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    Price of Diesel, Which Powers the Economy, Is Still Climbing

    Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is one reason that the fuel is scarce. Another is a series of yearslong, intertwined events that cover the globe.HOUSTON — Gasoline prices have dropped as much as a dollar a gallon since early summer, easing a financial strain on many people. But the price of diesel, the fuel that moves trucks, trains, barges, tractors and construction equipment, has remained stubbornly high, helping to prop up the prices of many goods and services.On Wednesday, a gallon of diesel fuel in the United States cost $5.357 on average, according to AAA. That was down from a record of $5.816 in June but well above the $3.642 it cost a year ago. (A gallon of regular gasoline now averages $3.805.)The surge in diesel costs has not garnered the attention from politicians and the public that the jump in gasoline prices did, because most of the cars in the United States run on gas. But diesel prices are a critical source of pain for the economy because they affect the cost of practically every product.“The economic impact is insidious because everything moves across the country powered by diesel,” said Tom Kloza, the global head of energy analysis at the Oil Price Information Service. “It’s an inflation accelerant, and the consumer ultimately has to pay for it.”Sherri Garner Brumbaugh, the president of Garner Trucking in Findlay, Ohio, said the weekly cost of fueling one of her heavy-duty trucks in September was $1,300, more than double the $600 she paid two years earlier. “A good portion gets passed onto my customers with a fuel surcharge,” she said.Both gasoline and diesel prices are tied to the price of oil, which is set on the global market. The price of each fuel immediately shot up after Russia invaded Ukraine in February. But their paths have diverged sharply. Over the last year, the cost of diesel has ballooned by over 40 percent, compared with 11 percent for gasoline.Diesel prices are high because the fuel is scarce worldwide, including in the United States, which in recent years became a net exporter of oil and petroleum products. Oil analysts said there were simply not enough refineries to meet the demand for diesel, especially after Russia’s energy exports fell when the United States, Britain and some other countries stopped buying them.Diesel inventories are always a bit low in the spring and fall, during agricultural planting and harvesting seasons, but this fall supplies are at their lowest level since 1982, when the government began reporting data on the fuel.The tightest market is in the Northeast, where oil refineries have closed in recent years and where the diesel crunch is complicated by winter demand for heating oil. The two fuels are virtually the same but are taxed differently. An especially cold winter could make the situation worse by increasing the demand for heating oil.In Massachusetts, for example, diesel is selling for more than $5.90 a gallon (about $2.33 more than it did a year earlier). In Texas, it costs $4.73 a gallon.Trucks, trains, barges, tractors and construction equipment all use diesel, and its price affects the cost of practically every product.Jim Watson/Agence France-Presse — Getty ImagesWhile Russia’s war in Ukraine sent diesel prices soaring, the current situation is partly the result of an interconnected, slow-building series of events that extends across the globe. Some analysts trace the roots of the U.S. diesel shortage to a fire at Philadelphia Energy Solutions in 2019, which forced the refinery to shut down, taking out one of the Northeast’s important diesel producers.But refineries have been closing elsewhere. Over the last several years, 5 percent of U.S. refinery capacity, and 6 percent of European refinery capacity, has been shut down. A few refineries closed or scaled back because of the collapse in energy demand in the early months of the coronavirus pandemic. Some older refineries were shut down because they were inefficient and their profits weren’t large enough for Wall Street investors. Other refineries were closed so that their owners could convert them to produce biofuels, which are made from plants, waste and other organic material.“Because we shut those refineries down, we don’t have enough capacity,” said Sarah Emerson, the president of ESAI Energy, a consulting firm.As much of the global economy recovered in 2021 and 2022, demand for diesel climbed quickly. But then, after Russia invaded Ukraine, the Biden administration banned Russian oil and petroleum imports, which amounted to 700,000 barrels of diesel and other fuels a day, much of it intended for the Northeast.Diesel prices have also soared so much higher than the cost of gasoline in part because of a decision by the International Maritime Organization several years ago to require most oceangoing ships to replace their high-sulfur bunker fuel with less polluting fuels starting in 2020. That has slowly increased demand for diesel over the last two years.“A substantial amount of diesel is needed in the new bunker blends, and that is a hidden demand for diesel molecules,” said Richard Joswick, the head of global oil analysis for S&P Global Platts. He estimated that the global shipping fleet was now consuming half a million barrels of diesel a day, or roughly 2 percent of the world’s supplies.At the same time, while American refiners are now making tidy profits, 30 percent of their production is being exported. Latin America has become a particularly profitable market, as American diesel replaces fuel from Venezuela, where the state-controlled oil sector has been hobbled by corruption, mismanagement and U.S. sanctions. Some American diesel also goes to Europe.The impact of exports on domestic prices has led some analysts to speculate that the Biden administration could eventually restrict exports to boost supplies at home. But energy experts said that might not have the desired effect because diesel had become a globally traded commodity. Denying Latin America fuel could also backfire because many countries in the region sell crude oil to the United States.“We have a symbiotic relationship with Latin America on diesel and crude,” said Ms. Emerson of ESAI Energy. “We can disrupt that, but it doesn’t immediately fix the problem.”The global diesel shortage was also exacerbated by labor strikes at French refineries this fall. And utilities in Europe have been stockpiling diesel in case they cannot find enough natural gas to fuel their power plants.Russian diesel has continued to flow to Europe since the war began, but stricter sanctions that the European Union plans to impose on Russia in February could potentially cause havoc to the diesel business of traders, banks, insurance companies and shippers.Still, some energy experts said prices could soon begin to ease.Help may be on the way from an unlikely source: China. In recent months, China has been loosening export controls on diesel. Its exports rose from 200,000 barrels a day in August to 430,000 barrels a day in September, and the country has the capacity to sell even more, according to estimates by ESAI Energy.Nearly a third of Chinese diesel exports went to the Netherlands in recent months, taking some pressure off the European market. And oil refineries being built in Kuwait and China could come online as early as next year, further increasing supply.Demand for diesel and its price could also fall if much of the world slides into a recession next year, as some economists and policymakers are expecting.“A deep recession would certainly cut into diesel demand,” said Mr. Joswick of S&P Global Platts. “We don’t forecast a recession, but that is certainly a possibility.” More

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    Russian Trade Boomed After Invading Ukraine, Providing Ample War Funds

    Russia’s relationship with the world is continuing to evolve rapidly. To assess the global shifts, The Times analyzed years of country-level trade data compiled by the Observatory of Economic Complexity, an online data platform. Because the data is published with a lag, the picture it provides is inherently backward looking. Russia’s ability to trade with […] More

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    How Finnair’s Huge Bet on Faster Flights to Asia Suddenly Came Undone

    Nestled near Europe’s rooftop, Finland spent decades leveraging its location to become a popular gateway for Asian travelers. Its flagship airline, Finnair, offered flights from Tokyo, Seoul and Shanghai to Helsinki that, by crossing over Russia, were hours shorter than flights to any other European capital. Airport chiefs invested nearly $1 billion in a new terminal with streamlined transfers. There were signs in Japanese, Korean and Chinese, and hot water dispensers for the instant noodle packets favored by Chinese tourists.Then Russia sent troops across Ukraine’s border on Feb. 24, and overnight the carefully constructed game table was overturned.Russia closed its airspace to most European carriers in response to bans on Russian planes. What was once a nine-hour flight to Helsinki when routed over Russia’s 3,000-mile expanse would now take 13 hours and as much as 40 percent more fuel because it had to swoop around borders.Finnair’s competitive advantage as the fastest connection from Asia and a travel hub for Europe vanished in a wisp.The sudden disintegration of Finnair’s business model is part of the wide-ranging economic upheaval that the war in Ukraine is causing for businesses around the globe.Companies that invested or traded heavily with Russia were immediately affected, and more than 1,000 have withdrawn operations from Russia, according to a database compiled by the Yale School of Management.Juho Kuva for The New York TimesNearly $1 billion was spent to build a terminal in the Helsinki, Finland, airport to streamline transfers for passengers from outside Europe.When Russia closed its airspace, Finnair could no longer pitch itself as the fastest connection from Asia.“The Asia strategy had been 20 years in the making,” Topi Manner, Finnair’s chief executive, said.High energy prices have blitzed a wider range. The Hungarian Opera House’s Erkel Theater will temporarily close because it cannot pay its energy bill. Hakle, one of the largest manufacturers of toilet paper in Germany, declared insolvency because of soaring energy costs, while ceramic, glass, chemical, fertilizer and other factories across Europe have been forced to scale back or shut down.The snack food industry, unable to get sufficient supplies of sunflower oil from Ukraine, has had to scramble for substitutes like palm oil, forcing manufacturers to rejigger supply chains, production and labeling, since they could no longer boast that their products were “nonallergenic” and “non-G.M.O.”The closed airspace caused Japan Airlines and ANA to cancel flights to Europe. And this month Virgin Atlantic said it was ceasing all traffic to and from Hong Kong because of Russia’s ban. For Finnair, though, the fallout has been extreme.“The Asia strategy had been 20 years in the making,” Topi Manner, Finnair’s chief executive, said from the company’s headquarters, next to the Helsinki terminal in Vantaa. Services were tailored to meet the tastes of its Asian customers. Half of its in-flight movies are dubbed or subtitled in Japanese, Korean and Chinese. Meal offerings include crispy chicken in Chinese garlic and oyster sauce and Korean-style stir-fried pork in spicy sauce with bok choy and steamed rice. The airline’s ground staff in Helsinki are fluent in the region’s native languages.Market Square in central Helsinki.Before the coronavirus pandemic, half of the airline’s revenue was generated by travelers from Asia. Passengers that used Helsinki as a hub to transfer to other destinations accounted for 60 percent of the revenue.But with “no end in sight” to the war, Mr. Manner said, the airline’s management quickly concluded “that Russian airspace will remain closed to European carriers for a long time and we need to adapt to that reality.”This summer, Finnair operated 76 flights between Helsinki and Asia, compared to 198 in the summer of 2019. Overall, the airline is going at 68 percent of its capacity. Operating losses in the first half of this year amounted to 217 million euros.“We really have to regroup,” Mr. Manner said.In some respects, Finnair has been regrouping ever since the pandemic hit in early 2020 and virtually halted world travel. China’s “zero Covid” policy, which continued to lock down Shanghai and other major cities this year, sharply reduced East-West traffic, hampering Finnair’s recovery compared with airlines that have large domestic markets or operate in other regions. Finnair, half of which is owned by the government, fought to survive by furloughing employees, cutting costs and raising 3 billion euros in new financing.Juho Kuva for The New York TimesThe new terminal was expected to draw 30 million passengers by 2030, a projection that has been thrown out by the uncertainty now facing Finnair’s Asia strategy.The project aimed to improve services for the connecting passengers from Asia who would never leave the airport.A 2017 publicity campaign by the state-owned company that runs Finland’s terminals primarily targeted customers from China.“We created a path through the pandemic,” Mr. Manner said, but it always was intended to lead “back to the Asia strategy.”No longer. Last month, the company officially announced an about-face.“We started to pivot our network toward the West,” Mr. Manner said, expanding its partnership with American Airlines, British Airways and other carriers. In the spring, it launched four new weekly flights from Dallas-Fort Worth and three from Seattle. New routes from Helsinki to Stockholm, Copenhagen, Mumbai, India, and Doha, Qatar, have also been unveiled. As jet fuel prices skyrocket, the airline is also renting out planes and crews to other airlines, and it plans to shrink the size of its fleet and staff, and to slash costs.Finnair, which has lost 1.3 billion euros over the past three years, said it hoped to return to profitability in 2024.“It will take some time before the company gets to see if this is the right decision,” said Jaakko Tyrväinen, an airline analyst with SEB, a Nordic financial services group.For the new Helsinki terminal — which opened in June — a strategy shift was also needed.Central Helsinki.An estimated 30 million passengers were expected by 2030, up from the nearly 22 million that the existing terminals handled in 2019. Those projections are now irrelevant, and airport officials say the situation is too uncertain to make any meaningful update to that figure. Next year, 15 million travelers are expected to pass through.Perhaps more pointedly, the project, begun nearly a decade ago, was designed to improve services for transfer passengers from Asia — a majority of whom would never leave the airport.A multimedia publicity campaign that Finavia, the state-owned company that runs the country’s airline terminals, rolled out in 2017 for Helsinki airport — code letters HEL — primarily targeted customers from China. With a nod to the 2004 film “The Terminal,” the campaign, “Life in HEL,” featured Ryan Jhu, a popular Chinese actor and social media influencer, living for a month in the terminal.Now, Helsinki has an expansive new terminal dedicated to non-European transfer traffic but very few travelers.Juho Kuva for The New York TimesThe project to build the new terminal was begun nearly a decade ago.The spacious aukio, or meeting plaza, includes a wraparound video installation depicting Finnish landscapes.The upshot to the changes forced upon Finnair is vastly fewer connecting passengers in a terminal designed for them.On a recent weekday afternoon, the long, snaking lanes created to handle crowds at passport control were deserted. The spacious aukio, or meeting plaza, where passengers could sit and watch a wraparound video installation depicting Finnish landscapes, hosted a lone woman with a backpack. Moomin Shop, which sells merchandise related to the Finnish cartoon characters — particularly popular with Japanese visitors — had no customers. The Moomin cafe, farther down the main hallway, was mostly deserted.“Mornings are normally slow,” said Liccely Del Carpio, who works at the Moomin store, adding that business often picks up later in the afternoon. “All in all, it’s been OK.”The European terminal was bustling, but most of the shops and cafes that stretched along this terminal’s long hall were empty. Several other spaces were unleased or shuttered.Sami Kiiskinen, the vice president of airport development at Finavia, said that the hundreds of millions of euros in loans used to construct the airport would ultimately be repaid, but that “the schedule of paybacks must be reconsidered.” Negotiations are happening, he said.Yet, despite the likelihood that the war in Ukraine will drag on and Russian airspace will remain closed to European traffic, Mr. Kiiskinen is optimistic.“We still believe in our strategy,” he said. Major infrastructure developments like airports are designed on a 50-year horizon, he said. “Putin is not going to be there forever.”Juho Kuva for The New York TimesOn a recent weekday afternoon, a cafe branded for Moomin merchandise, cartoon characters popular with Japanese visitors, was mostly deserted.Sami Kiiskinen of Finavia, which runs the terminal, acknowledged the problems facing the project’s finances but remained optimistic over the long run: “Putin is not going to be there forever.”The new terminal at the Helsinki airport is just one of numerous commercial ventures across Europe that have been affected by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. More

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    Central Banks Accept Pain Now, Fearing Worse Later

    Federal Reserve officials and their counterparts around the world are trying to defeat inflation by rapidly raising interest rates. They know it will come at a cost.A day after the Federal Reserve lifted interest rates sharply and signaled more to come, central banks across Asia and Europe followed suit on Thursday, waging their own campaigns to crush an outbreak of inflation that is bedeviling consumers and worrying policymakers around the globe.Central bankers typically move slowly. That’s because their policy tools are blunt and work with a lag. The interest rate increases taking place from Washington to Jakarta will need months to filter out across the global economy and take full effect. Jerome H. Powell, the Fed chair, once likened policymaking to walking through a furnished room with the lights off: You go slowly to avoid a painful outcome.Yet officials, learning from a history that has illustrated the perils of taking too long to stamp out price increases, have decided that they no longer have the luxury of patience.Inflation has been relentlessly rapid for a year and a half now. The longer that remains the case, the greater the risk that it is going to become a permanent feature of the economy. Employment contracts might begin to factor in cost-of-living increases, companies might begin to routinely raise prices and inflation might become part of the fabric of society. Many economists think that happened in the 1970s, when the Fed tolerated out-of-control price increases for years — allowing an “inflationary psychology” to take hold that later proved excruciating to crush.But the aggressiveness of the monetary policy action now underway also pushes central banks into new and risky territory. By tightening quickly and simultaneously when growth in China and Europe is already slowing and supply chain pressures are easing, global central banks risk overdoing it, some economists warn. They may plunge economies into recessions that are deeper than necessary to curb inflation, sending unemployment significantly higher.“The margin of error now is very thin,” said Robin Brooks, chief economist at the Institute of International Finance. “A lot of this comes down to judgment, and how much emphasis to put on the 1970s scenario.”In the 1970s, Fed policymakers did lift interest rates in a bid to control inflation, but they backed off when the economy began to slow. That allowed inflation to remain elevated for years, and when oil prices spiked in 1979, it reached untenable levels. The Fed, under Paul A. Volcker, ultimately raised rates to nearly 20 percent — and sent unemployment soaring to more than 10 percent — in an effort to wrestle the price increases down.That example weighs heavily on policymakers’ minds today.“We think that a failure to restore price stability would mean far greater pain later on,” Mr. Powell said at his news conference on Wednesday, after the Fed raised rates three-quarters of a percentage point for a third straight time. The Fed expects to raise borrowing costs to 4.4 percent next year in the fastest tightening campaign since the 1980s.The Bank of England raised interest rates half a point to 2.25 percent on Thursday, even as it said the United Kingdom might already be in a recession. The European Central Bank is similarly expected to continue raising rates at its meeting in October to combat high inflation, even as Russia’s war in Ukraine throws Europe’s economy into turmoil.As the major monetary authorities lift borrowing costs, their trading partners are following suit, in some cases to avoid big moves in their currencies that could push up local import prices or cause financial instability. On Thursday, Indonesia, Taiwan, the Philippines, South Africa and Norway lifted rates, and a large move by Switzerland’s central bank ended the era of below-zero interest rates in Europe. Japan has comparatively low inflation and is keeping rates low, but it intervened in currency markets for the first time in 24 years on Thursday to prop up the yen in light of all of the action by its counterparts.The wave of central bank action is expected to have consequences, working by design to sharply slow both interconnected commerce and national economies. The Fed, for instance, sees its moves pushing U.S. unemployment to 4.4 percent in 2023, up from the current 3.7 percent.A housing development in Phoenix. Climbing interest rates are already making it more expensive to borrow money to buy a car or purchase a house in many nations.Adriana Zehbrauskas for The New York TimesAlready, the moves are beginning to have an impact. Climbing interest rates are making it more expensive to borrow money to buy a car or a house in many nations. Mortgage rates in the United States are back above 6 percent for the first time since 2008, and the housing market is cooling down. Markets have swooned this year in response to the tough talk coming from central banks, reducing the amount of capital available to big companies and cutting into household wealth.Yet the full effect could take months or even years to be felt.Rates are rising from low levels, and the latest moves have not yet had time to fully play out. In continental Europe and Britain, the war in Ukraine rather than monetary tightening is pushing economies toward recession. And in the United States, where the fallout from the war is far less severe, hiring and the job market remain strong, at least for now. Consumer spending, while slowing, is not plummeting.That is why the Fed believes it has more work to do to slow the economy — even if that increases the risk of a downturn.“We have always understood that restoring price stability while achieving a relatively modest increase in unemployment, and a soft landing, would be very challenging,” Mr. Powell said on Wednesday. “No one knows whether this process will lead to a recession, or if so, how significant that recession would be.”Many global central bankers have painted today’s inflation burst as a situation in which their credibility is on the line.“For the first time in four decades, central banks need to prove how determined they are to protect price stability,” Isabel Schnabel, an executive board member of the European Central Bank, said at a Fed conference in Wyoming last month.A FedEx worker making deliveries in Miami Beach. Consumer spending in the United States, while slowing, is not plummeting.Scott McIntyre for The New York TimesBut that does not mean that the policy path the Fed and its counterparts are carving out is unanimously agreed upon — or unambiguously the correct one. This is not the 1970s, some economists have pointed out. Inflation has not been elevated for as long, supply chains appear to be healing and measures of inflation expectations remain under control.Mr. Brooks at the Institute of International Finance sees the pace of tightening in Europe as a mistake, and thinks that the Fed, too, could overdo it at a time when supply shocks are fading and the full effects of recent policy moves have yet to play out.Maurice Obstfeld, an economist at the Peterson Institute for International Economics and a former chief economist of the International Monetary Fund, wrote in a recent analysis that there is a risk that global central banks are not paying enough attention to one another.“Central banks clearly are scrambling to raise interest rates as inflation runs at levels not seen for nearly two generations,” he wrote. “But there can be too much of a good thing. Now is the time for monetary policymakers to put their heads up and look around.”Still, at many central banks around the world — and clearly at Mr. Powell’s Fed — policymakers are treating it as their duty to remain resolute in the fight against price increases. And that is translating into forceful action now, regardless of the imminent and uncertain costs.Mr. Powell may have once warned that moving quickly in a dark room could end painfully. But now, it’s as if the room is on fire: The threat of a stubbed toe still exists, but moving slowly and cautiously risks even greater peril. More

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    What Price Is Right? Why Capping Russian Oil Is Complicated.

    Officials from the Group of 7 are striving to strike a delicate balance that encourages Russia to keep pumping oil but to sell it at a discount.WASHINGTON — As the United States and its Western counterparts race to finalize the mechanics of an oil price cap intended to starve Russia of revenue and stabilize global energy markets, a crucial question remains unresolved: How should the price be set?The Group of 7 countries that formally backed the price cap concept this month are deliberating how much Russia should be allowed to charge for its oil as they prepare to release more details of the plan. It has emerged as a central question that could determine the success of the novel idea, Russia’s response and the trajectory of oil prices as winter approaches. Setting the price will require aligning the complex array of economic and diplomatic forces that govern volatile oil markets.The consequences of getting the oil price cap wrong could be severe for the world economy, and time is running short. The Biden administration fears that if the cap is not in place by early December, oil prices around the world could skyrocket given Russia’s outsize role as an energy producer. That’s because when a European Union oil embargo and a ban on financial insurance services for Russian oil transactions take effect on Dec. 5, the removal of millions of barrels of Russian oil from the market could send prices soaring.European financing and insurance dominate the global oil market, so the looming sanctions could disrupt exports to parts of the world that do not have their own embargoes — by making it harder or more expensive to get Russian oil at a time when energy costs are already high. The price cap will essentially be an exception to Western sanctions, allowing Russian oil to be sold and shipped as long as it remains below a certain price.The idea has won plaudits from economists who see it as an elegant win-win strategy for the West. But many energy analysts and traders have expressed deep skepticism about the concept. They believe that a fear of sanctions could scare financial services companies off Russian oil, and that Russia and its trading partners will circumvent the cap through new forms of insurance or illicit transactions.The impact of the proposed oil price cap and the potential for unintended consequences are two of the biggest quandaries facing the nations that have been enduring soaring inflation prompted by supply chain disruptions and Russia’s war in Ukraine.The leaders of the Group of 7 in June. In a joint statement this month, the group’s finance ministers said the “initial” price cap would be based on a range of “technical inputs.”Kenny Holston for The New York Times“We are looking at a far more complex oil market,” said Paul Sheldon, a geopolitical risk analyst at S&P Global Platts Analytics. “This is an unprecedented dynamic where you have such a large supplier of oil under unprecedented sanctions. We’re in new territory on several levels.”Exactly how the price cap will be set remains unclear.In a joint statement this month, finance ministers from the Group of 7 said the “initial” price cap would be based on a range of “technical inputs” and decided on by the group of countries that join the agreement. The Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control said last week that the price cap would be determined by a “range of factors” and that countries that were part of the price cap coalition would make the decision by consensus. The coalition would be headed by a rotating coordinator from among the countries.A Treasury official said the process for setting the level of the oil price cap would constitute the next phase of the agreement, after technical details about enforcement had been decided and more countries had signed on to the coalition.The State of the WarDramatic Gains for Ukraine: After Ukraine’s offensive in the country’s northeast drove Russian forces into a chaotic retreat, Ukrainian leaders face critical choices on how far to press the attack.In Izium: Following Russia’s retreat, Ukrainian investigators have begun documenting the toll of Russian occupation on the northeastern city. They have already found several burial sites, including one that could hold the remains of more than 400 people.Southern Counteroffensive: Military operations in the south have been a painstaking battle of river crossings, with pontoon bridges as prime targets for both sides. So far, it is Ukraine that has advanced.An Inferno in Mykolaiv: The southern Ukrainian city has been a target of near-incessant shelling since the war began. Firefighters are risking their lives to save as much of it as possible.As U.S. officials think about setting the price cap, they are focused on two numbers: Russia’s cost of producing oil and the price that the commodity historically fetched on global markets before the war in Ukraine sent prices higher.The Biden administration realizes that Russia will not have an incentive to keep producing oil if a cap is set so low that Russia cannot sell it for more than it costs to pump it. However, setting the cap too high will allow Russia to benefit from the upheaval it has caused and blunt the cap’s ability to sufficiently curtail Russia’s oil export revenues.Before the war and the pandemic, Russian crude, known as Urals, typically sold for between $55 and $65 a barrel. Determining Russia’s cost of production is more complicated because some of its wells are more expensive to operate than others. Most estimates are around $40 per barrel.The price cap could settle somewhere among those numbers.Officials are also discussing whether shipping costs should be included in the cap or if it should just include the oil itself. Separate caps would be enacted for Russia’s refined oil products, such as gas oil and fuel oil, that are used for operating machinery and heating homes.A tanker with imported crude oil in China. The Biden administration hopes that even if China does not formally participate in the price cap the country will use it as leverage to negotiate lower prices with Russia.Agence France-Presse — Getty ImagesOil prices have hovered around $90 a barrel in recent weeks. Russian oil is currently selling at a discount of about 30 percent. Some analysts believe that designing the cap as a mandated level below global benchmark prices could be more effective since oil prices can swing sharply.“If you fix it at a certain level, that could create some risks because the market can fluctuate,” said Ben Cahill, a senior fellow in the Energy Security and Climate Change Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, who noted that oil prices could fall below the cap level if it was set too high.“To increase the economic pain on Russia, you want to make the capped price substantially lower than the global average,” he said.As of now, the Treasury Department does not appear to support such an idea. The United States intends for the cap to be a fixed price — one that would be regularly reviewed and could be changed if the countries in the pact agreed to do so. The frequency of the reviews would depend on market volatility. Setting the cap at a discounted rate would introduce additional complexity and compliance burdens, the Treasury official said, because the cap rate could change hourly.Making sure the price cap is adhered to is another hurdle. Treasury Department officials have been holding discussions with banks and maritime insurers to develop a system in which buyers of Russian oil products would “attest” to the price that they had paid, releasing providers of financial services of the responsibility for violations of the cap.In its guidance last week, the Treasury Department said service providers for seaborne Russian oil would not face sanctions as long as they obtained documentation certifying that the cap was being honored. However, it did warn that buyers who knowingly made oil purchases above the price cap using insurance that was subject to the ban “may be a target for a sanctions enforcement action.”The impact of a price cap on global markets is difficult to predict. Mr. Cahill suggested that it could essentially create three tiers of crude, with some Russian oil being sold at the capped price, other Russian oil being sold illicitly or with alternative forms of financing and non-Russian oil being sold by other oil-producing nations.It is not clear how many countries beyond the Group of 7 will join the agreement. The Biden administration is hopeful that even if countries such as China and India do not formally participate they will use it as leverage to negotiate lower prices with Russia.Besides the oil cap’s price, the other big wild card is Russia’s response to it. Russian officials have said they will not sell oil to countries that are part of the price cap coalition, and analysts expect that the country will do its best to fan the volatility with some form of retaliation.The United States hopes that economic logic will prevail and that oil will keep flowing, albeit at a cheaper price.“Russia may bluster and say they won’t sell below the capped price, but the economics of holding back oil just don’t make sense,” Wally Adeyemo, the deputy Treasury secretary, said at a Brookings Institution event last week. “The price cap creates a clear economic incentive to sell under the cap.”Edward Fishman, a senior research scholar at the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University, argued that the price cap could work because the incentives that it would create aligned most buyers, sellers and facilitators of oil transactions toward compliance. He suggested that global oil prices could end up organically gravitating toward the level of the price cap.However, Mr. Fishman acknowledged that Russia and its president, Vladimir V. Putin, might read the incentives differently.“There’s always a sliver of a doubt in people’s minds about Putin’s rationality and his willingness to set the global economy, and his own economy, ablaze in order to make a point,” Mr. Fishman said. More

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    Price Cap on Russian Oil Wins Backing of G7 Ministers

    The proposal aims to stabilize unsettled energy markets in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. But it faces considerable obstacles.WASHINGTON — Top officials from the world’s leading advanced economies agreed on Friday to move ahead with a plan to cap the price of Russian oil, accelerating an ambitious effort to limit how much money Russia can earn from each barrel of crude it sells on the global market.Finance ministers from the Group of 7 nations said they were firming up details of a price cap, with the aim of both depressing the price of global oil and reducing critical revenue that President Vladimir V. Putin is relying on to finance Russia’s war effort in Ukraine. The untested plan has been pushed by the Biden administration as way of keeping sanctions pressure on Russia while minimizing the impact on a global economy that has been saddled with soaring energy and food prices this year.Hours after the G7 ministers announced their plan on Friday, Gazprom, the Russian-owned energy giant, said it would postpone restarting the flow of natural gas through a closely watched pipeline that connects Russia to Germany, known as Nord Stream 1. The unexpected delay was attributed to mechanical problems with the pipeline, but it raised concerns that it was in retaliation for the price cap, an idea that Moscow has condemned.Eric Mamer, a spokesman for the European Commission, said that the “fallacious pretenses” for the latest delay were “proof of Russia’s cynicism.”The price cap still has many hurdles to clear before it can take effect, but its goal is to keep Russian oil flowing to global markets that depend on those supplies, while substantially reducing the profit Moscow reaps from its sales. Europe still consumes nearly two million barrels of Russian oil a day, though its imports have fallen since the war began, and the European Union is preparing to wean itself off those supplies by the end of the year.Officials are racing to put the price-cap plan in place by early December to try to limit the economic fallout from the new E.U. sanctions. They would ban nearly all Russian oil imports to the European Union and block the insurance and financing of Russian oil shipments.The Biden administration has become concerned that those moves could send energy prices skyrocketing and potentially tip the global economy into a recession if millions of barrels of Russian oil were suddenly yanked off the global market, drastically reducing the world’s supply of crude. U.S. administration officials have estimated that oil could soar to $200 a barrel or higher unless efforts to impose the price cap are successful.The initiative is a novel attempt to blunt the global economic impact of the invasion. Oil prices rose as fears of confrontation grew a year ago, and spiked when Russian troops entered Ukraine in February. They have receded in recent months, in part because much of Europe has tipped into recession, reducing global oil demand.Whether the price cap can work will hinge on a variety of factors, including securing agreement by all 27 E.U. member states and determining how the actual price would be set. Maritime insurers, which are critical to making the plan work, would also have to figure out how to comply in a way that allows them to continue insuring Russian oil cargo without running afoul of sanctions.The industry, which would be responsible for making sure that oil buyers and sellers were honoring the price cap, has warned that insurers lack the capacity to police the transactions. Financial services in Europe undergird international energy shipments around the world, and fully blocking their ability to deal with Russian oil could disrupt exports globally, even to countries that have not adopted Russian oil embargoes.The G7 finance ministers said in their statement that they intended to use a “record-keeping and attestation model” to track of whether oil transactions were below the price ceiling, and that they would try to minimize the administrative burden on insurers.A tanker at a crude oil terminal near Nakhodka. Maritime insurers would have to figure out how to comply with a cap in a way that allows them to continue covering Russian oil cargo.Tatiana Meel/ReutersRachel Ziemba, an adjunct senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security, said the agreement unveiled on Friday raised more questions than answers and suggested a challenging path ahead.“This sounds like something that is very technical and technocratic that is going to be hard to monitor and fully enforce,” Ms. Ziemba said.Understand the Decline in U.S. Gas PricesCard 1 of 5Understand the Decline in U.S. Gas PricesGas prices are falling. More

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    Portugal Could Hold an Answer for a Europe Captive to Russian Gas

    Portugal has no coal mines, oil wells or gas fields. Its impressive hydropower production has been crippled this year by drought. And its long-running disconnect from the rest of Europe’s energy network has earned the country its status as an “energy island.”Yet with Russia withholding natural gas from countries opposed to its invasion of Ukraine, the tiny coastal nation of Portugal is suddenly poised to play a critical role in managing Europe’s looming energy crisis.For years, the Iberian Peninsula was cut off from the web of pipelines and huge supply of cheap Russian gas that power much of Europe. And so Portugal and Spain were compelled to invest heavily in renewable sources of energy like wind, solar and hydropower, and to establish an elaborate system for importing gas from North and West Africa, the United States, and elsewhere.Now, access to these alternate energy sources has taken on new significance. The changed circumstances are shifting the power balances among the 27 members of the European Union, creating opportunities as well as political tensions as the bloc seeks to counter Russia’s energy blackmail, manage the transition to renewables and determine infrastructure investments.The Alto Tamega dam, part of a hydropower facility in northern Portugal that will be operational in 2024.Matilde Viegas for The New York TimesThe urgency of Europe’s task is on display this week. On Wednesday, Russia’s energy monopoly, Gazprom, again suspended already reduced gas deliveries to Germany through its Nord Stream 1 pipeline. With natural gas costing about 10 times what it did a year ago, the European Union has called for an emergency meeting of its energy ministers next week.As Brussels tries to figure out how to manage the crisis, the possibility of funneling more gas to Europe through Portugal and Spain is gaining attention.Portugal and Spain were among the first European nations to build the kind of processing terminals needed to accept boatloads of natural gas in liquefied form and to convert it back into the vapor that could be piped into homes and businesses.This imported liquefied natural gas, or L.N.G., was more expensive than the type much of Europe piped in from Russia. But now that Germany, Italy, Finland and other European nations are frantically seeking to replace Russian gas with substitutes shipped by sea from the United States, North Africa and the Middle East, this disadvantage is an advantage.Solar panels in Sintra. Connecting such panels to Europe’s electricity grid could help ease energy shortages on the continent.Matilde Viegas for The New York TimesTogether, Spain and Portugal account for one-third of Europe’s capacity to process L.N.G. Spain has the most terminals and the biggest, though Portugal has the most strategically located.Its terminal in Sines is the closest of any in Europe to the United States and the Panama Canal; it was the first port in Europe to receive L.N.G. from the United States, in 2016. Even before the war in Ukraine, Washington identified it as a strategically important gateway for energy imports to the rest of Europe.Spain also has an extensive network of pipelines that carry natural gas from Algeria and Nigeria, as well as large storage facilities.Understand the Decline in U.S. Gas PricesCard 1 of 5Understand the Decline in U.S. Gas PricesGas prices are falling. More

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    Trade Between Russia and Britain Falls to Lowest Level on Record

    For the first time since records began, Britain had a month in which it imported no fuel from Russia, as trade between the two countries plummeted following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, according to British government statistics released on Wednesday.In addition to a sharp decline in imports of Russian fuel in June, imports of other Russian goods also fell that month to the lowest level since Britain’s Office for National Statistics began recording the data in 1997. Imports decreased to 33 million pounds ($39 million), or 97 percent less than the average monthly imports in the year to February, the month when Russia invaded Ukraine.The figures show the extent to which the British government’s economic sanctions against Russia, which came into force in March, are having an effect. Self-sanctioning, where companies voluntarily seek alternatives to Russian goods, was also likely a factor in the steep decline in trade, according to the Office for National Statistics.Exports of most commodities to Russia from Britain also dropped significantly, led by a decline in exports of machinery and transport equipment. The exception was medicine and pharmaceutical products, which increased by 62 percent from the prewar average. These products are exempt from sanctions.Under sanctions, British companies have until the end of the year to end imports of Russian oil and coal and have been encouraged to find alternative sources until then. To make up for the decreased volumes of refined oil from Russia, British companies in recent months have increased imports from Saudi Arabia, the Netherlands, Belgium and Kuwait.Before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Britain imported nearly a quarter of its refined oil from Russia, 6 percent of its crude oil imports and 5 percent of its gas imports. (Britain gets about half of its total crude oil imports from Norway.)The European Union has also reduced its purchases of Russian gas ahead of a ban on the vast majority of the bloc’s imports of Russian oil, which will come into force at the end of the year. The European Union also agreed to curb natural gas consumption from Russia. In the final week of June, total E.U. gas imports from Russia were down 65 percent from a year earlier, according to a report by the European Central Bank.Russia is feeling the effect of sanctions. Its economy contracted sharply in the second quarter, declining 4 percent from a year earlier. Sanctions on Russia have led many American and European companies to exit the country and have cut off Russia from about half of its $600 billion reserves of foreign currency and gold.One boost for Russia’s economy has been higher oil prices, which have helped it make up for revenue that would have come from buyers in Europe. India, China and Turkey have stepped up their purchases of Russian crude, providing temporary relief, but once the European Union oil ban comes into full effect, Russia will need to find buyers for roughly 2.3 million barrels of crude and oil products a day, about 20 percent of its average output in 2022, according to the International Energy Agency. More