Bailing out Adani is the definition of absurd

By | octubre 4, 2017
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Adani’s proposed $900 million loan from the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility (NAIF) always looked more like a drunken punt than actual investment.

With no commercial backers for the $5 billion Carmichael mine and 388-kilometre rail line, the NAIF subsidy seemed simply to be a waste of public money on a project that didn’t make economic sense.

Adani coal mine gets go ahead

Approval has been given for the controversial Carmichael coal mine in central Queensland. Vision courtesy ABC News

This remains the case. The initial market mooted for Adani’s coal was Indian power stations. But given that domestic solar is now significantly cheaper than imported coal, the economics have changed.

Adani knows all about this, as the cost of running its Mundra power plant on imported coal was crippling Adani Power, forcing the power station to be put up for sale for one rupee.

Adani could instead turn to the international seaborne market. But that’s not good news for other Australian miners. With thermal coal in structural decline, the threat of a new competitor flooding the market and lowering the price for everyone else would loom far greater than anything environmentalists could throw at the industry.

Then there’s the opportunity cost. Adani’s loan would chew up almost a fifth of the NAIF budget. If it went ahead, many of the dozens of other proposals to NAIF wouldn’t stand a chance.

Corporate bailout

But we learnt this week that the NAIF loan is about much more than making the Carmichael mine possible. It is effectively a corporate bailout, essential for Adani’s Australian operations to remain viable.

Adani’s Australian book value is largely derived from the Carmichael coal tenements, which it bought the rights to in 2010, and the Abbot Point coal export terminal that Adani acquired in 2012 with 100 per cent debt finance.

A new report from the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) shows how both projects are key to the company’s Australian survival. Both have a highly uncertain future.

Key contracts to handle coal through Abbot Point are set to expire over the next few years and unless new sources of coal come along to fill the gap, Abbot Point risks sitting idle. That’s not a good selling point for Adani, which needs to refinance $1.4 billion of debt to the port in the next year.

Adani hopes that new source of coal will be the Carmichael mine, which initially would provide exactly the 25 million tonnes per year of coal to make up the shortfall in Abbot Point’s capacity.

But here, too, Adani is struggling for investors, calling in the boutique advisory firm Grant Samuel to see if it can scrape together a deal in a barren environment where most prospective lenders have already walked away.

And let’s remember, in the event it proceeds, Adani’s main Australian venture would add billions of tonnes more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere over its life.

Julien Vincent, Market Forces

And so it has come to this. If we don’t give Adani a $900 million subsidy it can’t build its mine. If that happens, its coal port becomes stranded. This in turn could wipe billions of dollars of equity off Adani companies’ books. 

Tax dollars at risk

ABC’s Four Corners program this week gave us a taste of what we were being asked to bail out. Its investigation into Adani had the works: bribery, environmental destruction, tax dodging, money laundering, siphoning money into tax havens, corruption, illegal mining, and operating without approval. As much as Adani denies all allegations put in the story, the testimony from locals, experts, former ministers and criminal investigators was damning. Indian economist and author Paranjoy Guha Thakurta described Adani as «a business conglomerate that will not stop at anything to maximise its profits».

The fact that Adani can avoid mentioning environmental violations in India when applying for Australian approval was raised as a major issue in a report released yesterday by Transparency International Australia, highlighting vulnerabilities in Australia’s approvals system.

And let’s remember, in the event it proceeds, Adani’s main Australian venture would add billions of tonnes more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere over its life. I’m sure US and Caribbean residents that have just endured three major hurricanes, farmers in Australia’s eastern food bowl suffering severe rainfall shortages, all those dependent on the almost half-dead Great Barrier Reef and any of the millions of others facing climate change impacts today would agree we could all do without more global warming.

Knowing how high the stakes are for Adani might make the NAIF loan much easier to understand, but it doesn’t make it any less outrageous.

That we might provide a bailout with the risk that our tax dollars end up in an offshore tax haven, and the only certainty being a massive, financially unviable mine that would impact on natural resources, the environment and our chances of keeping a lid on global warming is as close to the definition of absurd as is imaginable.

Julien Vincent is executive director of Market Forces.

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