Goldman Sachs is working up a tidy little plan to profit from the misery of Spain’s miners.
In the Asturian port of El Musel rest hundreds of thousands of tonnes of Colombian coal. The owner – the US-based multinational bank – paid for the black stuff in cash and intends to sell it in the futures market in a speculative venture it hopes will make astronomical gains.
Coal in Europe currently costs $89.40 per tonne (as of 9 July), while futures on the mineral range from $90 per tonne for one month to $97 per tonne for a year.
The markets expect an upward trend, so the New York company is ensured of a handsome return with its stockpile in the Asturian port city of Gijón.
Arriving in the Spanish port from Puerto Bolivar, Colombia, already 156,300 tonnes have been brought ashore. Another similar-sized cargo is expected. In total 600,000
tonnes of the imported material is due to be stored in Gijón.
If all goes well, with Spain’s local coal industry facing accelerated closure, there’ll be a large ready market on the doorstep.
The only cloud on Goldman Sachs’ sunny horizon is a change in the political guard in the area, from the right wing Popular Party to the socialists following elections last March. As a result, the management of the port has changed . ‘I cannot support a speculative operation like this when my countrymen are walking 400 kilometres to fight for a sector upon which my land depends,’ a locally born port socialist counsellor told El Publico newspaper.
The former port management team was appointed by Francisco Alvarez-Cascos, a historical figure in the right-wing Popular Party and in local politics, and former President of the Asturias principality. He negotiated the Colombian coal storage operation.
But the remaining shipment must now be confirmed by the team appointed by his successor, socialist Javier Fernandez, who is much closer politically to the UGT and CCOO.
These are the trade union centrals that have been organizing the Black March, or Marcha Negra, of the miners against cuts to subsidies to the local coal industry that will wipe out thousands of jobs and devastate coal mining communities in the north and north east of the country.
The coexistence of imported coal, acquired cheaply in the international market, with indigenous mineral (for which power stations must pay a price fixed by law to help support the regions that depend on mining activities) is common in Asturias, and elsewhere in Spain. But which coal is which has not traditionally been made clear. The authorities have turned a blind eye. Coal is traded in hundreds of thousands of tonnes and nobody knows how many tonnes of foriegn coal have been introduced, hidden, into the market.
This is not legal. But it is profitable. Although not quite as profitable, nor as big a business, as the past. In the nineties, a tonne of Spanish coal cost three times foreign coal including freight, unloading, storage and all other costs, which made they undeclared mixing and matching very profitable. The reduction in staff in coal mining and other cost cutting measures have reduced the price of Spanish coal to a level that has made this fraud less profitable. Meanwhile the authorities, pressed by the miners’ UGT and CCOO unions, have simultaneously clamped down on these activities.
Along with banks and other international speculators, the coal mining companies have been raking it in too. In particular, the Hulleras Norte corporation and above all engineer Victorino Alonso, president of the coal employers association Carbounión, and owner of most of the mines of Spain.
Alonso is now by far the largest coal empresario in the country. But he was insolvent three decades ago. How did he get to fly to high? It’s a question nobody can answer. Not even the judicial authorities.
Alonso’s been investigated several times, including in the High Court of Castile and Leon, and the Supreme Court.
The 59 year old owns a web of companies. The judges have identified fourteen, but they are sure there are more. They know he owns Union Minera del Norte (UMINSA) and Coto Minero Cantabrico, the top two Spanish companies in the sector. But when asked, Alonso says (even in court) he doesn’t know where his money comes from.
After a long, ‘Black March’ , miners converged Tuesday night on Madrid to protest against a government, in awe of the banksters, that has turned its back on them.
At stake is the future of many people, thousands of miners, hundreds of thousands of people in the coal producing regions of Asturias, León, Palencia and Teruel, and tens of thousands of merchants whose sales, without the subsidies, face collapse. And a very rich engineer named Leon Victorino Alonso, who has never been, not will ever be, seen behind a banner in his life.
Alonso is unlikely to be worried though.
In their five-week long strike, Spain’s miners have forgone their wages. They may, in a few months, have no jobs. But some people will keep making money, lots of it, speculating on the misery of the Spain’s coal the miners, and the product of their labours – that black stuff extracted from the ground.