Streetwise Professor

July 4, 2017

Donald Trump, LNG Impressario: Demolishing the Putin Puppet Narrative

Filed under: Commodities,Economics,Energy,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 9:50 am

If Trump has a signature policy issue, it is promoting US energy to achieve what he calls “energy dominance.” The leading edge of this initiative is the promotion of LNG. Immediately prior to his appearance at the G20 Summit (where ironically he will be tediously hectored on trade by the increasing insufferable Angela Merkel), he will speak Thursday at the “Three Seas Summit” in Poland, where he will tout American LNG exports as both an economic and security fillip to Europe, and in particular eastern Europe.

“I think the United States can show itself as a benevolent country by exporting energy and by helping countries that don’t have adequate supplies become more self-sufficient and less dependent and less threatened,” he said.

This strikes at the foundation of Putin’s economic and geopolitical strategy. Export revenues from gas and oil keep his country afloat and his cronies flush. He uses gas in particular as a knout to bludgeon recalcitrant eastern Europeans (Ukraine in particular) and as a lever to exercise influence in western Europe, Germany in particular.

Gazprom routinely sniffs that LNG is more costly than Russian gas, and that LNG will not appreciable erode its market share. That’s true, but illustrates perfectly the limitations of market share as a measure of economic impact. The increased availability of LNG, particularly from the US, increases substantially the elasticity of supply into Europe. This, in turn, substantially increases the elasticity of demand. As the low cost producer (pipeline gas being cheaper), Russia/Gazprom will continue to be the source of the bulk of the methane molecules burned in Europe, but this increased elasticity of demand will reduce Gazprom’s pricing power and hence its revenues.

Furthermore, the effect on short-run elasticities will be particularly acute. Pre-LNG, there were few sources of additional supply available in a period of days or weeks that could substitute for Russian gas cutoff during some geopolitical power play. With LNG, the threat of shutting off the gas has lost much of its sting: especially as LNG evolves towards a traded market, supplies can swing quickly to offset any regional supply disruption, including one engineered by Putin for political purposes. So LNG arguably reduces Putin’s political leverage even more than it reduces his economic leverage. This is particularly true given complementary European policy changes that permit the flow of gas to regions not serviced by LNG directly.

Trump is getting some pushback from domestic interests in the US (notably the chemical industry) because greater exports would support prices and deprive these industries of the cheap fuel and feedstock that has powered their growth (something totally unpredictable a decade ago, when the demise of the US petrochemical industry was a real possibility). But (a) Trump seems totally committed to his pro-export course, and (b) complementary efforts to reduce restrictions on supply will mitigate the price impact. So I expect the opposition of the likes of the Industrial Energy Consumers of America to be little more than a speed bump in his race to promoting energy exports.

This all reveals Trump for the mercantilist he is: imports bad, exports good. This is economically illiterate and incoherent, but it’s Trump trade policy in a nutshell. Economic coherence aside, however, Donald Trump, LNG Impressario totally demolishes the Putin puppet narrative. Not that you’d notice–the hysteria continues unabated, because reality doesn’t matter to the soi disant reality-based community.

Here we have Trump devoting the bulk of his non-Twitter-directed energies (and he is high energy!) to promoting an economic policy that hits Putin at his most vulnerable spot, economically and geopolitically. Whatever his Russia-related rhetoric, pace Orwell, he is objectively anti-Putin.

Not that this causes neo-McCarthyites even to experience cognitive dissonance, let alone to engage in a serious re-evaluation. To them, Trump is literally a Kremlin operative in Putin’s thrall. And nothing–not even Trump venturing to the heart of the area Putin and his ilk believe to be in Russia’s sphere of influence and loudly (very loudly) proclaiming that he is offering American gas to free Europe from its energy thralldom–will divert them from their non-stop narrative.

As an aside, I do Joseph McCarthy a grave disservice by comparing today’s mainstream media, the Democratic Party, Neocons, and large swathes of the Republican establishment to him. There was actually a far more substantial factual basis for his paranoia than there is for that of the anti-Trump brigades.

There is an irony here, though. I have often sneered at Putin (and when he was president, Medvedev), for acting like a glorified Secretary of Commerce, going around being the pitchman for Russian economic interests, in energy in particular. Stylistically, Trump is doing somewhat the same. But substantively, in Making American Energy (LNG particularly) Great, Trump is giving Putin a good swift kick in the stones.

Not that the promoters of the New Red Scare are paying the slightest heed. Which demonstrates that theirs is a completely partisan and grotesquely intellectually dishonest campaign.

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8 Comments »

  1. I doubt anyone really thinks that Putin directly controls Trump. He’s at most a polezni durak. And his planned fate was not to win, but to _nearly_ win, resulting in an illegitimate Hillary presidency with a hostile Congress.

    Comment by tegla — July 4, 2017 @ 12:02 pm

  2. ‘grotesquely intellectually dishonest campaign’
    ‘grotesquely dishonest campaign’ will do!
    To introduce anything intellectual into it is probably a mistake. Though the campaign is conducted by self-proclaimed intellectuals, there is nothing intellectual about what they think (or should I say, feel?), say, or do.

    Comment by Mark — July 4, 2017 @ 5:02 pm

  3. Note that Trump has also signed a deal with China for LNG, which attacks Russian pricing power from the other direction. The widening of the Panama Canal to allow US LNG tankers to sail west to Asia will be seen as a turning point in US geo-political strategy. In Asia – instead of threatening to cut off Chinese energy with a Navy in the South China Sea, it is now offering to sell them Gas in competition with former allies like Australia and the Middle East States. Think it’s a coincidence that the world’s biggest exporter of LNG has just been slapped with sanctions? No me neither. The US needs the Suez canal open for its LNG to go South and round to India – hence playing nice with Saudi and Egypt – but it is less keen for Qatar to come north. Meanwhile the whole Great Game in Syria centred around building the Qatari pipeline up through Saudi, across a (regime changed) Syria and through Turkey into Europe and hence spite Putin has radically changed since 2011. Shale Gas means that the US doesn’t want any middle east gas coming in to Europe if it can help it, not from Qatar, nor from Iran up through Iraq. Hence it’s continued attempts to destabilise Syria and block the run to coast. It’s not an Iranian ‘corridor of influence’ to Lebanon that it’s worried about, but a gas pipeline.

    Comment by Mark T — July 4, 2017 @ 11:23 pm

  4. It is depressing to consider the potential increase in global LNG production over the next decade or two. South Pars in Iran, North Field expansion in Qatar, various Australia, and US all able to add significant tonnes to the market. Not like the good old days when Japan would sign ridiculously attractive LNG purchase contracts.

    I know some here have personal interests and are pleased with the US supply prospects (The Professor as an example :)) but other’s personal interests would be better served with more robust prospects for suppliers outside these areas. An international embargo on Australia would help but unfortunately I can’t see at this time the basis for designating Oz an international pariah-too darned isolated to make a case against them.

    Comment by pahoben — July 5, 2017 @ 4:16 am

  5. Dear Pahoben,

    Have you ever eaten an Australian hamburger served with beets on it? Isolated or not that was a crime of the highest order.

    Comment by sotosy1 — July 6, 2017 @ 10:16 am

  6. @Mark T – “In Asia – instead of threatening to cut off Chinese energy with a Navy in the South China Sea, it is now offering to sell them Gas in competition with FORMER allies like Australia and the Middle East States.”

    I would like to hope that Australia is STILL an ally – we are shortly about commence construction of multi-billion USD worth of facilities for the US Forces Posture Initiatives in Darwin, Northern Territory (co-incidentally where 18 MTA of LNG production is located…)

    Comment by Geoff — July 10, 2017 @ 7:28 am

  7. I can’t wait to see you weasel out of the shit that’s coming out right now

    Comment by warisill — July 11, 2017 @ 7:48 pm

  8. @warisill-No reason to wait. I posted right before reading your comment. And no need to weasel. This shit is just that–total bullshit. Buh-bye, Catherine.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — July 11, 2017 @ 8:32 pm

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