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.


Asian entertainment industries grappling with #MeToo issues

Updated 17 July 2019
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Asian entertainment industries grappling with #MeToo issues

  • Asia is having its own #MeToo moment, with its homegrown entertainment industries grappling with many of the issues
  • “Nina Wu,” is the story of an actress who, in pursuit of a role that will lead to stardom, is abused and psychologically scarred by a man in power

When Wu Ke-xi was looking for a frightening plotline for her latest film, she didn’t need to look further than her own industry.
The Taiwanese actress and screenwriter’s latest movie, “Nina Wu,” is the story of an actress who, in pursuit of a role that will lead to stardom, is abused and psychologically scarred by a man in power.
Wu found herself closely following the #MeToo movement in Hollywood, and decided to write something for women affected by sexual assaults in the entertainment industry. Directed by Midi Z, it was selected to show at the Cannes Film Festival.
“After 2017, after the year the Harvey Weinstein stuff occurred, I read a lot of documents and interviews. I was so purely curious about what happened,” said Wu. She said she has been threatened in her career, but never sexually assaulted. “It’s still a humiliating experience,” she said.
“So I felt really connected to those women.”
Asia is having its own #MeToo moment, with its homegrown entertainment industries grappling with many of the issues that have upended entertainment careers in the United States and beyond.
Earlier this year, the K-pop scene was shaken when two male stars were accused of sexual misconduct in South Korea. Solo singer Jung Joon-young faced allegations he secretly filmed himself having sex with women and shared the footage on a mobile messenger app; he apologized to the victims. And Seungri, the youngest member of the quintet Big Bang, was accused of trying to steer sex services to business investors. He denied the charges and retired from the group.
Last year, in India, Bollywood actress Tanushree Dutta came forward with details of a 2008 complaint she filed against actor Nana Parekar for alleged sexual harassment, which he denied. A flood of stories of sexual harassment and assault followed on social media from Indian actresses and writers.
Indian actor, singer and filmmaker Farhan Akhtar, a United Nations “He For She” ambassador with his own “Men Against Rape and Discrimination” initiative, says there is unease in the industry.
“Fear runs down the spine of everyone, thinking that, ‘Oh my God, maybe I’ve done something in the past that might come back to bite me,’” he said.
He encourages other women to come forward and speak out.
“Nobody can do it for her. Nobody can out her story and put her in a position that maybe she doesn’t want to be in,” he said. “But when she does, then it’s important that people rally around her so that she feels she’s done the right thing. And through her, through that conversation, and through her words she will hopefully inspire, motivate many more people to come out. And that’s the way the system will be cleaned.”
Screenwriter Zhou Xiaoxuan did speak out. She became a central figure in China’s #MeToo movement after an essay she wrote privately, claiming she was sexually assaulted by a TV star, went public on the social media platform Sina Weibo last summer. A prominent television host, Zhu Jun, sued her for defamation and Zhou followed with her own suit, for infringing on her personal rights. Women’s rights advocates in China are following the case.
Zhou says the movement has only reached so far in China, affecting mostly a group of high-profile, well-connected men.
“They were frightened by the #MeToo trend and they stopped. But most people in this society, they’ve never heard of #MeToo,” she said.
“I’ve actually been lucky because Zhu Jun is well-known,” Zhou said. “It’s extremely difficult for women who have been assaulted by their friends, colleagues or partners to seek legal recourse.”
Japanese TV journalist Shiori Ito said she experienced months of trolling and shaming after she revealed in May 2017 that she had been raped. That was before the #MeToo movement got under way in the United States.
“I’m very grateful to all the other women that have spoken up because I felt very lonely,” she said. She said she has felt a change in Japan and in her own family “who were really against me speaking up, and then they started saying, ‘You know what, maybe she’s right.’“
An emotional television interview with South Korean prosecutor Seo Ji-hyun in January 2018, in which she said she had been assaulted eight years earlier, is credited with starting the #MeToo movement there. Seo has since won a court case for abuse of power against her alleged assaulter. She said that watching women reveal their stories in Hollywood helped give her the courage to speak publicly. Supporters marched in the streets with candles and #WithYou banners.
“I told myself that, ‘Yes, this was not my fault and that I should not be ashamed at all,’” she said.
In Pakistan, dancer, theater director and activist Sheema Kermani is campaigning against sexual abuse, trying to make the movement there more than a moment.
“When actresses, big actresses, started calling out big names of actors for sexual harassment, I think it gave Pakistani women and women in media . the courage to speak out,” she said.
In Thailand, model and TV personality Cindy Sirinya Bishop launched the “Don’t Tell Me How To Dress” campaign after receiving a wave of support for a “social media rant” — her response to an article advising women not to wear sexy clothes for the Thai New Year in order to avoid sexual assault.
“It all started when that clip that I posted went viral overnight with the support of many, many women all over Thailand, chiming in, commenting, sharing and saying ‘Yes, this is exactly what we feel.’ Why are we always the ones that have to cover up, or why, when we are harassed or assaulted, is it somehow our fault?” she said.
Bishop also created an exhibition displaying clothing worn by sexual-assault victims. “We have university student outfits to toddler’s clothing to sweatpants and T-shirts,” she said.
She says her movement would have happened regardless of the stories arriving from America. But she adds: “In some way, the #MeToo movement has collectively empowered women without our knowing it, all over the world.”