Federal government insured Suncor’s Middle East misadventures

The excerpted article was written by  | The Globe and Mail

The federal government paid Calgary-based Suncor Energy as much as $600-million to compensate for Middle East oil and gas assets and income lost since the Arab Spring in 2011.

On Wednesday Suncor disclosed in its quarterly financial results that it had received $300-million in “risk mitigation” payments relating to its Libyan operations. This followed a separate $300-million payment linked to its Syrian enterprise in 2012. Suncor declined to answer questions about the payments.

Suncor reported a profit of $3.3-billion on revenue of $38.98-billion for the 12 months ended Dec. 31, 2018. With an enterprise value of $76-billion at the end of last year and daily production capacity of about 830,000 barrels, Suncor by any measure ranks among Canada’s largest energy companies.

Export Development Canada (EDC), the national export credit agency, has long offered political risk insurance. That insurance protects EDC’s customers against the dangers of doing business in high-risk emerging markets, such as expropriation, political violence and the inability to transfer or convert local currency. The insurance cushioned the blow for Suncor, which wrote off assets worth billions of dollars from its former Middle East operations.

Political risk insurance is a niche product, and Suncor’s claims are massive by both Canadian and international standards. The U.S. Overseas Private Investment Corp., one of the world’s largest political risk insurers, has paid out 300 settlements since it was established by president Richard Nixon in 1971; the combined value of those claims was only US$977.4-million.

Although a handful of commercial insurers have offered the product, the Crown corporation is known for taking risks the private sector would never entertain. In the years leading up to 2011, EDC charged a premium of around 1 per cent or slightly less for this insurance. EDC has typically earned around $10-million to $20-million in premiums annually from selling political risk insurance; at that rate, it would take decades to cover Suncor’s claims.

EDC underwrote Suncor’s insurance policy in 2006 at a time when Petro-Canada (which merged with Suncor in 2009) produced crude oil in Libya and was pursuing a new natural gas development in Syria, having just sold a portfolio of mature assets there. Petro-Canada began developing the Ebla natural gas project in Syria in the late 2000s, where it saw “significant upside potential.” Meanwhile, it also established itself as one of Libya’s larger oil producers through Harouge Oil Operations, a joint venture with that country’s national oil company.

The company pumped hundreds of millions of dollars in capital spending into the two countries. But it knew its overseas assets were threatened by unrest, economic and legal sanctions and war, and purchased political risk insurance from EDC and commercial insurers to mitigate those perils.

EDC, meanwhile, wanted to encourage more Canadian foreign direct investment. One way to accomplish that was by offering increased volumes of political risk insurance to Canadian companies interested in doing business in volatile emerging markets. In 2006 EDC broadened its political risk insurance program to cover a wider variety of investments. That year it underwrote $4.8-billion in political risk insurance, substantially beating its own target.

Canadians had little way of knowing about Suncor’s insurance policy. Although EDC disclosed most of its financing transactions since 2001, it reveals political risk insurance policies only when the beneficiaries were lenders such as banks. In 2006 it disclosed political insurance policies in Mauritania, Jamaica and Mexico, but none in the Middle East. EDC declined to answer most of The Globe’s questions about the Suncor policy. “We are obligated to respect the confidentiality of our policy holders and their policies with us,” it said in a statement.

EDC continued expanding its insurance business in the Middle East and Africa throughout the late 2000s, and by the dawn of the Arab Spring, 37 per cent of its political risk insurance portfolio resided in that region – by far its largest regional exposure.

The timing proved unfortunate.

Things soured quickly in February, 2011, when what began as anti-government rallies in Benghazi grew into an armed uprising against the government of Moammar Gadhafi. Meanwhile, pro-democracy protests in March, 2011, in southern Syria also mushroomed into widespread unrest throughout the country, prompting a crackdown by President Bashar al-Assad and, ultimately, civil war.

Responding to international sanctions, Suncor suspended operations in both countries. In Syria the suspension proved indefinite, and the company filed a claim to EDC in 2011. The following year, Suncor reported receiving $300-million in “risk mitigation” payments relating to its Syrian operations, without identifying the source. Meanwhile, EDC disclosed a $300-million claim without identifying the customer. “EDC had the largest political risk insurance claim charge in its history as a result of the turmoil in North Africa and the Middle East,” Pierre Gignac, EDC’s then-chief risk officer, mentioned in a 2013 commentary.

Another was coming.

Suncor’s withdrawal from Libya unfolded in a less straightforward manner. After Mr. Gadhafi was removed from power and murdered in 2011, Suncor was optimistic it could continue doing business under the new government. It resumed production later that year. But beginning in July, 2013, Suncor found its Libyan oil shut in again, a situation that worsened after export terminals it relied on were closed. The result was the same: As unrest escalated, Suncor concluded it could no longer operate in Libya, either.

Suncor received its second $300-million payment earlier this year. The company noted it might have to repay some of that sum “dependent on the future performance and cash flows from Suncor’s Libyan assets.” But as of press time, Suncor said continuing political risk continues to impede its production in Libya. As the latest payment has yet to appear in EDC’s financial statements, it’s not clear the Crown corporation paid the full balance.

In the years following Suncor’s monster Syrian claim, EDC disclosed additional political risk insurance exposures across the Middle East, including $300-million of liability in each of Tunisia, Qatar, Algeria and Yemen. EDC continues to offer this type of insurance, but in 2017 its total exposure fell below $1-billion for the first time in years, and its Middle Eastern liability had fallen to 10 per cent of its total portfolio.

EDC says it is self-funding. However, as a Crown corporation, its benefits from the federal government’s triple-A credit rating.

EDC declined to discuss whether it had changed its underwriting or risk management practices as a result of Suncor’s claims.

Jim Carr, the Minister of International Trade Diversification, bears primary responsibility for supervising the Crown corporation. In a statement, his office said: “In these cases, the political risk insurance was purchased under the previous government and these payments were simply following the contracts signed under those agreements.

“We will continue to work with the agency and their new CEO to ensure that they uphold the values of openness and transparency that Canadians expect. ” (Former long-time Bombardier executive Mairead Lavery was appointed EDC’s new president and CEO on Feb. 5, replacing Benoit Daignault, who held the post five years beginning in 2014. She is the first female to hold the position.)

In addition to Suncor, other Canadian companies have historically also experienced significant losses while operating abroad – often because of expropriation.

Robert Wisner, a lawyer with McMillan LLP in Toronto who specializes in international arbitrations, said disputes between companies and governments involving political risks are increasingly resolved under international investment treaties. “In that field there have been billion-dollar awards, including for Canadian companies,” he said. Prominent Canadian examples include Canadian mining companies operating in Venezuela such as Crystallex International Corp., Rusoro Mining Corp. and Gold Reserve Inc. that lost properties through expropriation in Venezuela.

“Obviously the billion-dollar cases are at the very high end,” he added, “but there have been other cases where awards have been paid out for hundreds of millions of dollars.”

To See, or Not To See – Tinted Windows

One of my preferred enforcement practices was to use an unmarked car and drive in the right hand lane at or just under the speed limit. This gave me plenty of time to look at and into whatever passed by on my left. Vehicle defects, failing to wear a seatbelt, distracted driving and other things of interest to a traffic cop were often easily discovered.

I recall doing this once on a cold and rainy afternoon. A car passed by me with both the front side windows rolled down completely and both front seat occupants staring resolutely ahead. Why do you think they were willing to get wet as they pretended not to see me?

As you have probably guessed by now, it was illegally tinted front side windows.

Vehicle owners who do this are surprisingly resistant to following the law.

7.05 (8) No person shall drive or operate on a highway a motor vehicle which has affixed to or placed on the windshield or a window any material that reduces the light transmitted through the windshield or window unless the material is affixed to or placed on

(a) the windshield but not more than 75 mm below the top of the windshield,

(b) a side window that is behind the driver, or

(c) the rear window if the motor vehicle is equipped with outside rear view mirrors on the left and right side of the motor vehicle.

(9) If a motor vehicle contains manufactured glass, tinting contained within the glass must meet the minimum light transmittancy requirements under the Canadian Motor Vehicle Safety Standards.

In my experience, virtually all Notice & Order #3’s were ignored. Ditto the offer to cancel a traffic ticket if the tint was removed and the vehicle presented for inspection. Sometimes it took multiple tickets and Notice & Order #2’s to correct the issue.

I know of one business that actually told their customers that if they were stopped by the police they could come back, have the tint removed, present the vehicle for inspection and then have the tint put back on. Once. Free of charge.

222   A person must not sell, offer for sale, expose or display for sale or deliver over to a purchaser for use a motor vehicle, trailer or equipment for them that is not in accordance with this Act and the regulations.

You could even find vehicles with illegal tint being displayed for sale at businesses.

8.01   No person who is engaged in the business of selling motor vehicles shall keep for sale, or sell or offer for sale, any new or used motor vehicle unless the motor vehicle is equipped as required by these regulations.

Some drivers tried to convince me, even producing a doctor’s note, that they had health or vision issues that required the tint. I could understand this for people who suffered from cutaneous porphyria, but only RoadSafetyBC can grant an exemption from these rules and they will not do so.

Why bother enforcing these rules? The information that we need to drive is predominantly visual:

  • Tint prevents other road users from making eye contact with the driver
  • Impairment of the driver’s ability to identify and react to a low contrast target, particularly among older drivers
  • Tint remains in place at night and during times of impaired visibility

So, to see or not to see. Why would you limit your ability to drive safely on purpose?

Gallagher Benefit Services Canada Names Melanie Jeannotte New National President

Arthur J. Gallagher & Co., a global leader in insurance brokerage, risk management, and consulting services, announced Melanie Jeannotte as its new National President of Gallagher Benefit Services (Canada) Group Inc. Prior to her promotion, Jeannotte served as Area President, Western Canada for Gallagher’s Benefits & HR Consulting Practice.

Melanie Jeannotte – National President for Gallagher Benefit Services (Canada) Group Inc.

The Gallagher Benefit Services (GBS) division has experienced transformational growth over the past several years. GBS Canada has grown sizably in reach and service offerings through its holistic benefits focus on organizational wellbeing and by partnering with exceptional, local merger partners coast to coast—from Victoria, British Columbia to Atlantic Canada.

Leslie Lemenager, President of Gallagher’s International Employee Benefits Consulting and Brokerage, shared, “We are proud to be locally grown and globally known. Our business in Canada has reached a size where it is important to evolve our management structure to scale for the future. Given Melanie’s leadership skills and expertise in growing businesses, naming her to this new role of National President for GBS Canada will enable us to continue to expand our client-service capabilities across Canada.”

The company’s comprehensive approach to Benefits & HR Consulting goes well beyond basic health care coverage. Its total wellbeing framework involves a spectrum of innovative solutions encompassing benefits, retirement, employee communications and workplace culture programs. It’s an approach focused on attracting and retaining top talent while driving greater productivity, profitability and organizational growth.

Jeannotte remarked, “I’m excited for this new opportunity and to be a part of GBS Canada’s tremendous growth story. I feel fortunate to work alongside some of the best consulting experts across the country.” She continued, “Together, we have unlimited opportunity to help employers of all sizes manage their benefits and HR programs more strategically to reward and attract the talent they need to grow while benefiting their balance sheets.”

Arthur J. Gallagher & Co. (NYSE: AJG), a global insurance brokerage, risk management and consulting services firm, is headquartered in Rolling Meadows, Illinois.  The company has operations in 35 countries and offers client service capabilities in more than 150 countries around the world through a network of correspondent brokers and consultants.

Media Contact:
Anna Rozenich – Gallagher Benefit Services Media Relations
630.285.5954 or anna_rozenich@ajg.com

SOURCE Gallagher

352 impaired driving offences reported during December Traffic Safety Spotlight

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Climatologists have long warned that extreme weather, including floods, will become more common as temperatures warm.

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Homeowners falling behind growing threat of climate-related catastrophe

By 

Canadians aren’t keeping up with the need to protect their homes against catastrophic events made more common by climate change, says a coast-to-coast study from the University of Waterloo.

“Homeowners can do a lot themselves to reduce risk of flooding,” said Natalia Moudrak, study co-author and researcher at the university’s climate adaptation centre.

Climatologists have long warned that extreme weather, including floods, will become more common as temperatures warm.

The Insurance Bureau of Canada reports that insurance payouts from extreme weather have more than doubled every five to 10 years since the 1980s.

The Waterloo study reports that property and casualty payouts averaged about $405 million a year from 1983 to 2008. Since then, payouts have more than quadrupled to $1.8 billion, mostly from flooding.

That’s not inflated by rising real estate values.

“All of this data is corrected for inflation and it’s corrected for wealth creation,” said co-author David Feltmate Thursday. “This is an actual increase in the amount of money being paid out.”

At the same time, the study found a large number of Canadians are vulnerable to flooding. It concluded about 1.7 million households representing about 20 per cent of Canada’s population are at risk.

Repairs can be expensive. The average cost to homeowners for flood damage in the Greater Toronto Area is estimated at $43,000.

And for some, insurance is out of reach.

“Increasingly,” said Feltmate, “people cannot get insurance for their homes because they have experienced one or more floods or they live in an area that’s designated high-risk and the premiums that the insurers would have to charge are off the charts.”

At the same time, householders aren’t doing everything they can to protect themselves and their homes — even when subsidies are available for measures such as sump pumps.

“The uptake for these subsidies is quite low,” said Moudrak. “On average across Canada, the uptake on these subsidies is below 10 per cent, even in the really bad flood-prone areas.”

That’s partly because many of the programs are confusing and difficult to apply for, said Feltmate, although he added municipalities are fixing those problems.

The report points out easy and inexpensive ways to make homes more flood-proof.

Installing a sump pump with backup power is one of the best moves, it says. Backwater valves can prevent nasty backflows from overloaded sewer systems from surging into basements.

The report recommends walking around a house during a rain to see how and where water is draining, then regrading areas where moisture pools near foundations. And leaves should be prevented from plugging street drains.

“Homeowners need to take a more active role in protecting themselves,” Moudrak said.

The report also looks at municipalities. Feltmate said communities are taking steps to adapt to new weather coming with a shifting climate, but the rate of change is outpacing efforts.

“We have an adaptation deficit growing in Canada right now,” he said.

Money laid out ahead of time pays off, said Feltmate. The study suggests every dollar spent on preparing for a flood or other weather catastrophe saves between $3 and $12 in cleanup costs.

“It’s a lot cheaper not to have the problem,” he said.

 

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