coming to work sick.”
The walkout, involving about half a dozen employees, will last the rest of the week, she added. The company said it had not determined whether the store would stay open.
Starbucks regional leaders met with union members on Tuesday night to discuss their safety concerns, which had mounted after an employee at the Elmwood store tested positive for the coronavirus. The company said all employees who had been in close contact with the infected person had been notified and given the option to quarantine themselves for five days with pay while monitoring for symptoms or awaiting Covid test results.
“We have met and exceeded all C.D.C. and expert guidelines for safety,” said Reggie Borges, a Starbucks spokesman, adding that the company was giving store and district managers leeway to adjust their operations in response to the fast-spreading Omicron variant of the virus. “All leaders are empowered to make whatever changes make sense for their neighborhood, which includes shortening store hours or moving to 100 percent takeout only, which is the case in Buffalo.”
Starbucks announced on Monday that it would reduce the number of days that vaccinated, asymptomatic workers who tested positive for the virus must isolate themselves to five days from 10, following a shift in guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The company also said this week that all of its U.S. workers had to be vaccinated by Feb. 9 or submit to weekly testing, in compliance with the Biden administration’s vaccine rule for large employers.
When the Starbucks workers in Elmwood voted to form their union last month, in an election recognized by the National Labor Relations Board, the result represented a challenge to the company’s long-running argument that its workers enjoy good wages and do not need a union.
“It was kind of crazy walking out of work,” Ms. Hilaire added. “It was a first for everyone.”
One year ago, the U.S. Capitol was stormed by a mob encouraged by President Donald Trump and other Republicans objecting to his loss in the 2020 presidential election and seeking to overturn the result.
This shocking event forced a reckoning for businesses, the DealBook newsletter reports. Companies were called to task for their political lobbying and spending, having directly and indirectly supported candidates and groups that opposed certifying the election. Many business leaders committed to changing their policies.
A month after the riot, we asked whether this would prove a turning point or a momentary blip. A year later, here’s what has and hasn’t changed in corporate America.
Companies have continued giving to lawmakers who tried to discredit the election.Promises to stop or pause funding to the 147 members of Congress who opposed certification did not always hold. Companies that made initial commitments have since donated nearly $2.4 million directly to these lawmakers’ political campaigns and leadership PACs, according to Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.
Since the riot, more than 700 corporations and trade groups overall have given $18 million to groups that benefit those lawmakers, including the national Republican committees for the Senate and House. A handful of major companies, including American Express and Microsoft, have affirmed that they will not donate any money to the election objectors this year.
At the same time, a push for more information about corporate political activity has gained momentum.Last year, public company shareholders, including major institutional investors, approved more proposals than ever before asking for disclosure of company political spending, the Center for Political Accountability found. Companies also made oversight of donations a priority for directors, where previously middle management often handled such matters.
And corporate leaders have taken a stand on voting rights. In March, more than 70 Black executives called on corporations to oppose legislation that restricts voting in response to the swift passage of a Georgia law limiting ballot access, one of many bills introduced by Republican state lawmakers.
In April, hundreds of companies signed a statement in support of ballot access. (There were notable holdouts who wanted to stay above the political fray.) Some business leaders banded together to ask Washington for help in their states, but a national voting rights law has yet to pass.
On this somber anniversary, some business groups have reaffirmed the commitments they made a year ago to support the legitimacy of elections.
“We are at an inflection point in our nation’s democratic history, with unprecedented attacks on voting rights and our electoral system,” said Michael Porter, the Harvard Business School professor, adding that “protecting our democracy must become a top priority for business and political leaders.”
Companies are testing whether the United States can regain some of the manufacturing output it ceded in recent decades to China and other countries.
That question has been contentious among workers whose jobs were lost to globalization. But with the supply-chain snarls resulting from the coronavirus pandemic, it has become intensely tangible from the consumer viewpoint as well, reports Nelson D. Schwartz for The New York Times.
America Knits, founded in 2019, has 65 workers producing premium T-shirts from locally grown cotton. Steve Hawkins, a company co-founder, expects the work force to increase to 100 in the coming months.
As he sees it, bringing manufacturing back from overseas — a move often called onshoring or reshoring — has found its moment. “America Knits shows it can be done and has been done,” he said.
Some corporate giants are keen on testing that premise, if not for finished goods then certainly for essential parts.
General Motors disclosed in December that it was considering spending upward of $4 billion to expand electric vehicle and battery production in Michigan.
Days later, Toyota announced plans for a $1.3 billion battery plant in North Carolina that will employ 1,750 people.
In October, Micron Technology said it planned to invest more than $150 billion in memory chip manufacturing and research and development over the next decade, with a portion of that to be spent in the United States.
And in November, the South Korean giant Samsung said that it would build a $17 billion semiconductor plant in Texas, its largest U.S. investment to date.
Bringing manufacturing back to the United States was a major theme of former President Donald J. Trump, who imposed tariffs on imports from allies and rivals, started a trade war with China and blocked or reworked trade agreements. Still, there was little change in the balance of trade or the inclination of companies operating in China to redirect investment to the United States.
Since the pandemic began, however, efforts to relocate manufacturing have accelerated, said Claudio Knizek, global leader for advanced manufacturing and mobility at EY-Parthenon, a strategy consulting firm.
“It may have reached a tipping point,” he said.
As the moves by auto and tech companies show, the United States can attract more sophisticated manufacturing. READ MORE
The ranks of the unemployed technology workers are swelling, as China’s once vibrant internet industry is hit by a harsh and capricious regulatory crackdown.
Under the direction of China’s top leader, Xi Jinping, the government’s unbridled hand is meddling in big ways and small, leaving companies second-guessing their strategies and praying to not become the next targets for crackdown, writes Li Yuan for The New York Times.
Like their American counterparts, China’s biggest tech companies are regulated to limit abuses of power and to mitigate systemic risks. But Beijing’s hyper-political approach shows that it’s more about the Communist Party taking control of the industry than about leveling the playing field.
In mid-December, the country’s internet regulator said that it had ordered platforms to shut down more than 20,000 accounts of top influencers in 2021, including people who spoke ill of the country’s martyrs, entertainers involved in scandals and major livestreaming stars.
Alibaba was slapped with a record $2.8 billion antitrust fine last September. That was followed by a $530 million fine of Meituan, the food-delivery giant, a month later.
Weibo, China’s Twitter-like platform, was fined 44 times from January to November. Douban, the popular film- and book-reviewing site, was fined 20 times.
Some internet companies have been forced to shut down, while others are suffering from huge losses or disappointing earnings. Many publicly listed companies have seen their share prices fall by half, if not more.
In the third quarter of last year, China’s biggest internet company, Tencent, posted its slowest revenue growth since its public listing in 2004. The e-commerce giant Alibaba’s profitability declined by 38 percent from a year earlier.
Didi, once the most valuable start-up in the country, reported an operating loss of $6.3 billion for the first nine months of 2021. In July, the authorities stopped Didi from signing up new users and ordered app stores to remove its services pending a cybersecurity investigation.
Fear and gloom now rule as many tech companies lower their growth targets and lay off young, well-educated workers. READ MORE