Russia says Bulgaria to complete pipeline stretch of TurkStream by 2020

Gazprom’s TurkStream gas pipeline, which will connect Russia and Turkey, runs through the Black Sea and Bulgaria, where there are concerns that it might fail to meet its forecasted completion date. (AFP)
Updated 21 October 2019

Russia says Bulgaria to complete pipeline stretch of TurkStream by 2020

  • Bulgaria last month struck a $1.2 billion deal with Saudi-based Arkad to complete the 474 km pipeline as early as 2020

SOFIA: Bulgaria has promised to complete its stretch of the TurkStream gas pipeline by 2020 as planned, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Monday, trying to tackle skepticism about the timescale of the project.

Last month Bulgaria signed a €1.1 billion ($1.2 billion) contract with Saudi-led group Arkad to build the 474 km pipeline across its territory.

Sofia hopes the whole pipeline, which Bulgaria has dubbed Balkan Stream, will become operational as early as 2020, but given that the contract with Saudi company was signed only in September, some industry officials are doubtful of the timeline.

Lavrov, speaking in Moscow at a briefing with his Bulgarian counterpart Ekaterina Zaharieva, said he was given assurances that the second part of TurkStream would be completed as planned.

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Last week, Russia’s Gazprom began filling the first part of the TurkStream pipeline, which runs via the Black Sea, with gas.

“The partners have underscored that the work will be finished on time, by 2020,” Lavrov said.

Russia, which is building TurkStream to bypass Ukraine to the south, has said its second portion, with an annual capacity of 15.75 billion cubic meters, will pass via Bulgaria to central Europe.

Earlier on Monday, Bulgaria opened the 11 km pipeline that links its gas transport network with Turkey as part of its push to transport Russian natural gas from TurkStream to central Europe and inspected the laying of pipes Arkad has started in northwestern Bulgaria.

The pipeline stretch is part of Bulgaria’s plans to link its southern border with Turkey to its western frontier with Serbia and provide a link to the Russia-backed TurkStream twin pipeline to Serbia, Hungary and Austria.

Last week, Russia’s Gazprom began filling the first part of the TurkStream pipeline, which runs via the Black Sea, with gas.

Moscow plans to launch the first part of the pipeline, with an annual capacity of 15.75 billion cubic meters, by the end of the year.

Speaking to officials at the opening in southern Bulgaria, Prime Minister Boyko Borissov said Balkan Stream was also a political highway ensuring peace along with its economic benefits.

Serbian Energy Minister Aleksandar Antic, who attended the inspection of construction works in northwestern Bulgaria, said Serbia will be ready with the pipeline on its territory by the end of the year and gas can flow once Bulgaria completes its part of the work.


Struggling Victoria’s Secret sold as women demand comfort

Updated 22 February 2020

Struggling Victoria’s Secret sold as women demand comfort

  • Chairman calls time following difficult year of Epstein links and controversy over chief marketing officer comments

NEW YORK: Victoria’s Secret has a new owner. Now, the big question is whether the once sought after but now struggling brand can be reinvented for a new generation of women demanding more comfortable styles.

The company’s owner, L Brands, said that the private-equity firm Sycamore Partners would buy 55 percent of Victoria’s Secret for about $525 million. The company, based in Columbus, Ohio, will keep the remaining 45 percent stake. After the sale, L Brands will be left with its Bath & Body Works chain and Victoria’s Secret will become a private company.

Les Wexner, 82, who founded the parent company in 1963, will step down as chairman and CEO after the transaction is completed, and become chairman emeritus. Wexner has faced seperate troubles, including questions over his ties to late financier Jeffrey Epstein, who was indicted on sex-trafficking charges.

The selling price for Victoria’s Secret signifies a marked decline for a brand with hundreds of stores that booked about $7 billion in revenue last year.

In a statement, Wexner said the deal would provide the best path to restoring Victoria’s Secret’s businesses to their “historical levels of profitability and growth.” The deal will also allow the company to reduce debt and Sycamore will bring a “fresh perspective and greater focus to the business,” he said.

To successfully turn around Victoria’s Secret, Sycamore will need to change up the corporate culture, reinvent fashions and redesign the stores to make them more contemporary, experts say. Sycamore manages a $10 billion portfolio including retailers as Belk, Hot Topic and Talbots.

The management team at Victoria’s Secret essentially was designing what men wanted, and not catering to women’s tastes, said Neil Saunders, managing director of GlobalData Retail.

“The brand is very embedded in the past,” said Saunders. “It was always about men feeling good. It should be about making women feel good about themselves.”

Victoria’s Secret has an unparalleled history of success. The brand was founded by the late Roy Larson Raymond in the 1970s after he felt embarrassed about purchasing lingerie for his wife. Wexner, the founder of the then Limited Stores Inc., purchased Victoria’s Secret in 1982 and turned it into a powerful retail force. By the mid-1990s, Victoria’s Secret lit up runways and later filled the internet with its supermodels and an annual television special that mixed fashion, beauty and music.

That glamor has faded and so have sales in the last few years. The show was canceled last year, and shares of Victoria Secret’s parent have gone from triple digits less than five years ago to a quarter of that today.

Victoria’s Secret struggled to keep up with competition and failed to respond to changing tastes among women who want more comfortable styles. Rivals like Adore Me and ThirdLove, which have sprouted up online and marketed themselves heavily on social media platforms like Instagram, have focused on fit and comfort while offering more options for different body types. Meanwhile, American Eagle’s Aerie lingerie chain, which partners with women activists like Manuela Baron, has also lured customers away from Victoria’s Secret.

And in the era of the “Me Too” movement, women are looking for brands that focus on positive reinforcement of their bodies.

“Victoria’s Secret will need to empower women, not make them spectacles,” said Jon Reily, senior vice president and global head of commerce strategy at digital consultancy Isobar.

Stacey Widlitz, president of SW Retail Advisers, a retail consultancy, said that Victoria’s Secret designs in the last few years had gone in the opposite direction to what women wanted, ever sexier and poorer in quality.

And while last year Victoria’s Secret started featuring more diverse models, including its first openly transgender model, the moves fell short.

Victoria’s Secret suffered a 12 percent drop in same-store sales during the most recent holiday season. L Brands said on Thursday that same-store sales declined 10 percent at Victoria’s Secret during the fourth quarter. Bath & Body Works, which has been a bright spot, enjoyed a 10 percent increase. The skincare chain represents more than 80 percent of L Brands’ operating profit.

“The (Victoria’s Secret) brand has lost its way, while the lingerie market is not large or high growth, and has become commoditized,” Randal Konik, an analyst at Jefferies, wrote Thursday. “Furthermore, with athleisure taking over, the need for regular bras continues to wane.”

The company has also been beset by allegations of a toxic work environment and its founder recently apologized for his ties to Epstein, who was found hanged in his cell after federal indictment for sex trafficking of minors. L Brands’ Chief Marketing Officer Ed Razek resigned last August after making controversial comments about why transgender models shouldn’t partake in its annual fashion event.

Epstein started managing Wexner’s money in the late 1980s and helped straighten out the finances for a real estate development backed by Wexner in a wealthy suburb of Columbus. Wexner has said he completely severed ties with Epstein nearly 12 years ago and accused him of misappropriating “vast sums” of his fortune.

Wexner offered an apology at the opening address of L Brands’ annual investor day last fall, saying he was “embarrassed” by his former ties with Epstein.

Wexner is the longest-serving CEO of an S&P 500 company. He founded what would eventually become L Brands in 1963 with The Limited retail chain, according to the company’s website. Wexner owns approximately 16.71 percent of L Brands, according to FactSet.

Mike Robbins, a San Francisco-based corporate culture expert who has advised chains including Gap and Sephora, said the team at Victoria’s Secret would have to retrain workers and hire more people with diverse voices.

“They have a lot of work to do — within the company and also outside with the customers,” Robbins said. “The companies that are able to have (a) great culture attract the best employees.”