You may have caught the September 12 headline in the Globe and Mail, the Edmonton Journal, etcetera: “Canada needs new energy pipelines, bond rating agency says.”
A new report from DBRS, Canada’s largest credit-rating agency (CRA), says Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline, and TransCanada Corp’s Energy East pipeline are all necessary.
However, as the Edmonton Journal put it, the “strong political, environmental and regulatory opposition” to these projects has led the agency to characterize such resistance as throwing “a big question mark over Canada’s energy future”.
DBRS (originally known as Dominion Bond Rating Service) is Canada’s (small) equivalent to the big three CRAs: Moody’s, Standard & Poors (S&P), and Fitch Ratings, which wield enormous power around the world by granting or downgrading triple-A ratings of companies, countries, and governments. The threat of a downgrade by a CRA can create scary media stories, especially if the target is a local government.
In December 2014, DBRS was bought up by two huge private-equity firms: Carlyle Group and Warburg Pincus. Both invest billions in energy projects around the world.
Since the 1970s, the CRAS (aside from sometimes issuing unsolicited ratings) are paid for their services not by investors who want to know the safety of a bond being issued but by the bond issuers themselves—who obviously have a stake in getting a triple-A rating for their investment vehicle. These factors came into play during the U.S. subprime-mortgage bubble, when some investment banks were paying the big three CRAs millions of dollars for triple-A ratings on what turned out to be toxic assets.
In July 2014, I wrote a three-part series (“Debunking the Bogeyman”) on CRAs for Rabble.ca, so I knew a bit about how these CRAs operate. When I saw that DBRS had been purchased by Carlyle Group and Warburg Pincus, my first thought was: “I wonder what those investment giants will do with DBRS?”
Two years later, and the new DBRS report states: “If pipeline infrastructure is not built, Canada’s energy sector increasingly risks the eventual loss of global market share” and “could eventually see their credit ratings change without more overseas access…”
The day after the Journal article, September 13, Bloomberg reported that PM Justin Trudeau is said to be favouring Kinder Morgan’s pipeline expansion, but former Alberta premier Jim Prentice “warned Kinder Morgan’s project alone won’t be enough”.
Bloomberg quoted Prentice: “’We need pipelines, we need pipelines to the West Coast, and most advantageous for Canada of course are pipelines into the Asia-Pacific basin, and Trans Mountain would certainly be helpful.’ Prentice, now a Calgary-based adviser in the energy group at Warburg Pincus, was speaking Tuesday at the Bloomberg Canadian Fixed Income Conference in New York.
The Bloomberg quote from Prentice continued: “‘But we also need to bear in mind that Trans Mountain won’t solve the problem,’ because tankers that can navigate the region are too small to service Asia. Canada needs an energy port that can ship up to two million barrels per day to Asia, Prentice said, and Canadians should be concerned that investors are cooling to the country’s oil patch. “The concern that really should alarm us as Canadians is low-cost capital is exiting the Canadian basin,” Prentice said.
So Warburg Pincus adviser Prentice is endorsing the views of DBRS, owned by Warburg Pincus and the Carlyle Group, which have billions they want to loan to governments for investment in infrastructure. Prentice had earlier been a paid advisor for Enbridge in 2014 helping the company negotiate with First Nations opposed to Northern Gateway.
Making the picture even more interesting, on September 12 the Financial Post reported that Mark Jenkins, global head of private investments at the Canadian Pension Plan Investment Board (CPPIB), is leaving to take a senior leadership role at the Carlyle Group. The CPPIB’s Mark Wiseman has already left to work for BlackRock, the biggest asset manager in the world.
As I reveal in my forthcoming book—Beyond Banksters: Resisting the New Feudalism —all these big financial players are central to the infrastructure and privatization plans being rolled out for Canada and North America in the coming months. The Justin Trudeau Liberals are planning to spend $120 billion on infrastructure (by borrowing from private sources), and are readying for their 2017 budget announcement, which will reveal Phase 2 of their big infrastructure plans.
On November 14, BlackRock (which manages trillions of investment dollars) will host a private summit for major international investors hoping to loan billions of dollars to Canadian governments for infrastructure spending. On the speakers list are Justin Trudeau, Finance Minister Bill Morneau, Infrastructure Minister Amarjeet Sohi, and other federal officials.
Will the Carlyle Group and Warburg Pincus be at that private summit? You can safely bet on it. Will the press be allowed to cover this private summit that includes our elected officials? That’s a big question.
Will DBRS be playing a bigger role in the next few months? Stay tuned.