By Kevin Krolicki
Suddenly Taro Kono doesn’t look like quite the lonely maverick in Japan’s Liberal Democratic Party.
The global paper industry has struggled for more than six years to claw its way out of a slump, as soft demand and overcapacity have kept prices down, leading to poor earnings, production curtailments and layoffs.
Policitians are often scared to use the “R” word, because a recession makes them unpopular. Investment bankers dislike the “R” word too, but in this case it stands for regulation.
Regulation and lots of it is being cooked up in Washington and Brussels in response to the excessive risk-taking that helped bring on the credit crisis.
Credit derivatives are in the firing line as the bad guys of the credit crisis and derivatives in energy and commodities could get caught in the cross-fire.
Oil could also take a hit after rampant speculation was blamed for driving the price to a record of nearly $150 a barrel last year.
Although the quest to get rid of excesses is driven by good intentions, industry insiders say there will be unintended consequences and argue the regulators could have underestimated the difficulty of their task.
“It’s not easy to bring back the genie into the bottle,” Libya’s top oil official Shokri Ghanem told the Reuters Global Energy Summit.
Tullow Oil is the Manchester United of the energy world -- at least when it comes to recruiting the finest talent.
The oil industry has long complained of the difficulty of recruiting enough highly-qualified staff, but as Europe's largest independent oil explorer by market value, Tullow says it is a magnet for all those geologists ambitious to add discovering a new field to their CVs.
"If you are successful, you will always attract... like everyone wants to play for Manchester United," Aidan Heavey, chief executive of Tullow Oil, told the Reuters Global Energy Summit.
Many oil companies, he said, have ceased exploring, partly because of a difficult financial climate, partly because of a lack of opportunities.
Tullow's exploration successes include major finds in Uganda and offshore Ghana.
Apart from snapping up the finest geologists, Tullow has also been busy grabbing credit. Heavey said banks had made available $2 billion in credit in March this year.
"It's a huge achievement in the current market," Heavey said. "It's probably soaked up most of the credit available for small oil companies."
The United States may fondly dream of independence from imported oil, but it would do well to remember that the traffic is not one way.
OPEC Secretary General Abdullah al-Badri told the Reuters Global Energy Summit he had been hearing for years that the world’s biggest oil consumer was seeking ways to avoid importing OPEC oil, but he was confident it would carry on burning fossil fuel for years to come.
“I am of an age when I can tell you I have been hearing this for the last 40 years,” Badri said. “We will see another president, with two terms, before we see any change.”
He also warned the U.S. it should be careful what it wished for.
“We would like to tell them they buy most of the resources of our member countries. We are sending them back more than 50 percent of that income to OECD countries, and the U.S. is one of them, to buy medicine, equipment, aeroplanes, spare parts, clothes.”
“Don’t forget the medicine,” he added.
Pakistan’s foreign reserves are dwindling fast and many worry about the country descending into chaos.
But Naser Al-Marri, managing director of Noor Financial Investment Co. is taking a longer view of the country.
“I love Pakistan,” he told a Reuters summit. “For me Pakistan is a mini-China.”
The country’s potential lies in its agricultural resources and its potential as a bridge for ferrying energy into fast-growing China.
Marri’s Noor, a major shareholder in Karachi Electric Supply Company, urged Gulf Arab desert countries to invest more in growing crops in Pakistan. Gas could also flow from the Gulf to China through Pakistan, he said.
As Pakistani president Asif Zardari visits Saudi Arabia seeking aid, he would be heartened by some long-term optimism.
“Many people don’t like Pakistan, but I am sure in five years, Pakistan will be the place to be,” Marri said.