Rain ruins one of Norway’s richest men

Einar Aas bet that the spread between energy prices on the Nordic and German electricity markets would narrow, but heavy rains proceeded to fill the reservoirs of hydroelectric dams across northern Europe. Above, rainfall in the Telemark region of Norway. (Wikimedia Commons)
Updated 14 September 2018
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Rain ruins one of Norway’s richest men

  • Taking aggressive positions, Aas bet that the spread between energy prices on the Nordic and German electricity markets would narrow
  • However, the spread between the two markets grew bigger than ever — up to 17 times the normal position

OSLO: He built his fortune on dizzying forecasts but rain washed it all away: Einar Aas, one of Norway’s richest men, is now teetering on the verge of bankruptcy after betting the wrong way on the energy market.
A media-shy private trader, Aas made headlines on Friday in Norway and beyond, his misfortunes uncannily coinciding with the 10th anniversary of the collapse of US investment bank Lehman Brothers.
The 47-year-old power trader said in a statement late Thursday he was now risking “personal bankruptcy.”
Taking aggressive positions, Aas bet that the spread between energy prices on the Nordic and German electricity markets would narrow.
But, after an unusually dry summer, heavy rains earlier this week filled the reservoirs of hydroelectric dams that provide much of northern Europe’s electricity, sending prices tumbling.
At the same time, a rise in carbon prices pushed up the German cost of electricity, which is largely fossil fuel-based.
As a result, the spread between the two markets grew bigger than ever — up to 17 times the normal spread, according to the Financial Times.
Aas used his last remaining liquidity — 350 million kroner (36 million euros, $42.5 million) — to cover his positions, but still found himself in default of payment.
“I had positions that were too high compared to the liquidity on the market,” he said on Thursday.
It was a brutal fall from grace for the man born on a farm in the southern town of Grimstad and who has several times topped the list of Norway’s highest earners.
The former Agder Energi trader, who left the company to go private in 2005, made a mind-boggling 833 million kroner in taxable income in 2016, according to tax figures, which are public in the Scandinavian country.
This amounted to an hourly income of 95,000 kroner, taking his personal fortune to an estimated 2.17 billion kroner.
Described in the Norwegian media as a brilliant student who developed a passion for poker and race horse betting at secondary school, he now risks having to sell his luxury real estate digs, including a spectacular 350-square-meter (3,750-square-foot) rooftop apartment in central Oslo.
The exact scope of the damage remains to be determined, but the Norwegian media are already calling it “the biggest loss” ever recorded by a private person in Norway.
The Nasdaq stock exchange is also licking its wounds.
The market operator, which closed and liquidated Aas’ portfolio on Wednesday, said it had “fully contained” the risks.
But Nasdaq was nonetheless left 114 million euros in the hole.
Of that, 107 million came from the mutual default fund clearing house members must contribute to — reportedly two-thirds of the entire fund — and seven million from Nasdaq’s own default fund.
“For an experienced trader, who knows the market like the back of his own hand, to accumulate such an enormous position that he is unable to pull out unscathed is shocking,” Norwegian business daily Dagens Naeringsliv wrote in a comment.
“It is also shocking that Nasdaq allows a single actor to take on a risk that de facto wipes out the default fund as well as its own market capital,” it added.


Banksy ‘snow’ pollution mural sold for over $130,000

Updated 18 January 2019
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Banksy ‘snow’ pollution mural sold for over $130,000

  • The ‘snow pollution’ mural appeared in the town of Swansea Bay, home to one of the biggest steelworks in the world
  • The buyer will lend the mural to Port Talbot in hopes it would attract international artists to the area

LONDON: A mural by elusive British street artist Banksy depicting a child enjoying falling snow that is in fact pollution from a burning bin has been sold for over $130,000 to a British art dealer.
From one side, the “Season’s Greetings” mural on a concrete block garage in Wales shows a small boy with his tongue out to catch snow that, when viewed from another side, turns out to be ash from an industrial bin.
“I bought it and it cost me a six-figure sum,” John Brandler of Brandler Galleries, told Reuters by telephone.
“I am lending it to Port Talbot for a minimum of two or three years. I want to use it as a center for an art hub that would bring in internationally famous artists to Port Talbot.”
The mural appeared last month in the town on the edge of Swansea Bay, home to one of the biggest steelworks in the world.
Brandler, 63, said the entire mural — on the corner of a garage — had to be moved in one piece. He declined to give a specific price for the piece.
When asked how he could afford such luxuries, he said: “I am an art dealer. I own several Banksies, I also own (John) Constable, (Thomas) Gainsborough, (Joseph Mallord William) Turner, I’ve got (urban artist) Pure Evil — I’ve got all sorts of art.”
“My hobby is my business. The last time I went to work was when I was 18,” Brandler said.
Banksy, who keeps his real name private, has become the most famous street artist in the world by poking fun at the excesses of modern capitalism and lampooning hollow icons, slogans and opinions.
Previous works include “Mobile Lovers” which shows an embrace between lovers who stare over each other’s shoulders at their mobile phones and an abrupt warning near Canary Wharf in London that reads “Sorry! The lifestyle you ordered is currently out of stock.”