Proposed AGL pipeline at Mornington Peninsula potential 'game changer' for energy prices

Australia’s largest energy supply retailer, AGL, has announced Crib Point on the Mornington Peninsula as its preferred site for a gas import jetty and pipeline.

The company said the move would increase energy security and supply for customers in the south-eastern states of the country.

It is hoped the $250 million plan will be under construction by 2019 and operating by 2021.

The Victorian Government said it was confident the Crib Point project would increase reliability within the state’s energy supply and ultimately reduce prices.

It entered into negotiations with AGL late last year about a possible location due to its concerns over increasing energy prices and the prospect of summer blackouts.

The company is now set to discuss the viability of the plan with the Andrews Government and local authorities within the Crib Point area.

In a statement, AGL executive general manager Richard Wrightson said the company still had a significant amount of work to do before construction of the project could go ahead.

“This doesn’t signal the end of the feasibility studies for the proposed site but now accelerates the process,” he said.

“We look forward to ongoing consultation with the local community to answer their questions and proceed towards a formal application to the Victorian Government.”

It is believed the company selected Crib Point due to its existing infrastructure and existing industrial port facility and pipeline network.

The company also noted that it was wary of proposed carbon-restricting legislation.

“As Australia transitions to a carbon-constrained future, AGL is looking at how best to modernise and decarbonise the energy system,” a statement from the company noted.

Energy Minister Lily D’Ambrosio said the Government would continue to work closely with AGL “as we boost the reliability of our gas supply”.

“This project has the potential to be a real game changer for our gas market, allowing the importation of cheaper gas to help drive down energy prices and create jobs,” she said in a statement.

Mornington Shire Council has been contacted for comment.

AGL has returned to profit for the 2017 financial year on the back of significant rises in wholesale electricity prices and despite a small fall in customer numbers.

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In the pipeline: networks to warm UK homes using surplus heat

Government plans to spend £45m on citywide systems and other technologies to reduce carbon output

Tens of thousands of homes, offices and hospitals could soon be warmed with surplus heat from factories, incinerator plants and even disused mine shafts under plans by the government to fund low-carbon heating.

The government will spend £30m to help set up heat networks across cities including London, Glasgow and Manchester and a further £14.6m to develop other low-carbon technologies that can heat and cool buildings without fossil fuels.

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Major US pipeline CEO says paid $4.4 mn in ransom to hackers

Colonial Pipeline paid $4.4 million in ransom to hackers after a cyberattack because it was “the right thing to do for the country,” the company’s head said, according to a  Wall Street Journal report Wednesday.

His remarks amount to the first public acknowledgement by the company of the ransom payment. jmb/st

Originally published as Major US pipeline CEO says paid $4.4 mn in ransom to hackers

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Ransom group linked to Colonial Pipeline hack is new but experienced

Projection of cyber code on hooded man is pictured in this illustration picture
FILE PHOTO: A projection of cyber code on a hooded man is pictured in this illustration picture taken on May 13, 2017. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel/Illustration

May 11, 2021

By Raphael Satter

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The ransomware group linked to the extortion attempt that has snared fuel deliveries across the U.S. East Coast may be new, but that doesn’t mean its hackers are amateurs.

Who precisely is behind the disruptive intrusion into Colonial Pipeline hasn’t been made officially known and digital attribution can be tricky, especially early on in an investigation. A former U.S. official and two industry sources have told Reuters that the group DarkSide is among the suspects.

Cybersecurity experts who have tracked DarkSide said it appears to be composed of veteran cybercriminals who are focused on squeezing out as much money as they can from their targets.

“They’re very new but they’re very organized,” Lior Div, the chief executive of Boston-based security firm Cybereason, said on Sunday.

“It looks like someone who’s been there, done that.”

DarkSide is one of a number of increasingly professionalized groups of digital extortionists, with a mailing list, a press center, a victim hotline and even a supposed code of conduct intended to spin the group as reliable, if ruthless, business partners.

Experts like Div said DarkSide was likely composed of ransomware veterans and that it came out of nowhere in the middle of last year and immediately unleashed a digital crimewave.

“It’s as if someone turned on the switch,” said Div, who noted that more than 10 of his company’s customers have fought off break-in attempts from the group in the past few months.

Ransom software works by encrypting victims’ data; typically hackers will offer the victim a key in return for cryptocurrency payments that can run into the hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars. If the victim resists, hackers are increasingly threatening to leak confidential data in a bid to pile on the pressure.

DarkSide’s site on the dark web hints at their hackers’ past crimes, claims they previously made millions from extortion and that just because their software was new “that does not mean that we have no experience and we came from nowhere.”

The site also features a Hall of Shame-style gallery of leaked data from victims who haven’t paid up, advertising stolen documents from more than 80 companies across the United States and Europe.

Reuters was not immediately able to verify the group’s various claims but one of the more recent victims featured on its list was Georgia-based rugmaker Dixie Group Inc which publicly disclosed a digital shakedown attempt affecting “portions of its information technology systems” last month.

A Dixie executive did not immediately return a message seeking further comment.

In some ways DarkSide is hard to distinguish from the increasingly crowded field of internet extortionists. Like many others it seems to spare Russian, Kazakh and Ukrainian-speaking companies, suggesting a link to the former Soviet republics.

It also has a public relations program, as others do, inviting journalists to check out its haul of leaked data and claiming to make anonymous donations to charity. Even its tech savvy is nothing special, according to Georgia Tech computer science student Chuong Dong, who published an analysis of its programming.

According to Dong, DarkSide’s code was “pretty standard ransomware.”

Div said that what does set them apart is the intelligence work they carry out against their targets beforehand.

Typically “they know who is the manager, they know who they’re speaking with, they know where the money is, they know who is the decision maker,” said Div.

In that respect, Div said that the targeting of Colonial Pipeline, with its potentially massive knock-on consequences for Americans up and down the Eastern seaboard – may have been a miscalculation.

“It’s not good for business for them when the U.S. government becomes involved, when the FBI becomes involved,” he said. “It’s the last thing they need.”

As for DarkSide, which usually isn’t shy about putting out press releases and promises registered journalists “fast replies within 24 hours,” the group has stayed uncharacteristically silent.

The reason is not clear. Requests for comment Reuters left via its main site and their media center have gone unanswered.

(Reporting by Raphael Satter; editing by Grant McCool)

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Florida, Virginia, Georgia and North Carolina declare states of emergency over gas shortages after Colonial Pipeline hack as 1,000 fuel stations run dry in Southeast as people panic buy

The governors of Florida, Virginia and Georgia all declared states of emergency Tuesday in a bid to protect fuel supplies, with some gas pumps already dry in Atlanta and other cities, as the impact from the Colonial Pipeline ransomware attack continues to ripple across the country – hitting the Southeast especially hard. 

Panic buyers streamed into gas stations across the Southeast as the key pipeline that supplies the area was threatened by the attack. 

More than 1,000 gas stations in the Southeast are now running out of fuel, according to S&P’s Oil Price Information Service. 

The Southeast is particularly vulnerable because it has fewer refineries and pipelines to deliver fuel, compared to the Northeast, which is less at risk. The Southeast is also less equipped to quickly import large quantities of gasoline from other countries, according to The Wall Street Journal.

The worst shortages were in North Carolina, where 9.7 per cent of all stations in the state were without fuel, according to Gas Buddy Tracker. Virginia was second hardest-hit, with 7.9 per cent of gas stations empty, followed by Georgia with 6.5 per cent and South Carolina with 4.3 per cent.  

In five states – Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia – demand was up by a collective 40.1 per cent on Monday. 

Ron DeSantis, Republican governor of Florida; Ralph Northam, the Democrat governor of Virginia, and Brian Kemp, Georgia’s Republican governor, announced their state’s measures on Tuesday.

Their moves came a day after the governor of North Carolina took the same step. 

Kemp announced the waiving of sales tax on gasoline until May 15 – a move which critics said could push more people to attempt to fill their cars at the pumps.   

The states of emergency provide more leeway to local officials to deal with the crisis, and increases flexibility and funding for state and local governments to make sure they have enough fuel supply.

DeSantis on Tuesday night in an executive order, said ‘the disruption of Colonial Pipeline operations poses a significant and immediate threat to the continued delivery of such fuel products to the State of Florida.’ 

Florida’s gasoline supplies are largely unaffected by the outage, but a rash of panic buying starting Monday — especially across north Florida — has caused local shortages. 

Northam said: ‘This emergency declaration will help the Commonwealth prepare for any potential supply shortages and ensure Virginia motorists have access to fuel as we respond to this evolving situation.’

Northam’s order says that current gasoline reserves in Virginia are sufficient to address immediate supply concerns. 

Kemp signed an executive order to temporarily suspend the gas tax in Georgia in light of the Colonial Pipeline cyber attack.

He urged Georgians not to panic buy, and also announced that the state is increasing the weight limits for trucks transporting fuel, providing more supply for stations as they receive deliveries. 

A small gas station chain, Parker’s, which serves Georgia and South Carolina, announced on Facebook on Tuesday that customers would be limited to $50 worth of gas. 

The governor’s office said in a release that the order further prohibits price gouging by bad actors looking to exploit the situation.

‘My office has been in close contact with company and industry officials since we first learned of the Colonial cyber attack over the weekend,’ said Kemp. 

‘Unfortunately, extensive media coverage has caused people to panic which has resulted in higher gas prices. We are taking action to relieve some of the cost burden from Georgians as Colonial recovers by suspending fuel taxes, increasing the weight limit for supply trucks, and prohibiting price gouging.

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$7.8m beach protection pipeline underway

A critical section of our city’s foreshore will be better protected thanks to smart engineering – and a 7.8 kilometre pipeline.

“The ocean beach section from Surfers, north to the seaway, is exposed to heavy swells especially if the wave energy is coming directly east,’’ said Mayor Tom Tate.

“This 7.8km pipeline will replenish the foreshore, delivering around 120,000 cubic metres of sand back on to the beach.’’

The system is designed to extract sand from the existing Sand Pumping Jetty at The Spit and move it back towards Surfers before releasing it on to the beach.

Local company See Civil Pty Ltd won the stage two contract and is now on-site. The total budget for the pipeline is $7.8 million.

“This project complements our ongoing investment in beach protection programs,’’ he said.

Key projects in recent years include:

  • artificial reefs at Palm Beach and Narrowneck;
  • the construction of seawalls along the coast; and
  • the ‘sand rainbowing’ project in 2017 (Gold Coast Beach Nourishment) which replenished the majority of beaches with three million cubic metres of sand.

“The majority of this pipeline (6.3km) will be underground. When needed, council staff will connect 1.5km of temporary above ground pipe that will direct the sand to where it is needed.’’

State Government environmental approvals have been secured with independent studies confirming that the project would have no adverse impact on surfing amenity on South Stradbroke Island.

The project is due to be completed in 2022.


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Gas Pipeline Hack Leads to Panic Buying in the Southeast: Live Business Updates

Credit…Carolyn Kaster/Associated Press

HOUSTON — Drivers scrambled to fuel their vehicles at filling stations across the Southeast on Tuesday in a panic-buying spree that left hundreds of outlets out of gasoline, as a vital fuel pipeline stretching 5,500 miles from Texas to New Jersey remained largely shut down after last week’s ransomware attack.

Gasoline in Georgia and a few other states rose 3 to 10 cents a gallon on Tuesday, a price jump typically seen only when hurricanes interrupt Gulf of Mexico refinery and pipeline operations.

According to the AAA automobile group, the national average for a gallon of regular gasoline rose 2 cents on Tuesday, with higher prices reported in the Southeast. A gallon of gas increased an average of nearly 7 cents in South Carolina and 6 cents in North Carolina, while gas in Virginia rose about 3 cents a gallon. Filling stations in Southern states were selling two to three times their normal amount of gasoline on Tuesday, according to the Oil Price Information Service, an organization that tracks the oil sector. Some stations are running out of fuel while others are limiting purchases to 10 gallons.

Gas Buddy, a service that tracks gas prices, reported that nearly 8 percent of Virginia gas stations were without gasoline, more a result of panic buying than a shortage of gas.

State leaders responded with measures intended to keep the flow of fuel steady and stabilize prices.

Gov. Brian Kemp of Georgia signed an executive order suspending his state’s gasoline tax through Saturday, which amounts to roughly 20 cents a gallon. He said the move would “help level the price for a little while,” and cautioned against panic buying, which he said was unnecessary. Gov. Roy Cooper of North Carolina and Gov. Ralph Northam of Virginia declared a state of emergency in their states in an effort to suspend some fuel transport rules.

Credit…Logan Cyrus/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

South Carolina’s attorney general, Alan Wilson, announced he was ready to administer the state’s price-gouging law, making excessive overcharging a criminal offense. “I’m urging everyone to be careful and be patient,” Mr. Wilson said. “I urge citizens to remain vigilant and notify my office immediately if you believe you have witnessed or are aware of price gouging.”

The Environmental Protection Agency administrator, Michael S. Regan, issued an emergency fuel-air-emissions waiver on Tuesday to help alleviate fuel shortages in states whose supply of gasoline has been affected by the pipeline shutdown, including the District of Columbia, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia. The waiver will continue through May 18.

Colonial Pipeline, the company that operates the pipeline, has said that it hopes to restore most operations by the end of the week. The attack, which the Federal Bureau of Investigation said was carried out by an organized crime group called DarkSide, has highlighted the vulnerability of the American energy system. The pipeline provides the Eastern United States with nearly half its transportation fuel.

Industry analysts said the impact would remain relatively minor as long as the artery was fully restored soon. “With a resolution to the shutdown in sight, the cyberattack is now treated as a small disturbance by the market and prices are trimming Monday’s panic-gains,” said Louise Dickson, an oil markets analyst for Rystad Energy.

Gasoline prices normally rise at this time of year as the summer driving season approaches. Even before Colonial Pipeline suspended operations, average national gas prices were rising nearly a penny per gallon each day.

Higher fuel prices affect working and lower-income people the most because they spend the highest percentage of their incomes on gasoline and typically drive lower-efficiency vehicles. That makes rising gasoline prices a potential political issue after several years of relatively low prices at the pump.

Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, issued a statement on Monday night saying President Biden was monitoring the fuel shortages in the Southeast.

Several airports around the South and the Washington area may be affected over the next few days because they are connected to the pipeline and typically retain only a few days’ supply.

American Airlines added stops to two daily flights out of Charlotte, N.C. One, to Honolulu, will stop in Dallas, where customers will change planes. The other, to London, will stop in Boston to refuel. The flights are expected to return to their original schedules on Saturday. Southwest Airlines said it was flying in supplemental fuel to Nashville and United Airlines said it was flying extra fuel to Baltimore, Nashville, Savannah and Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport in South Carolina. United, Southwest and Delta Air Lines said they had not experienced any disruption to operations so far.

Gillian Friedman contributed reporting.

Stocks fell around the world on Tuesday, extending a sell-off that began on Wall Street on Monday, as traders remained unsettled by rising prices and the impact that could have on inflation.

But a rebound in technology stocks in afternoon trading softened the blow somewhat. The S.&P. 500 was 0.8 percent lower by Tuesday afternoon, after having fallen as much as 1.6 percent earlier. The tech-heavy Nasdaq was flat, also having recovered from a sharp decline earlier.

The Stoxx Europe 600 index dropped 2 percent, while the Nikkei 225 in Japan closed 3 percent lower.

Commodity prices have soared recently. Futures on copper, which is often seen as a barometer for the global industrial economy, reached record highs on Friday and oil prices have recently hovered near levels not seen since 2018. Even though commodities pulled back from their highs on Tuesday, the elevated prices are expected to raise costs for businesses.

It’s fuel for a debate about how temporary the increase in inflation this summer will be. Federal Reserve policymakers have said they expect it to be transitionary because bottlenecks in supplies will be resolved, and comparisons to last year’s slowdown make inflation numbers appear worse.

Still, investors have been spooked by the prospect that the Fed might be forced to raise interest rates to rein costs in sooner than it has indicated it will. Higher interest rates discourage risk taking in the markets, and high-flying stocks can be hit hard when concern about inflation dominates. On Wednesday, the U.S. government will report its Consumer Price Index for April.

“The recovery in demand coupled with the supply disruptions across the world are raising fears” that the jumps in inflation reported over the next few months “may not quickly reverse,” Henry Ward, an analyst at HSBC, wrote in a note. “Commodity prices from lumber to oil are rising and house prices continue to hit new highs.”

On Tuesday, oil prices were higher. Futures on West Texas Intermediate, the U.S. crude benchmark, rose half a percent to $65.25 a barrel. Last week, the price climbed above $65 to the highest since October 2018.

“We are now entering a time of year when stocks have historically found it more challenging to advance,” Mark Haefele, the chief investment officer at UBS Global Wealth Management, wrote in a note. With stock indexes already near record highs and concerns rising about coronavirus variants, “investors may be tempted to follow the old adage: Sell in May and go away,” he wrote.

But he recommended that investors stay in the market, despite expected volatility, because the government spending coupled with consumer spending as economies further unlock will lead to more economic growth, which would be good for stocks.

Federal Reserve officials on Tuesday stood by their strategy of waiting to see further improvement in the labor market and broader economy before removing monetary support, even as some on Wall Street criticized their policies for being too complacent in the face of rebounding growth.

“The outlook is bright, but uncertainty remains, and employment and inflation are far from our goals,” Lael Brainard, a Fed governor, said in a speech prepared for delivery before the Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing. “While more balanced than earlier this year, risks remain from vaccine hesitancy, deadlier variants, and a resurgence of cases in some foreign countries.”

Ms. Brainard’s colleague Loretta Mester, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland and historically one of the Fed’s more inflation-wary members, struck a similar tone in a Yahoo! Finance interview earlier in the day. Fed officials have said they want to see “substantial further progress” toward their goals of stable inflation that averages 2 percent over time and maximum employment before dialing back their $120 billion in monthly bond purchases, and Ms. Mester reiterated that.

“What we want to see, and I certainly want to see, is more progress and broader progress,” Ms. Mester said, explaining that she wants to see more strength in the labor market, and is expecting to this year.

The comments came as economists try to parse incoming data, including a weaker-than-expected April jobs report, quickly rising inflation expectation measures, and a consumer price report set for release on Wednesday that is expected to show a substantial jump this year. Price gains are picking up as year-over-year measures lap weak data from 2020 and as supply shortages tied to reopening push prices higher.

Policymakers expect real-world price increases to be temporary. Low numbers from last year will fall out of the data, and supply chains for things like lumber and computer chips should eventually readjust, though it is not clear how quickly that will happen.

Ms. Mester said she expected supply constraints to ease next year, but noted that “there are upside risks” to her inflation forecast and that she would be watching to make sure consumers and businesses do not come to expect much faster gains.

Likewise, Ms. Brainard said that she would “remain attentive to the risk that what seem like transitory inflationary pressures could prove persistent as I closely monitor the incoming data.”

Some critics are warning that the Fed’s rock-bottom interest rates and emergency bond purchases — policies meant to help bolster the economy in bad times — may be inappropriate, either because they risk fueling higher inflation or because they could spur instability by pushing stock prices and risk-taking higher.

“We’re still acting like we’re in a black hole, and in fact, the economy is accelerating,” Stanley Druckenmiller, chief executive of the investment manager Duquesne Family Office, said on CNBC Tuesday, after criticizing the central bank’s policies for risking asset bubbles.

Hearst Tower in New York. The company has sold the United States edition of Marie Claire to the British publisher Future.
Credit…Hiroko Masuike/The New York Times

Hearst Magazines, the home of numerous publications aimed at women including Cosmopolitan, Redbook and Harper’s Bazaar, has sold the United States edition of Marie Claire to Future, a British publisher, the companies said on Monday.

Marie Claire U.S. had been part of Hearst since 1994 in a joint venture with French company Marie Claire Album. Future, which publishes a variety of magazines including Marie Claire U.K., said it had acquired the U.S. edition from both owners.

Future’s chief executive, Zillah Byng-Thorne, said in a statement that the addition of Marie Claire U.S. was part of the company’s plan to increase its North American audience “significantly.”

Debi Chirichella, the president of Hearst Magazines, said in an email to staff that Marie Claire U.S. employees were notified of the sale on Monday. “We will do everything we can to ensure that the transition to new ownership is a positive one,” Ms. Chirichella wrote.

Faye Galvin, the head of communications at Future, said in an email that the company hoped all existing Marie Claire U.S. employees would “accept the offer to work with us.”

Ms. Galvin singled out Sally Holmes, the editor in chief of Marie Claire U.S. since September. “In terms of Sally in particular, she is absolutely key to driving the business forward and together we will build on her success,” she said in an email.

Marie Claire was started in 1937 in France by the writer Marcelle Auclair and the industrialist and media magnate Jean Prouvost, who helped create the current-events magazine Paris Match.

In the mid-1990s, under the editor Bonnie Fuller, the U.S. version distinguished itself from its competitors by emphasizing the practical, providing readers with concrete style and beauty tips, rather than the fantasies of fashion. Its other long-term editors were Joanna Coles and Anne Fulenwider.

President Biden has called for $50 billion to encourage domestic semiconductor production as part of his infrastructure plan.
Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

Semiconductor companies and big businesses that use chips have formed a new coalition to push for tens of billions of dollars in federal funding for semiconductor research and manufacturing in the United States.

The new group, the Semiconductors in America Coalition, announced its formation on Tuesday amid a global semiconductor shortage that has caused disruptions throughout the economy. Its members include chip makers like Intel, Nvidia and Qualcomm and companies that rely on semiconductors, like Amazon Web Services, Apple, AT&T, Google, Microsoft and Verizon.

The coalition is calling on Congress to provide $50 billion for semiconductor research and manufacturing, which President Biden has proposed as part of his $2.3 trillion infrastructure package.

“Leaders from a broad range of critical sectors of the U.S. economy, as well as a large and bipartisan group of policymakers in Washington, recognize the essential role of semiconductors in America’s current and future strength,” said John Neuffer, the president and chief executive of the Semiconductor Industry Association, a trade group.

In a letter to congressional leaders, the new coalition noted the shortage of semiconductors and said that in the long term, federal funding “would help America build the additional capacity necessary to have more resilient supply chains to ensure critical technologies will be there when we need them.”

The shortage has been acutely felt in the auto industry, forcing carmakers to idle plants. Ford Motor said last month that it expected the shortage to cut vehicle production by about 50 percent in the second quarter and lower the company’s profit by about $2.5 billion this year.

The new coalition does not include any automakers, which have their own ideas for how the government should encourage domestic semiconductor manufacturing. In a letter to congressional leaders last week, groups representing automakers, automotive suppliers and autoworkers expressed support for Mr. Biden’s $50 billion proposal but emphasized the need to increase manufacturing capacity for automotive-grade chips as part of the effort.

The letter — from the American Automotive Policy Council, the Motor & Equipment Manufacturers Association and the United Automobile Workers union — suggested providing “specific funding for semiconductor facilities that commit to dedicating a portion of their capacity to motor vehicle-grade chip production.”

In a letter to congressional leaders last month, technology trade groups argued against setting aside new production capacity for a specific industry, saying that such a move would amount to “unprecedented market interference.”

Travelers at Salt Lake City International Airport in March. OPEC is projecting growing demand for oil and petroleum products — including airplane fuel — as global economies expand through the year.
Credit…Rick Bowmer/Associated Press

OPEC forecast on Tuesday that demand for its oil, which collapsed during the pandemic last year, would continue to roar back in 2021.

In its Monthly Oil Report, the 13-member Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries depicted favorable market conditions for the cartel that could potentially lead to higher prices for consumers.

The world economy will continue to recover, the OPEC analysts said, thanks to stimulus measures and vaccination programs in the United States and Europe, and accelerating growth in most Asian economies. Economic recovery will translate into a substantial rise in demand for oil.

At the same time, OPEC’s economists expect production from the cartel’s rival, the United States, to remain flat this year as the shale oil producers, who seized market share from OPEC in the years before the pandemic, rein in spending on drilling.

Over all, output from producers outside the cartel will increase by less than one million barrels a day for 2021 from 2020’s depressed levels, OPEC forecast.

OPEC said that the need for the organization’s crude would surge in 2021 by an overall 5.2 million barrels a day, or more than 20 percent, after a drop by about the same amount in the previous year. OPEC defines demand for its crude as the gap between world oil demand and the output of other producers.

Prompted by Saudi Arabia, OPEC and its allies, including Russia, have been only gradually opening up their spigots as world demand returns from the pandemic, creating a tight market that has contributed to prices for Brent crude approaching $70 a barrel. OPEC, for instance, estimated that in the first quarter of 2021 demand for its crude outstripped supply by about 700,000 barrels a day.

In April, the group known as OPEC Plus agreed to a program of gradual increases through July. The group reaffirmed these plans on April 27. Analysts say that these adjustments are still likely to add up to a market where supplies are tight.

OPEC and Russia are, however, by agreement not producing several million barrels of oil a day, and pressures will grow to open the taps if demand continues to increase. In addition, a breakthrough in ongoing indirect negotiations between the United States and Iran could lead to large volumes of Iranian oil coming into the market later this year.

L Brands said last year that it was considering separating Victoria’s Secret from the rest of its business.
Credit…Ted Shaffrey/Associated Press

L Brands has decided to spin off Victoria’s Secret rather than sell it, the DealBook newsletter was the first to report.

The company said last year that it was considering separating Victoria’s Secret from the rest of its business, and it tested the interest of private equity. Ultimately, L Brands decided to split itself into two independent, publicly listed companies: Victoria’s Secret and Bath & Body Works. The deal is expected to close in August.

L Brands received several bids north of $3 billion, sources familiar with the situation said, requesting anonymity because the information is confidential. It turned the offers down, because it expects to be valued at $5 billion to $7 billion in a spinoff to L Brands shareholders. Analysts at Citi and JPMorgan Chase recently valued Victoria’s Secret as a stand-alone company at $5 billion.

“In the last 10 months, we have made significant progress in the turnaround of the Victoria’s Secret business, implementing merchandise and marketing initiatives to drive top line growth, as well as executing on a series of cost reduction actions, which together have dramatically increased profitability,” Sarah Nash, chair of the company’s board, said in a statement.

“The board believes that this path forward will return the highest value to shareholders and that the separation will allow each business to achieve its best opportunities for growth.”

The pandemic torpedoed a sale last year for much less. That agreement, announced in February 2020 with the investment firm Sycamore Partners, valued Victoria’s Secret at $1.1 billion.

Apart from a pandemic that upended the retail industry, Victoria’s Secret was dealing with a series of challenges: a brand that had fallen out of touch, accusations of misogyny and sexual harassment in the workplace and revelations about the ties between Les Wexner, the company’s founder and former chairman, and the financier Jeffrey Epstein. (Mr. Wexner stepped down as chief executive last year and said in March that he and his wife were not running for re-election on the company’s board.)

As the pandemic shuttered stores and battered sales, Sycamore sued L Brands to get out of the deal, and L Brands countersued to enforce it, heralding a spate of similar battles between buyers and sellers. Eventually, last May, the sides agreed to call off the deal.

A lot has changed since then. The retailer has overhauled its brand, de-emphasizing the overtly sexy image and products that customers saw as exclusionary. It has become “less focused on a specific demographic target and more focused on being broadly inclusive of all women of all shapes and sizes and colors and ethnicities and genders and areas of interest,” Martin Waters, the retailer’s chief executive, said on a recent earnings call.

The company also closed more than 200 stores and focused on improving profitability, which rose sharply at the end of last year, surpassing its prepandemic results.

Victoria’s Secret operating income

Victoria’s Secret is one of the retailers transformed by the pandemic, along with others like Dick’s Sporting Goods and Michaels, accelerating digital overhauls that may have otherwise taken years. Direct sales at Victoria’s Secret in North America rose to 44 percent of the total last year, from 25 percent the year before.

It’s unclear whether pandemic shopping trends will stick, and “it would be reasonable to expect some reversion,” Stuart Burgdoerfer, the L Brands chief financial officer, said at a March event. “But I also think that people have very much enjoyed some of the benefits that were forced on us or triggered through the pandemic.”

  • McDonald’s is teaming up with the Biden administration to provide easier access to Covid-19 vaccine information, the fast-food chain said on Tuesday. The effort will include ads with information from trusted third parties on McDonald’s billboard in Times Square and new packaging that will direct customers to, an information website from the federal government. “Thanks to McDonalds, people will now be able to get trusted information about vaccines when they grab a cup of coffee or order a meal,” Xavier Becerra, the secretary of health and human services, said in a statement. In January, the company announced that corporate employees and workers at corporate restaurants in the United States would receive up to four hours of paid time to get vaccinated.

  • Macy’s is proposing the construction of a commercial office tower that would sit on top of its flagship Herald Square store in New York as part of a broader redevelopment plan that would aim to improve the surrounding area and its subway stations. The retailer said in a statement on Monday that it would commit $235 million to help improve the Herald Square subway stations and to “transform Herald Square and Broadway Plaza into a modern, car-free pedestrian-friendly urban space for New Yorkers and visitors,” according to a website it created for the proposed project.

Amazon’s two-year bond has a yield just 0.1 percentage points above the equivalent in Treasuries.
Credit…Mark Lennihan/Associated Press

Amazon sold $18.5 billion worth of bonds Monday, joining other corporate giants taking advantage of ultralow interest rates to raise money because … well, why not? The e-commerce titan was able to sell some of its debt at a record-low interest rate for a corporate issuer — barely above what the U.S. government pays.

Amazon’s two-year bond has a yield just 0.1 percentage points above the equivalent in Treasuries. That’s a big vote of confidence in Amazon, which has emerged as a winner during the pandemic. Over all, investors placed $50 billion worth of orders, according to The Financial Times, underscoring enthusiasm for debt that yields next to nothing.

Amazon raised $1 billion in the form of a sustainability bond, which is meant to finance investments in environmentally minded projects like zero-carbon infrastructure and cleaner transportation. Amazon is the latest company to sell bonds aimed at so-called E.S.G. investors (short for environmental, social and governance), a market that reached $270 billion last year.

To be sure, the bulk of Amazon’s offering will finance typical corporate actions like share buybacks, acquisitions and capital expenditures, according to the bond prospectus. It will add to the nearly $34 billion in cash that Amazon had on hand at the end of March — as will profits that are growing at extraordinary rates for a company of its size.


CreditCredit…By Brenna Murphy

Today in the On Tech newsletter, Shira Ovide explains why fights over money, power and our personal information are popping up all over streaming entertainment, and how we’re caught in the middle.

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US gas prices surge to seven-year high on fifth day of DarkSide cyber shutdown of Colonial Pipeline: Fuel distributors warn of ‘catastrophic’ shortages as Putin denies link to hackers

Gas prices have spiked to a seven-year high after Colonial Pipeline was forced to shut off the nation’s biggest fuel pipeline in the wake of a cyberattack as some fuel distributors warned of ‘catastrophic’ shortages across the South and Northeast. 

The national average for retail gasoline prices was at $2.985 as of Tuesday, according to the American Automobile Association. The last time the average gas prices were above $2.99 was back in November 2014.

Colonial Pipeline has said it is trying to ‘substantially’ restore operations by the end of the week but reports of gas shortages and panic buying are already emerging with motorists lining up from Florida to Virginia for fuel.

The 5,500 mile pipeline, which runs from Texas to New Jersey and transports 45 percent of the East Coast’s fuel supply, shut down five days ago following the ransomware hack. 

The FBI has confirmed that DarkSide, a Russian hacking outfit made up of ransomware veterans, was responsible for the attack. 

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday denied any involvement. His spokesman said: ‘Russia has nothing to do with these hacker attacks, and had nothing to do with the previous hacker attacks. We categorically do not accept any accusations against us.’ 

Colonial, which is based in Atlanta, Georgia, hasn’t said whether it has already paid or is negotiating a ransom with the hackers. 

The White House earlier declined to say whether companies that are hacked like Colonial should pay ransom to their attackers, saying instead that it was typically a ‘private sector decision’ – a move that has since been condemned by cybersecurity experts.

Meanwhile, as the shutdown entered its fifth day, a Maryland fuel distributor warned there would be ‘catastrophic’ shortages in the coming days given Colonial has only managed to restore some services in the wake of the hack. 

‘It’s going to be catastrophic,’ John Patrick, chief operating officer of Liberty Petroleum LLC, told Bloomberg. 

‘Governors should declare a state of emergency and ask people chasing tanker trucks to gas stations to stay home. School buses stay put.’ 

North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper issued an emergency declaration in his state on Monday to help people prepare for possible shortages. 

Fears of a looming shortage have already prompted panic buying with gas stations in various cities already running out of fuel or restricting sales.

Motorists were also lining for hours across Florida, North Carolina, Georgia and Virginia.

American Airlines has also been forced to add refuel stops to two long haul flights from its Charlotte, North Carolina hub as a likely effort to conserve fuel in areas where it could run short.

The AAA had already warned that gasoline prices could spike three to seven cents per gallon this week and said that there also could be ‘limited fuel availability’ in places. 

‘This shutdown will have implications on both gasoline supply and price, but the impact will vary regionally,’ an AAA spokesperson said. 

‘Areas including Mississippi, Tennessee and the East Coast from Georgia into Delaware are most likely to experience limited fuel availability and prices increases as early as this week.

‘These states may see prices increase three to seven cents this week.’  

On the streets, motorists in Atlanta were reporting having to go to three different gas stations to fill up.

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Pipeline Shutdown Sparks Panic-Buying at North Carolina Gas Stations

Long lines were seen at gas stations across North Carolina on May 10, amid panic-buying of fuel following the shutdown of the Colonial Pipeline due to a cyberattack, local news reported. The pipeline network ships more than 2.5 million barrels per day of gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel, accounting for about 45 percent of fuel consumed on the East Coast, according to Gas Buddy. Long lines and gas shortages were also reported in Florida, Alabama, and Georgia. Video shared by Twitter user @RCMac1983 shows a long line of vehicles waiting to enter a gas station in Ellenboro, North Carolina. Credit: @RCMac1983 via Storyful

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Gas runs out after Colonial Pipeline cyberattack: North Carolina declares state of emergency as cars line up outside stations in Virginia, Atlanta and Florida and American Airlines adds extra stops to long haul flights

Gas stations from Florida to Atlanta to Virginia are closing their pumps due to a fuel shortage brought on by the Colonial Pipeline hack – and a state of emergency has been declared by the governor of North Carolina.

American Airlines was adding stops to two of its long-haul flights from its Charlotte, North Carolina hub, CNBC reported, as a likely effort to conserve fuel in areas where it could run short.

The 5,500 mile Colonial Pipeline was shut down on Friday evening by the company when the ransomware attack was launched – seemingly by Russian-based cybercriminal group, DarkSide. Service was gradually being restored on Monday.

At least 12 other companies were also affected by the ransomware attack, Bloomberg reported. 

The pipeline supplies 45 per cent of all the East Coast’s fuel needs, including Atlanta’s airport – the world’s busiest, by passenger traffic. The pipeline also serves 90 U.S. military installations and 26 oil refineries.

On Monday evening motorists were beginning to report shortages at gas stations.

A spokesman for Race Trac, which operates gas stations in the Atlanta area, confirmed the shortage to WSBTV-2. 

At least two gas stations in Tallahassee, Florida, were completely out of stock, Bloomberg reported. 

Patrick de Haan, an energy expert who runs the monitoring site Gas Buddy Tracker, said his sources showed five per cent of stations in Virginia running empty.

His recommendation to motorists? ‘Conserve, conserve, conserve,’ he said. 

The lack of supply could soon hit users across the country in the pocketbook.

AAA already predicts that gasoline prices in the Georgia region alone could rise three to seven cents per gallon this week, and said that there also could be ‘limited fuel availability’ in places.

‘This shutdown will have implications on both gasoline supply and price, but the impact will vary regionally,’ said Montrae Waiters, spokeswoman for AAA-The Auto Club Group. 

‘Areas including Mississippi, Tennessee and the East Coast from Georgia into Delaware are most likely to experience limited fuel availability and prices increases as early as this week.’

Roy Cooper, the governor of North Carolina, said the emergency declaration would help people prepare for possible shortages. 

‘Today’s emergency declaration will help North Carolina prepare for any potential motor vehicle fuel supply interruptions across the state and ensure motorists are able to have access to fuel,’ he said. 

The order provides funds for transporting gasoline, diesel, jet fuel and other petroleum products. And certain registration and filing requirements when it comes to the transport of fuel will be amid the shutdown will be waived, according to WTKR.  

On streets, motorists in Atlanta were reporting having to go to three different gas stations to fill up, people were posting on Twitter.

‘Gas stations around Atlanta are running out of gas and the ones that have it are hiking up the prices,’ said one man.

Another said: ‘Y’all better go and fill up on gas Atlanta. I finally got gas after trying at 3 gas stations.’

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