Easter panic in Greece. The financial pressures in the eurozone will increase as an April 9 deadline for Greece to repay the IMF 45 million euro approaches — there could be some sort of decision this week to try to sort out the situation (the country is supposed, finally, to get some reform ideas to its creditors by tonight). Figures released Friday night show the quiet run on Greek banks, which surged to record levels (20.4 billion euros in January and February), only to ease once the can had been kicked down the road for several months, has re-emerged with upwards of 400 million euros a day being withdrawn in the past week, according to the Financial Times. Markets think a way will be found of once again bailing out Greece, so let’s wait for the IMF to extend its debt deadline.

Oil slick. Chevron, the US oil major, sold its 50% stake in Caltex Australia on Friday night and quit its shale gas exploration programs with tiddlers Beach Energy and Icon Energy in central Australia as it winds back its involvement in Australia. It tap-danced around the reason, but the best and most obvious is the slide in oil prices and weak demand. It is keeping its big Gorgon and Wheatstone LNG projects in Western Australia. Chevron is the latest global oil major to leave Australia’s refining industry. Last year, Shell sold its Australian petrol station and refinery operations (in Geelong, after closing its Sydney refinery several years ago) for $2.9 billion. BP shut down its Bulwer Island oil refinery in Brisbane.

GUD shares leap to four-year high. In Friday’s surprise 40-point rise in the sharemarket, the share prices moves of a few companies stood out, but none more so that the 7.6% rise in the price of GUD shares, the biggest move so far this year, and seemingly out of the blue. In fact the surge on Friday pushed the shares to $8.57,  the highest price since May 2011. GUD controls the Sunbeam range of homewares, as well as a collection of other industrial and automotive-related products. It’s firmly tied to the strength of retailing and demand from wholesalers and others in the industrial products sectors. Earnings bounced back in the December half year, but that’s been the most recent news from the company. In fact more than 804,000 shares were traded on Friday, the biggest daily volume in close to a year. Time for a query from the watchpuppies?

Fortescue faces another week in iron ore hell. Oh dear, another record low for global iron ore prices over the weekend — the new price of US$54.10 (according to The Steel Index), or US$53.14 (according to The Metal Bulletin). Fortescue shares dipped 5.6% on Friday to $2.00. It’s going to be another day on the edge for the company and its chairman. The price fall is rude a reminder for Fortescue and Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest that those calls last week for a cap on iron ore production (channeling OPEC, no less, which has lost control of the global oil market) fell on deaf ears. Forget criticisms of Twig’s call from Rio (BHP has been studiously silent), the ACCC and the federal government, not to mention Chinese steel mills. Look instead at China’s struggling state-owned iron ore miners. Twig’s call for a cap momentarily threw them a lifeline just as many are being crippled by the relentless production and export of high-grade ore from Australia and Brazil. While many small operators (mostly private) have closed or curtailed output in China, government-owned miners (mostly provincial or local government-owned) are hanging in, even though many are producing at 20% to 40% of their nominal capacity. A price cap would have allowed these mines to flood the market at cut rate prices, very quickly destroying the cap and ruining our biggest export market. And here’s an added problem for The Twig and his exporter peers: the Chinese government wants to cut up to 80 million tonnes of excess steel making capacity in the next three years to help tackle a massive supply glut plaguing the industry.

Peter Fray

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