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22 September 2017

U.S. Solar Makers Win Ruling on Imports, Case Goes to Trump

The U.S. International Trade Commission concluded that a flood of cheap, foreign solar panels is hurting U.S. manufacturers, teeing up an opportunity for President Donald Trump to impose tariffs and import quotas as soon as November. Shares of most solar companies fell.

22 September 2017

U.S. Solar Makers Win Ruling on Imports, Case Goes to Trump

By Jennifer A Dlouhy and Joe Ryan

The U.S. International Trade Commission concluded that a flood of cheap, foreign solar panels is hurting U.S. manufacturers, teeing up an opportunity for President Donald Trump to impose tariffs and import quotas as soon as November. Shares of most solar companies fell.

The panel’s decision now threatens to upend the $29 billion U.S. solar industry. More expensive prices for cells and panels would crimp demand for solar projects that have burgeoned in the past decade. Even before the Friday vote, some developers had halted construction and begun hoarding supplies, anticipating that tariffs could double the price of imported components.

The ITC, a U.S. agency, is next set to deliver its recommendations to address the import surge to the president by Nov. 13, handing Trump an opportunity to score political points on three priorities: He can slap a tariff on China and argue he’s protecting U.S. jobs, all while undermining the economics of an industry that competes with coal.

“President Trump can remedy this injury with relief that ensures U.S. energy dominance that includes a healthy U.S. solar ecosystem and prevents China and its proxies from owning the sun,” according to a statement from Suniva Inc. emailed shortly after the commission’s 4-0 decision.

Previous story: This Case Could Upend America’s $29 Billion Solar Industry

Georgia-based Suniva is driving the suit. The company filed for bankruptcy protection in April and followed up days later with the trade suit. The company is seeking import duties of 40 cents a watt for solar cells, and a floor price of 78 cents a watt for panels, which currently average about 32 cents worldwide.

The U.S. unit of SolarWorld AG, a bankrupt German panel manufacturer, joined Suniva to argue they have been hobbled by a global glut of cheap cells, an industry dominated by China. Unlike earlier trade cases, this one would apply on U.S. imports from any nation.

Chinese panel suppliers fell. JA Solar Holdings Co. slumped 5.3 percent. JinkoSolar Holding Co. fell 1.5 percent and Canadian Solar Inc., which mostly produces in China, slipped 2.4 percent. First Solar Inc. is expected to benefit from tariffs on imported panels because it uses a different technology that isn’t included in the ruling — its shares rose as much as 8.7 percent.

Most of the U.S. solar industry, which uses the cheap panels for rooftop or utility-scale projects, opposes the effort, arguing that inexpensive imports have driven a boom in U.S. solar projects and tens of thousands of jobs hang in the balance. Abigail Ross Hopper, president of the Solar Energy Industries Association, called it an “ill-conceived case” driven by creditors wanting to recover some of their investments “in poorly run companies.”

“The ITC’s decision is disappointing for nearly 9,000 U.S. solar companies and the 260,000 Americans they employ,” Hopper said in a statement. “Foreign-owned companies that brought business failures on themselves are attempting to exploit American trade laws to gain a bailout for their bad investments.”

The case is unusual — and not just because Suniva’s majority owner, Shunfeng International Clean Energy Ltd., opposes it. It also was pursued under a rarely used provision of a trade law that offers companies a “global safeguard” that can result in broad, uniform protection against imports — not just tariffs on specific countries or companies. Under that 1974 trade measure, Suniva only had to prove that imports have caused it “serious injury” — not that foreign competitors did anything unfair or illegal.

Such “global safeguard” cases were relatively popular in the 1980s and 1990s, but they fell out of favor after a string of losses. Even when the ITC sided with domestic manufacturers, presidents were often unlikely to impose a penalty.
These cases have had a resurgence under Trump, whose protectionist rhetoric may be leading companies to think he’ll support tariffs or import quotas. In addition to Suniva’s claim, the ITC has been conducting a separate global safeguard investigation of large residential washers. Still, Trump is also trying to coax the Chinese leadership into cracking down on North Korea, and so imposing tariffs may complicate that effort.

— With assistance by Chris Martin

22 September 2017

Russia Remains Open to Longer OPEC Cuts, While Mulling Exit Plan

Russia signaled that it would be willing to prolong the production cuts it agreed with OPEC beyond the first quarter of next year if needed, while also making clear its commitment to the deal wasn’t open ended.

22 September 2017

Russia Remains Open to Longer OPEC Cuts, While Mulling Exit Plan

By Yousef Gamal El-Din and Elena Mazneva

Russia signaled that it would be willing to prolong the production cuts it agreed with OPEC beyond the first quarter of next year if needed, while also making clear its commitment to the deal wasn’t open ended.

It was too early to talk about the specific details of extending the oil-output pact at a meeting with fellow producers in Vienna on Friday, said Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak. The group needs to stick with the accord, which has boosted prices, and make sure there is a smooth transition when it eventually ends, he said.

“Any agreement — especially an agreement aimed at balancing the market, supply and demand has to end somewhere,” Novak said in a Bloomberg television interview after the meeting. “A gradual, slow exit strategy” could begin between the second and fourth quarters of 2018 when “demand can absorb additional supply,” he said.

The OPEC accord is due to expire at the end of the first quarter. Russia holds its presidential elections on March 18.

Russia, which relies on energy for more than a third of its budget revenue, saw its economic growth accelerated to the fastest pace in almost five years in the second quarter amid recovery in oil prices and domestic consumption. The nation has benefited from the crude-output pact with OPEC and other producers. Finance Minister Anton Siluanov said in an interview earlier this month that the country could benefit from extending the accord.

It may not be possible to discuss such an extension earlier than January, Novak said in a news conference after his meeting with members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries. But once the deal ends, it should be phased out in a way that ensures all positive results of the pact are retained, he said in the interview.

“Once the market is balanced and once the inventories, which push prices down, are removed and reach roughly an average five-year level,” the group can start talking about a slow exit strategy, he said. “I believe the best period for amending our joint efforts is a time of demand growth.”

Russia’s budget revenue from oil and gas taxes, which earlier this year recovered to 2015 levels, fell again by July on crude price fluctuations and a stronger ruble. While oil prices have rebounded to a six-month high since then, risks remain and crude could fall as low as $40 a barrel next year, according to the nation’s central bank.

Russia’s Energy Ministry sees oil at $50 to $60 a barrel through the end of this year, which would be a good price both for producers and suppliers, Novak said.

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