Economy

Europe burns cash to help businesses in deepening energy crisis

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  • European gas prices have rocketed amid Ukraine crisis
  • Utilities face liquidity crunch as fuel prices surge
  • Germany will ‘do everything possible’ to help firms
  • Russian mobilisation sends oil up, adding to price pain

BERLIN/LONDON, Sept 21 (Reuters) – Germany nationalised gas importer Uniper (UN01.DE) on Wednesday and Britain capped the wholesale cost of electricity and gas for businesses, in Europe’s latest moves to keep the lights on and heaters running this winter as the war in Ukraine escalates.

Russian President Vladimir Putin added to the price pain in global energy markets, sending oil and gas prices higher by announcing a partial Russian military mobilisation, threatening to tighten global fuel supplies even further..

European gas and power prices have rocketed as Russia has cut fuel exports to retaliate for Western sanctions over its invasion of Ukraine, leaving consumers struggling with sky-high bills and utilities grappling with a liquidity crunch. read more

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“We have stepped in to stop businesses collapsing, protect jobs, and limit inflation,” Britain’s finance minister Kwasi Kwarteng said.

While many businesses are grappling with higher bills, more than 20 British power providers have collapsed, many crumbling because a government price cap prevented them passing on the full impact of surging fuel costs to households. read more

European gas prices rose on Wednesday, after Putin’s announcement, hitting 212 euros per megawatt hour (MWh), still below this year’s peak of around 343 euros but more than 200% higher than a year ago. Oil prices rose 2%.

The European Union, which once relied on Russia for about 40% of its gas needs, has been racing to find other supplies.

“The (Russian) move could possibly lead to calls for more aggressive action against Russia in terms of sanctions from the West,” said Warren Patterson, head of commodities research at ING.

Germany’s Uniper, once heavily reliant on Russian gas imports, has been among the most high-profile casualties, facing a liquidity crunch as Russia turned off the tap and sent prices soaring.

After efforts to shore up the utility with a multi-billion euro cash injection proved inadequate, the government agreed to buy the remaining stake owned by Finland’s Fortum (FORTUM.HE) to keep the company running, giving the state a 99% holding. read more

‘DO EVERYTHING POSSIBLE’

“The state will … do everything possible to always keep the companies stable on the market,” German Economy Minister Robert Habeck said, announcing the Uniper move and other steps to help Germany avoid energy rationing this winter. read more

The agreement involves a capital injection of 8 billion euros ($7.94 billion), Uniper said, a move that brings the government’s total capital injection so far to at least 29 billion euros.

Germany was more reliant than many others in Europe on Russian gas, mostly supplied via the Nord Stream 1 pipeline. Russia halted flows through the pipeline, blaming Western sanctions for hindering operations. European politicians call that a pretext and say Moscow is using energy as a weapon.

The German government has already put Gazprom Germania, a unit of Kremlin-controlled Gazprom, and a subsidiary of Russian oil company Rosneft (ROSN.MM) under trusteeship – a de facto nationalisation. Smaller companies have also asked for help.

Fortum Chief Executive Markus Rauram said selling the firm’s stake in Uniper was a painful but necessary step, adding that the company which is majority owned by the Finish state lost about 6 billion euros with its Uniper investment.

Russia’s gas flows to Europe via Ukraine have continued but at lower levels. Gazprom (GAZP.MM) said it would ship 42.4 million cubic metres of gas to Europe via Ukraine on Wednesday, in line with recent days.

Eastbound gas flows via the Yamal-Europe pipeline to Poland from Germany were halted on Wednesday, while Russian supply via Ukraine held stable. read more

In the United States, Democratic and Republican senators on Tuesday proposed that U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration use secondary sanctions on international banks to strengthen plans for price cap by G7 countries on Russian oil. read more

Moscow has said it would cut all oil and gas flows to the West if such cap was implemented.

The move by U.S. lawmakers came hours before Putin ordered Russia’s first mobilisation since World War Two, warning the West that if it continued what he called its “nuclear blackmail” Moscow would respond with its vast arsenal. read more

Several countries have banned imports of Russian crude and fuel, but Moscow has managed to maintain its revenues through increased crude sales to Asia.

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Reporting by Reuters bureaux; Writing by Ingrid Melander; Editing by Edmund Blair

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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