Time to increase oil production? OPEC and its allies will meet to decide.

by Msnbctv news staff

Credit…Maxim Shemetov/Reuters

OPEC, Russia and their allies will meet by videoconference Thursday to consider whether the strength and durability of the recovery of oil demand warrants an increase in oil output.

For more than a year, this group of producers, known as OPEC Plus, has kept a tight grip on oil production, helping to lift prices by around 85 percent since November to about $75 a barrel for Brent crude, the international benchmark, and $74 a barrel for West Texas Intermediate, the U.S. standard.

Some of the group’s members, including Russia and the United Arab Emirates, are expected to lean toward increasing production at a time when oil consumption is rising as economies recover from the pandemic.

Some oil officials also worry that keeping tight controls on production can be counterproductive because relatively high prices — some analysts are projecting they could eventually reach $100 a barrel — will encourage competitors like shale oil drillers in the United States to increase output, cutting into the market share of the OPEC Plus countries.

On the other hand, Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil exporter, is known to favor caution. If the economic recovery stumbles because of new variants of the coronavirus, for instance, an oversupply of oil could force prices to drop.

Oil officials will also be keeping in mind the potential for an output increase later this year and in 2022 from Iran, an OPEC member. Tehran is engaged in indirect talks with the United States on resuming the nuclear deal that President Donald J. Trump abandoned. If successful, these negotiations could lead to a lifting of the U.S. sanctions that have crimped Tehran’s oil sales.

On Wednesday, Mohammad Alfares, the oil minister of Kuwait, a close ally of the Saudis, said that OPEC Plus was “cautious with regard to the strategy of raising production amid the challenges of the oil markets.”

The Saudis have previously agreed to a gradual increase of about two million barrels a day — about 2 percent of world supplies — from May through July.

Helima Croft, an analyst at RBC Capital Markets, an investment bank, said in a recent note to clients that OPEC Plus may approve an increase in production of 500,000 barrels a day to up to one million barrels a day, beginning in August.

Ms. Croft said that such “a modest turn of the taps should be palatable to all the parties involved.” And OPEC Plus can always backtrack rapidly through the monthly meeting schedule it has adopted during the pandemic.

Ashwani Gupta, Nissan’s chief operating officer, in Sunderland on Thursday. He said the new investments would continue “our long tradition of supplying European customers and world markets from the U.K.”
Credit…Phil Noble/Reuters

The Japanese carmaker Nissan announced plans on Thursday to build a battery factory near its plant in northeastern England, and to manufacture a new electric crossover S.U.V. there, bolstering the chances that Britain’s auto industry can survive Brexit and the transition to electric vehicles.

Envision AESC, a Chinese-owned company that already provides Nissan with batteries at the assembly plant in Sunderland, will invest 450 million pounds, or $620 million, in a new so-called gigafactory to supply electric cars made at the site. It is part of a partnership between the two companies that began when Nissan sold AESC to Envision in 2019.

Domestic battery production is crucial to the future of Britain’s auto industry. Under the terms of Britain’s exit from the European Union, cars made with imported batteries will be subject to punishing tariffs when exported to the continent.

The tariffs will take effect in 2027, only three years before Britain will begin banning the sale of new cars powered solely by gasoline or diesel. The Nissan factory in Sunderland exports 70 percent of its production to the European Union and could not survive without access to that market.

Nissan’s commitment to invest up to £423 million to build a new, as yet unnamed electric car in Sunderland also bodes well for the factory, Britain’s biggest auto plant. The factory currently produces the Qashqai subcompact crossover, the Juke compact S.U.V., and the electric Leaf.

“These new models will continue our long tradition of supplying European customers and world markets from the U.K.,” Ashwani Gupta, Nissan’s chief operating officer, said during an event at the factory.

Manufacturing the new vehicle will require 900 new jobs at the Sunderland factory, Nissan said, while the Envision AESC battery factory will create 750 jobs.

Overall, Nissan said the projects were a combined £1 billion investment in the plant. They are also receiving government support, though it was not immediately clear how much. The local government in Sunderland will spend £80 million on a microgrid to supply the factories with wind and solar energy.

Boris Johnson, the British prime minister, called the announcements “a pivotal moment in our electric vehicle revolution and securing its future for decades to come.”

After Britain voted to leave the European Union and ended frictionless trade, the future of its auto industry became uncertain just as manufacturers were reorganizing their production around electric vehicles. Honda is scheduled to shut down its factory in Swindon next month and the site has already been sold to a logistics company. The fate of a Vauxhall plant in the northwest of England depends on government support, Stellantis, Vauxhall’s parent company, said earlier this year.

Nissan’s future in Britain has been a continuous test of Brexit supporters’ claims that leaving the European Union wouldn’t cause businesses to flee. Since the Brexit referendum in 2016, Nissan’s investment commitments to Britain have wavered but have been met by hearty guarantees from the government to support expansion at the Sunderland plant, which opened in 1986.

Nissan opposed Brexit, warning that the uncertainty it would cause could discourage future investment. In 2019, the company scrapped plans to build a new conventionally powered S.U.V. in Sunderland and concentrated production of the vehicle in Japan. But government commitments to the company and the new trade agreement with the European Union have encouraged Nissan to expand operations at the plant, protecting jobs in a city that voted overwhelmingly in favor of Brexit.

The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders said this week that Britain needed to rapidly increase battery production and add at least 2.3 million charging points by 2030 if it wants to avoid the industry falling into “precipitous decline.”

Late last year, Mr. Johnson said the government would spend nearly £500 million over four years on battery production.

Gap will close all its 81 stores in Britain and Ireland by the end of September as it increases its focus on online shopping, it said on Wednesday. The retailer also plans to shed its 32 locations in France and Italy.

“The e-commerce business continues to grow and we want to meet our customers where they are shopping,” Gap said in a statement.

The company is in negotiations with Hermione People and Brands, the retail branch of FIB Group, to take over Gap stores in France, while a buyer for the Italy locations is still not certain.

The retailer said in October that it would close 30 percent, or 350, of its Gap and Banana Republic stores in North America by January 2024 as it tries to reduce its exposure to declining indoor malls. Gap also plans to focus on its Old Navy and Athleta brands, hoping to open at least 50 more of locations by the end of the year.

Only about 17 percent of the company’s overall sales came from indoor malls in the first three months of this year.

Gap’s first-quarter sales rebounded 89 percent to $4 billion from a year earlier and rose 8 percent from the same period in 2019. It posted a profit of $166 million, compared with a loss of nearly $1 billion a year earlier.

Hertz benefited from high demand for used cars during the pandemic, when it sold off more than 200,000 vehicles.
Credit…Cindy Ord/Getty Images

Hertz, an early victim of the pandemic, officially emerged from bankruptcy on Wednesday. Its return coincides with and was made possible in part by a red-hot market for rental cars.

It is a remarkable turnaround for a business that was bloated with debt and struggling to survive just 13 months ago. But a quick economic and travel rebound in recent months set off a bidding war to revive the company, which is more than a hundred years old. The winning group of investors, led by Knighthead Capital Management and Certares Management, provided the company with $5.9 billion in capital.

The resolution of its bankruptcy allows Hertz to shed more than $5 billion in debt, including all of the corporate debt of Hertz Europe. The company also lined up access to nearly $10 billion in loans, credit lines and other debt.

“It sets them up very well,” said Hamzah Mazari, an analyst at Jefferies, an investment bank. By reducing its debt load, Hertz can make much-needed investments like modernizing its technology and buying cars, he said.

Rental car businesses are doing very well right now. Travel is rebounding around the country, and people are eager to rent cars after spending more than a year at home. Searches for rental cars and their prices have nearly doubled over the past two weeks compared with the same period in 2019, according to Kayak.

In some cities, cars can rent for more than $300 a day. Rentals are especially expensive in parts of the country that individuals and families have been flocking to throughout the pandemic: beach and outdoor destinations. In Anchorage, a rental can cost about $330 per day, according to Kayak. In Bozeman, Mont., it can run about $315 a day.

The high prices are partly the result of a car shortage, driven by high demand for used cars and supply chain disruptions throughout the pandemic. On Wednesday, Ford said it would have to keep some production suspended into July because of a global shortage of computer chips.

The skyrocketing prices for used cars helped Hertz in another way.

When the company filed for bankruptcy in May 2020, used car prices were only just starting to rise. By August, prices were up nearly 20 percent, according to data from Manheim, which runs auctions for used cars and tracks that market. The timing worked out well Hertz, which sold more than 200,000 vehicles, mostly in the second half of 2020. Before it filed for bankruptcy, Hertz had a global fleet of about 650,000 vehicles.

“Instead of a problem, it was actually a source of strength for the rental car companies, including Hertz, last year, because as they sold vehicles they were actually making money on those transactions,” said Jonathan Smoke, chief economist for Cox Automotive, which owns Manheim.

Hertz’s stock, which trades in the less-restricted over-the-counter market, plummeted from more than $15 before the pandemic to less than $2 a share during the crisis. Individual investors, many of whom exchange ideas and trading strategies online, piled into the stock last spring, to the surprise of many analysts who feared the company’s shares could become worthless in bankruptcy. Some of those investors who held on to their shares now stand to make a tidy profit.

Hertz’s share price has risen in the past two months to nearly $9 as Hertz’s emergence from bankruptcy seemed increasingly likely. Starting Thursday, the company’s shares will trade under a new ticker symbol, HTZZ.

“Today marks a significant milestone in Hertz’s 103-year history,” Paul Stone, the company’s president and chief executive, said in a statement. “With a solid financial foundation, a leaner, more efficient operating model, and ample liquidity to invest in our business, Hertz has outstanding potential to drive long-term profitable growth.”

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