EU probes oil majors on price manipulation

VOSCOW (MRC) - European authorities have raided offices of oil majors Shell, BP and Statoil in an investigation of suspected manipulation of oil prices, one of the biggest cross-border actions since the Libor rigging scandal, said Reuters.

Authorities have sharpened scrutiny of financial benchmarks around the world since slapping large fines on some of the world's biggest banks for rigging interest rate benchmarks.

On Tuesday, the European Commission said it was investigating major oil companies over suspected anti-competitive agreements related to submission of prices to leading oil pricing agency Platts, a unit of McGraw Hill Group (MHFI.N).

The Commission also said companies may have prevented others from participating in the price assessment process, with a view to distorting published prices.

Statoil said the suspected violations were related to the Platts price assessment process and may have been ongoing since 2002.

Critics say the system is only a snapshot of the market, because it excludes trade outside the window - one reason that it can be vulnerable to manipulation.

The Commission said that even small distortions of assessed prices may have a huge impact on the prices of crude oil, refined oil products and biofuels purchases and sales, potentially harming final consumers.

It added the fact inspections had been carried out did not mean the companies were guilty of anti-competitive behavior.

The Commission did not make clear whether it was investigating a specific incident. These investigations typically take years to draw final conclusions.

Platts, Royal Dutch Shell (RDSa.L), BP (BP.L) and Statoil (STL.OL) said they were cooperating with the probe.

French major Total (TOTF.PA) said there had been no inspections at its offices. The Commission did not list the companies being investigated, and it was not clear whether other companies were included.

Dow declares quarterly dividend of 32 dents per share

MOSCOW (MRC) -- The Dow Chemical Company has declared a dividend of 32 cents per share, payable July 30, 2013, to shareholders of record on June 28, 2013, according to the company's statement.

This marks the 407th consecutive cash dividend issued by the company. Dow has paid its shareholders cash dividends every quarter since 1912.

As MRC informed earlier, Dow had reported full-year 2012 sales to amount to USD56.8 billion, down 5%, or 3% on an adjusted basis. The company's sales decreased in all operating segments excluding agricultural sciences (up 13%) and in all geographic areas year over year, led by Western Europe.

Equity earnings were USD536 million, or USD698 million excluding certain items. For the full year, Dow reported EBITDA of USD5.6 billion, or USD7.5 billion on an adjusted basis.

Dow maintained its focus on lowering debt, reporting a USD613 million reduction in gross debt in 2012. In addition, year-over-year interest expense declined USD72 million.

The Dow Chemical Company is an American multinational chemical corporation. Dow Chemical is a provider of plastics, chemicals, and agricultural products. It is a large producer of plastics, including polystyrene (PS), polyurethane, polyethylene (PE), polypropylene (PP), and synthetic rubber.

Yibin Tianyuan shut PVC plant for maintenance

MOSCOW (MRC) -- Yibin Tianyuan Group has shut its polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plant for maintenance, according to Apic-online.

The plant was shut on May 13, 2013, said a source in China. It is likely to remain off-stream for around one month.

Located in Sichuan province, China, the plant has a production capacity of 380,000 tonnes per year.

We remind that, as MRC wrote previously, another PVC producer Sinopec Qilu is in plans to restart a polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plant following maintenance turnaround. It was shut on April 8, 2013 for maintenance and is to resume operations in the first half of May, 2013.

Clariant invests in enhanced oil recovery technology and services company

MOSCOW (MRC) -- Clariant, a world leader in Specialty Chemicals, announced its investment in Ultimate EOR Services, a provider of enhanced oil recovery solutions based on proprietary technologies developed within the Center for Petroleum and Geosystems Engineering at The University of Texas at Austin (USA), said Heraldonline.

The company has made discoveries which have dramatically improved the efficiency of enhanced oil recovery solutions and lowered its costs. Its services include candidate reservoir screening, developing surfactant formulations for specific reservoirs, advanced modeling of oil field performance, and full field optimization.

"Our investment in Ultimate EOR Services with its expertise in designing chemical enhanced oil recovery solutions is part of the company's strategy to further develop and strengthen Clariant's portfolio with a focus on innovation and high performance solutions," underlined CEO Hariolf Kottmann.

"This agreement couples Ultimate EOR Services' unmatched intellectual horsepower in enhanced oil recovery solutions together with Clariant's expertise in chemical technology development, testing and application, and is complementary to our global growth strategy," said Nick Phillips , Vice President Marketing, Technology and Key Accounts for Clariant Oil Services.

As MRC wrote earlier, Clariant Mining is going to upgrade to significantly larger laboratory facilities filled with state-of-the-art equipment when Clariant Oil & Mining Services moves into its new global headquarters. The new company's headquarters are scheduled for completion in The Woodlands, Texas, in fall 2013.

Clariant is a globally leading specialty chemicals company, based in Muttenz near Basel/Switzerland. On December 31, 2012 the company employed a total workforce of 21,202. In the financial year 2012, Clariant recorded sales of CHF 6.038 billion for its continuing businesses. The company reports in four business areas: Care Chemicals, Catalysis & Energy, Natural Resources, and Plastics & Coatings. Clariant's corporate strategy is based on four pillars: managing businesses for profitability, research & development and innovation, growth in emerging markets, and repositioning of the portfolio.

Petrobras studying offer for Argentine unit

MOSCOW (MRC) - Argentine companies have made an offer to buy some of the assets that Brazil's Petrobras SA has put up for sale in Argentina as part of its divestment strategy abroad, the oil company's president, Maria das Gracas Foster, said on Tuesday, as per Reuters.

"We have a proposal on the table," Foster told a Senate economic affairs hearing. However, she said Petrobras has not made a decision and is in no hurry to decide.

Argentine media reported on Tuesday that Petrobras has agreed to sell 51% of the assets of subsidiary Petrobras Argentina SA to Argentina-based Oil Combustibles. La Nacion, Clarin and El Cronista newspapers cited unnamed sources.

But Foster said that while Petrobras was discussing an offer by several companies in Argentina, the state-run Brazilian oil company has made no commitment and has no deadline to decide.

A spokesman for Oil Combustibles did not directly confirm or deny the news reports, saying simply: "The negotiations with Petrobras are very advanced."

Oil Combustibles said it made an offer to buy some of Petrobras Argentina's assets late last year. No one at Petrobras Argentina was immediately available to comment.

As MRC wrote earlier, an Argentinian court order has determined the shutdown of Bahia Blanca city's refinery, property of Brazilian oil and gas giant Petrobras. The facility, located in Argentina's Buenos Aires province was closed as of 6 am on Friday for an indefinite period of time as its effluents discharge certificates are said to be overdue since 2003, while the environmental permits have expired four years ago.

Petrobras said in December it would cut costs by about USD15.4 billion between 2013 and 2016 to stanch the impact of falling output and rising debt on its ambitious expansion plan.

To help finance the cost-cutting plan, Petrobras planned to sell an estimated USD14.8 billion of non-Brazilian assets in the United States, Japan, Argentina and other countries.

Petrobras Argentina participates in dozens of oil production and exploration projects in Argentina. It also owns a refinery in southern Buenos Aires province with a capacity to process 30,000 barrels of oil per day.