Russian oil may be facing a bear market

Oil Barrels

There may be loads of worthy developments contained in the second-quarter results statements of BP and Shell this week, but there's a chance nobody will be listening.

The City only really has one question – though this is not necessarily a criticism when you study its record for dealing with two issues in tandem. Anyway, the poser is: how will the Russia crisis affect them?

If the query looks simple, the answers may not be. Along with trouble in the Middle East, tensions with Russia have pushed oil prices higher, which investors tend to like.

But then we have the creeping sanctions on Russia from the west to set alongside BP's 19.75% stake in the Russian oil giant Rosneft – which accounts for about 9% of BP's value and dividends of about £450m.

Meanwhile, Shell has huge Russian investments and is the largest firm based in the Netherlands, the home of many victims of flight MH17.

But does that all spell trouble? It's difficult to believe anybody is really sure. It's not clear if the furious rhetoric from some politicians will conclude with more moves against Russia – where allegiances can prove fluid, as oil investors know. WikiLeaks cables suggest that BP boss Bob Dudley blamed Russia's then deputy PM Igor Sechin for having to flee the country for his own protection in 2008. Sechin is now boss of Dudley's ally, Rosneft.

BAE poised to benefit from the new cold war

The infuriatingly talented Hugh Laurie once wrote a novel called The Gun Seller, a hilarious tale about a former Scots Guard, Thomas Lang.

Lang gets himself caught up in one of those sagas that could befall us all – you know, a conspiracy involving arms dealers and terrorists – but one of the underlying themes is how international incidents are great opportunities to sell weapons. Which, in a tortuous way, brings us to the UK's largest defence contractor, BAE Systems, and its results announcement this week, which comes against the backdrop of a new cold war.

There's no likely sanctions hit on the firm's sales (Mr Putin does not have an account) but the potential effect of the crisis on future profits is being hyped. As one analyst puts it: "Defence budgets have been perceived as a luxury – something you could raid to fund other spending. Now it feels like Europe needs a stronger military force". Well, maybe, and that idea does tie in neatly with Laurie's yarn, which highlights unforeseen profits. The evil helicopter being marketed by his story's baddies is defeated by Lang with another weapon. The makers of the second bit of kit enjoy a sales hike.

With Libor, it's not the fine: it's the fine words

Roll up, roll up. Any day now another fine for rigging Libor should drop from the Financial Conduct Authority (plus the usual queue of US regulators who like to receive their tribute).

Bailed-out Lloyds Banking Group is the latest target and is thought to be drafting a cheque for £200m-£300m, but – as with all of the Libor fines so far – the number is the least entertaining bit, as the fines are always accompanied by the pages of emails and electronic chats used as evidence.

When Barclays got done, we saw one from a trader lauding a pal for fixing the rate with the line: "When I retire and write a book about this business, your name will be written in golden letters." The reply: "I would prefer this not be in any book!"

Then Royal Bank of Scotland got clobbered, and we learned of a broker telling one of the bank's Libor submitters: "I'll send lunch around for everybody." And as Swiss bank UBS was whacked, we were treated to a trader's promise that "I will fucking do one humongous deal with you".

The intriguing thing about these messages is that the senders never tried to conceal them, suggesting nobody at these varied institutions thought they were doing anything wrong. Still, blame rogue individuals please – not the City's culture.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Simon Goodley, for The Observer on Sunday 27th July 2014 00.06 Europe/London

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010

 

Bank Workers CharityBank Workers Charity - Supporting bank workers

Register for Financial Markets News Alerts