District 3

In Brief

Steelworkers Reach Tentative Agreement with US Refineries; Coal Industry Anticipating Recovery; Eurozone Unemployment Rises to Highest Level Since Currency Union; WTO Rules Against China; Harper's Own Expert Questions Need for OAS Changes

Steelworkers Reach Tentative Agreement With US Refineries

U.S. refinery workers reached a last-minute contract deal on Tuesday night, averting a strike that could have shut up to six percent of US refining capacity and boosted fuel prices.

Steelworkers announced the agreement just hours before the current contract expired for about 30,000 workers and two days after the USW warned a strike was increasingly likely.

Royal Dutch Shell subsidiary Shell Oil represented big US refineries such as BP, Valero, and Exxon Mobil in the talks, which have run for the last two weeks.

"USW is pleased to announce that we have reached a tentative agreement with Shell on a new three-year agreement, pending ratification by the union's membership," union spokeswoman Lynne Hancock said in a statement. Shell confirmed the tentative deal in a statement.

The last nationwide strike by refinery workers was in 1980 and lasted three months. A strike could have boosted prices for gasoline, jet fuel and other refined products at a time when crude oil prices above $100 a barrel have been a drag on the global economy.

Coal Industry Anticipating Recovery

The global coal industry, which experienced a prolonged spell of bleakness in 2008-09 due to the worldwide economic crisis is now finally looking up and providing a better outlook, says a new report.

Coal markets are forecast to pick up pace in tandem with economic recovery, the huge global appetite for thermal and metallurgical coal from emerging nations such as China and India, as well as resurgent demand from developed countries in the aftermath of the Japanese nuclear incident, says consulting firm Global Industry Analysis.  "The rising wave of coal prices, stoked by supply constraints due to recent natural disasters, is expected to subside in the near future, thereby redrawing the pattern of global coal trade, consumption and production," it suggests.

Recoverable coal reserves are present in about 70 countries across the globe, and coal mining is undertaken in about 52 countries, says the report.  Globally, coal and coal-derived fuels power about 40% of the world's electrical generation. But the percentage of dependence on coal for electricity generation is significantly higher than the global average in countries such as US, Poland, China and Australia.

Metallurgical or coking coal, a major component in steel manufacture, is also in great demand as the economic recovery stimulates the revival of global steel production.  This week British steel-industry monitor MEPS predicted that its world average benchmark hot rolled coil carbon steel price will increase by $90 per tonne over the next six months, although prices might fall after that, depending on the state of global demand.

But even though the economic turbulence within the Eurozone and US is expected to foster volatility in pricing in the near term, the coal industry is regaining strength in tune with strong growth forecasts in emerging economies, says GIA.

Having achieved its position of among the top producers, as well as the largest importers of coal in 2009, the Chinese market has evolved into a bellwether and a major growth driver in the global coal market.

The US economy, long in the doldrums, is regaining stability with a rebound in several industries including coal. Also, the coal industry stands to gain from Japan's earthquake and tsunami, which brought about serious concerns and questions about the usage and safety of nuclear powered industries.

In the aftermath of the earthquake, tsunami, as well as nuclear plant meltdown in Japan, the demand for coal and subsequently coal prices temporarily subsided. However, during the latter part of the year, the resurgence of the Japanese economy, as well as rising demand for thermal coal in the Northern hemisphere due to climatic changes, led to demand far exceeding supply. This upward trend in coal demand is chiefly driven by the escalating demand for coal in Asia, favorable weather patterns, a rebound in domestic demand for power and the increase in global economic activity.

Eurozone Unemployment Rises To Highest Level Since Currency Union

Euro zone unemployment has risen to its highest level since the euro single currency was introduced, said the European Union, a day after its leaders promised to focus on creating millions of new jobs to try to kickstart Europe's stagnating economy.

Seasonally adjusted unemployment among the 17 countries sharing the euro rose to 10.4% in December, on a par with an upwardly revised November figure, the EU's statistics office Eurostat said.  That's the highest rate since June 1998, before the introduction of the euro in 1999, Eurostat said.

The figures showed another 20,000 people were out of work in December from the month before, taking the number of jobless to 16.5 million people across the euro zone. The rate steadily crept up through 2011 as growth stalled and recession loomed.  A sign of the divergence in the currency bloc's economic fortunes is that Germany's unemployment rate actually fell to 6.7% in January, a new record low since figures for unified Germany were first published.

EU leaders at a summit in Brussels on Monday promised to drive economic growth and employment after two years of crisis and budget austerity. But while Germany is set to recover from a brief slowdown last year, southern Europe faces tough times. Unemployment in Spain reached a new high of 22.9% of the working population in November and December, Eurostat said.

WTO Rules Against China 

A World Trade Organization appeals panel ruled against China's efforts to limit the export of raw materials used in the steel and chemicals industries, a decision that could provide the US and Europe with ammunition against similar limits on China's rare-earth exports. 

U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk on Monday called the WTO decision a "tremendous victory. Today's decision ensures that core manufacturing industries in this country can get the materials they need to produce and compete on a level playing field," he said in a statement. 

China pledged to scrap export controls when it joined the WTO in 2001.

Harper's Own Expert Questions Need For OAS Changes 

Expert advice commissioned by the federal government contradicts Stephen Harper's warnings that Canada can't afford the looming bill for Old Age Security payments.

Harper and his ministers held their ground in the face of attacks on their pension-cutting plans from the opposition New Democrats.  But research prepared at Ottawa's request argues Canada's pension system is in far better shape than the Europeans', and there's no need to raise the retirement age. Edward Whitehouse - who researches pension policy on behalf of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development and the World Bank - was asked by Ottawa to study and report on how Canada stacks up internationally when it comes to pensions.  His conclusion: "The analysis suggests that Canada does not face major challenges of financial sustainability with its public pension schemes," and "there is no pressing financial or fiscal need to increase pension ages in the foreseeable future."