Tag Archives: Russia

Russia and China’s All Out War Against US Petrodollar

The formation of a BRICS gold marketplace, which could bypass the U.S. Petrodollar in bilateral trade, continues to take shape as Russia’s largest bank, state-owned Sberbank, announced this week that its Swiss subsidiary had begun trading in gold on the Shanghai Gold Exchange.

Russian officials have repeatedly signaled that they plan to conduct transactions with China using gold as a means of marginalizing the power of the US dollar in bilateral trade between the geopolitically powerful nations. This latest movement is quite simply the manifestation of a larger geopolitical game afoot between great powers.

According to a report published by Reuters:

Sberbank was granted international membership of the Shanghai exchange in September last year and in July completed a pilot transaction with 200 kg of gold kilobars sold to local financial institutions, the bank said.

Sberbank plans to expand its presence on the Chinese precious metals market and anticipates total delivery of 5-6 tonnes of gold to China in the remaining months of 2017.

Gold bars will be delivered directly to the official importers in China as well as through the exchange, Sberbank said.

Russia’s second-largest bank VTB is also a member of the Shanghai Gold Exchange.

To be clear, there is a revolutionary transformation of the entire global monetary system currently underway, being driven by an almost perfect storm. The implications of this transformation are extremely profound for U.S. policy in the Middle East, which for nearly the past half century has been underpinned by its strategic relationship with Saudi Arabia.

THE RISE & FALL OF THE PETRODOLLAR

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The dollar was established as the global reserve currency in 1944 with the Bretton Woods agreement, commonly referred to as the gold standard. The U.S. leveraged itself into this power position by holding the largest reserve of gold in the world. The dollar was pegged at $35 an ounce — and freely exchangeable into gold.

By the 1960s, a surplus of U.S. dollars caused by foreign aid, military spending, and foreign investment threatened this system, as the U.S. did not have enough gold to cover the volume of dollars in worldwide circulation at the rate of $35 per ounce; as a result, the dollar was overvalued.

America temporarily embraced a new paradigm in 1971, as the dollar became a pure fiat currency (decoupled from any physical store of value), until the petrodollar agreement was concluded by President Nixon in 1973.

The quid pro quo was that Saudi Arabia would denominate all oil trades in U.S. dollars, and in return, the U.S. would agree to sell Saudi Arabia military hardware and guarantee the defense of the Kingdom.

A report by the Centre for Research on Globalization clarifies the implications of these most recent moves by the Russians and the Chinese in an ongoing drive to replace the US petrodollar as the global reserve currency:

Fast forward to March 2017; the Russian Central Bank opened its first overseas office in Beijing as an early step in phasing in a gold-backed standard of trade. This would be done by finalizing the issuance of the first federal loan bonds denominated in Chinese yuan and to allow gold imports from Russia.

The Chinese government wishes to internationalize the yuan, and conduct trade in yuan as it has been doing, and is beginning to increase trade with Russia. They’ve been taking these steps with bilateral trading, native trading systems and so on. However, when Russia and China agreed on their bilateral US$400 billion pipeline deal, China wished to, and did, pay for the pipeline with yuan treasury bonds, and then later for Russian oil in yuan.

This evasion of, and unprecedented breakaway from, the reign of the US dollar monetary system is taking many forms, but one of the most threatening is the Russians trading Chinese yuan for gold. The Russians are already taking Chinese yuan, made from the sales of their oil to China, back to the Shanghai Gold Exchange to then buy gold with yuan-denominated gold futures contracts – basically a barter system or trade.

The Chinese are hoping that by starting to assimilate the yuan futures contract for oil, facilitating the payment of oil in yuan, the hedging of which will be done in Shanghai, it will allow the yuan to be perceived as a primary currency for trading oil. The world’s top importer (China) and exporter (Russia) are taking steps to convert payments into gold. This is known. So, who would be the greatest asset to lure into trading oil for yuan? The Saudis, of course.

All the Chinese need is for the Saudis to sell China oil in exchange for yuan. If the House of Saud decides to pursue that exchange, the Gulf petro-monarchies will follow suit, and then Nigeria, and so on. This will fundamentally threaten the petrodollar.

According to a report by the Russian government media, significant progress has been made in promoting bilateral trade in yuan, between the two nations, as the first step towards an even more ambitious plan—using gold to make transactions:

One measure under consideration is the joint organization of trade in gold. In recent years, China and Russia have been the world’s most active buyers of the precious metal.

On a visit to China last year, deputy head of the Russian Central Bank Sergey Shvetsov said that the two countries want to facilitate more transactions in gold between the two countries.

In April, Sberbank expressed interest in financing the direct import of gold to India—also a BRICS member. Make no mistake that a BRICS gold marketplace could be used to bypass the dollar in bilateral trade, and undermine the hegemonic control enjoyed by the US petrodollar as the global reserve currency.

“In 2014 Russia and China signed two mammoth 30-year contracts for Russian gas to China. The contracts specified that the exchange would be done in Renminbi [yuan] and Russian rubles, not in dollars. That was the beginning of an accelerating process of de-dollarization that is underway today.” according to strategic risk consultant F. William Engdahl.

Russia and China are now creating a new paradigm for the world economy and paving the way for a global de-dollarization.

“A Russian-Chinese alternative to the dollar in the form of a gold-backed ruble and gold-backed Renminbi or yuan, could start a snowball exit from the US dollar, and with it, a severe decline in America’s ability to use the reserve dollar role to finance her wars with other peoples’ money,”

Source: The Most Revolutionary Act

 

Wealthy Russians Rush to Buy Up Luxury Greek Villas

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Russian buyers are scrambling to buy bargain properties in Greece as the financial meltdown has eroded luxury real-estate prices, Damien Sharkov reported for Newsweek.

Just to give you an idea of the scale of sales: The Greek real-estate agency IRM Aegean Estate has put properties in package deals, with two villas in Corfu —private beach and all — selling together for $4.9 million.

According to the German magazine Bild, the number of luxury Greek villas bought by Russians has more than doubled in the past year, Newsweek reported.

That’s partially because of Russia’s own currency crisis — rich people are looking for safe places to park cash — but also because real-estate prices in Greece have fallen roughly 50% since 2009, Bild reported.

“If a villa on the Greek island of Syros still cost €1.6m a few years ago, it is now selling for just €800,000,” IRM founder Isabelle Razi told Newsweek. That’s a fall to roughly $870,000 from $1.74 million with today’s exchange rates.

The strengthening relationship between Russian buyers and their Greek holdings is mirrored by ties between their national governments.

Last month the two countries agreed to build a $2.27 billion gas pipeline, Sharkov reported for Newsweek, and some critics are concerned the move signifies a tug-of-war between the West and Russia, as Athens may be inching toward the Kremlin’s umbrella of influence.

Capital Controls Feared As Russian Rouble Collapses

‘Funding problems are increasing dramatically.  We think Russia is now flirting with systemic problems,’ said Danske Bank

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The currency has been in free fall since Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states vetoed calls by weaker OPEC members for a cut in crude oil output. By Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, The Telegraph

The Russian Rouble has suffered its steepest one-day drop since the default crisis in 1998 as capital flight accelerates, raising the risk of emergency exchange controls and tightening the noose on Russian companies and bodies with more than $680bn (£432bn) of external debt.

The currency has been in free fall since Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states vetoed calls by weaker OPEC members for a cut in crude oil output, a move viewed by the Kremlin as a strategic attack on Russia.

A fresh plunge in Brent prices to a five-year low of $67.50 a barrel on Monday caused the dam to break, triggering a 9pc slide in the Rouble in a matter of hours.

Analysts said it took huge intervention by the Russian central bank to stop the rout and stabilize the Rouble at 52.07 to the dollar. “They must have spent billions,” said Tim Ash, at Standard Bank.

It is extremely rare for a major country to collapse in this fashion, and the trauma is likely to have political consequences. “This has become disorderly. There are no real buyers of the Rouble. We know that voices close to president Vladimir Putin want capital controls, and we cannot rule this out,” said Lars Christensen, at Danske Bank.

“Funding problems are increasing dramatically. We think Russia is now flirting with systemic problems,” he added.

Some Russian banks have already started limiting withdrawals of dollars and euros to $10,000, an implicit lock down for big depositors.

Rouble against the dollar since December 2012.

Russian premier Dmitry Medvedev said 10 days ago that capital controls are out of the question. “The government, myself, my colleagues and the central bank have repeatedly stated that we are not going to impose any special restrictions on capital flows,” he said.

Ksenia Yudaeva, the central bank’s deputy governor, said the authorities are battening down the hatches for a “$60 oil scenario” lasting deep into next year. “A long decline is highly probable,” she said.

Russia has lost its ranking as the world’s eighth biggest economy, shrinking in just nine months from a $2.1 trillion petro-giant to a mid-size player comparable with Korea or Spain.

In a further setback, Mr Putin gave the clearest signal yet that the South Stream gas pipeline – intended to supply Europe without going through Ukraine – may never be built. “If Europe does not want to carry it out, then it will not be carried out,” he said.

Oil and gas provide two-thirds of Russia’s exports and cover half of its fiscal revenues, a classic case of the “Dutch Disease” that leaves the country highly exposed to the ups and down of the commodity cycle.

Protracted slumps in crude prices crippled the Soviet Union in late 1980s, and caused Russia to go bankrupt in the late-1990s. “The Rouble will not stabilize until oil does,” said Kingsmill Bond, at Sberbank.

The bank said Russia faces a mounting deficit on its capital account. The country is no longer generating a big enough trade surplus to cover capital outflows. Sberbank warned that reserves are “likely” to fall to levels that ultimately require capital controls, unless Western sanctions are lifted.

While Russia has $420bn of foreign reserves, this war chest is not as a large as it seems for a country with chronic capital outflows that relies heavily on foreign funding. Lubomir Mitov, from the Institute of International Finance, said investors may start to fret about reserve cover if the figure falls to $330bn.

The Rouble’s slide has led to fury in the Duma, where populist politician Evgeny Fedorov has called for a criminal investigation of the central bank. Critics say the institution had been taken over by “feminist liberals” and is a tool of the International Monetary Fund. The office of the Russia general prosecutor said on Monday it was opening a probe.

The central bank has refused to intervene to defend the Rouble over recent weeks, letting the exchange rate take the strain rather than burning through reserves to delay the inevitable, as Nigeria and Kazakhstan are doing. It squandered $200bn of reserves in a six-week period in late 2008 and triggered an acute banking crisis, learning the hard way that currency intervention entails monetary tightening.

By letting the Rouble fall, it shields the Russian budget from the slump in global oil prices, though not entirely. Deutsche Bank said the fiscal balance turns negative at crude prices below $70.

Yet the devaluation is causing prices to spiral upwards in the shops and may at some point cause a self-feeding crisis if it evokes bitter memories of past currencies crashes. The finance ministry said it expects inflation to reach 10pc in the first quarter of 2015.

There is already a dash to buy washing machines, cars and computers before they shoot up in price, a shift in behavior that signals stress.

The Rouble slide is ratcheting up the pressure on Russian companies facing $35bn of redemptions of foreign debt in December alone, mostly in dollars. Yields on Lukoil’s 10-year bonds have jumped by 250 basis points since June to 7.5pc.

Most Russian companies have been shut out of global capital markets since the escalation of Western sanctions, following the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in July. They are forced to pay back debt as it comes due, seek support from the Russian state or default. The oil giant Rosneft has requested $49bn in state aid.

Sberbank said companies must repay $75bn next year in dollar debt and cannot hope to roll over more than a tiny sliver of this. Nor can they expect more than $10bn of fresh capital from China.

The bank said there are companies that are profiting nicely from the devaluation, since they sell abroad yet their costs are local. These include the base metals groups Norilsk and Rusal, as well as steel producers, and fertilizer groups such as Uralkali and PhosAgro. “Some of these are making a lot of money right now, and their stocks are flying,” said one trader.

The Russian equity index is trading at 0.5pc of book value. Rarely has a market ever been so cheap.

OPEC Refuses to Cut Production, Oil Plunges off the Chart

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   Oil rig in North Dakota. Increased US drilling is a factor in the current decline in prices.  This article by Wolf Richter

The global oil glut, as some call it, is caused by the toxic mix of soaring production in the US and lackluster demand from struggling economies around the world. Since June, crude oil prices have plunged 30%. It drove oil producers in the US into bouts of hand wringing behind the scenes, though they desperately tried to maintain brittle smiles and optimistic verbiage in public.

But everyone in the industry – particularly junk bondholders that have funded the shale revolution in the US – were hoping that OPEC, and not the US, would come to its senses and cut production.

So the oil ministers from OPEC members just got through with what must have been a tempestuous five-hour meeting in Vienna, and it was not pretty for high-cost US producers: the oil production target would remain unchanged at 30 million barrels per day.

“It was a great decision,” Saudi Oil Minister Ali al-Naimi said with a big smile after the meeting.

Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states were thus overriding the concerns from struggling countries such as Venezuela which, at these prices – and they’re plunging as I’m writing this – will head straight into default, or get bailed out by China, at a price, whatever the case may be.

Venezuelan Foreign Minister Rafael Ramirez emerged from the meeting, visibly steaming, and refused to comment.

The US benchmark crude oil grade, West Texas Intermediate, plunged instantly. Even before the decision, it was down 30% from its recent high in June. As I’m writing this, it crashed through the $70-mark without even hesitating. It currently trades for $68.51. Chopped down by a full third from the peak in June.

This is what that Thanksgiving plunge looks like:

US-WTI_2014-11-27

Nigerian Oil Minister said OPEC and Non-OPEC producers should share responsibility to stabilize the markets. I don’t know what he was thinking; maybe some intervention by central banks around the world, such as the coordinated announcement of “QE crude infinity” perhaps?

Ecuadorian Oil Minister called the decision a rollover. However, the Iranian Oil Minister, whose country must have a higher price, kept a positive face, saying, “I’m not angry.”

The next OPEC meeting will be held in June, 2015. So this is going to last a while. And there is no deus ex machina on the horizon.

It seems OPEC, or rather Saudi Arabia and some of the Gulf States, decided for now to live with the circumstances, to let the markets sort it out. High-cost producers around the world will spill red ink. Governments might topple. Junk bondholders and shareholders of oil-and-gas IPOs that have blindly funded the miraculous shale revolution in the US, lured by ever increasing hype, will watch more of their money go up in thick smoke.

And the bloodletting in the US fracking revolution will go on until the money finally dries up.

Don’t Count On A Major Slowdown In U.S. Oil Production Growth

https://i1.wp.com/upachaya.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/fracking.jpgby Richard Zeits

Summary

  • The presumption that North American shale oil production is the “swing” component of global supply may be incorrect.
  • Supply cutbacks from other sources may come first.
  • Growth momentum in North American unconventional oil production will likely carry on into 2015, with little impact from lower oil prices on the next two quarters’ volumes.
  • The current oil price does not represent a structural “economic floor” for North American unconventional oil production.

The recent pull back in crude oil prices is often portrayed as being a consequence of the rapid growth of North American shale oil production.

The thesis is often further extrapolated to suggest that a major slowdown in North American unconventional oil production growth, induced by the oil price decline, will be the corrective mechanism that will bring oil supply and demand back in equilibrium (given that OPEC’s cost to produce is low).

Both views would be, in my opinion, overly simplistic interpretations of the global supply/demand dynamics and are not supported by historical statistical data.

Oil Price – The Economic Signal Is Both Loud and Clear

The current oil price correction is, arguably, the most pronounced since the global financial crisis of 2008-2009. The following chart illustrates very vividly that the price of the OPEC Basket (which represents waterborne grades of oil) has moved far outside the “stability band” that seems to have worked well for both consumers and producers over the past four years. (It is important, in my opinion, to measure historical prices in “today’s dollars.”)

(Source: Zeits Energy Analytics, November 2014)

Given the sheer magnitude of the recent oil price move, the economic signal to the world’s largest oil suppliers is, arguably, quite powerful already. A case can be made that it goes beyond what could be interpreted as “ordinary volatility,” giving the hope that the current price level may be sufficient to induce some supply response from the largest producers – in the event a supply cut back is indeed needed to eliminate a transitory supply/demand imbalance.

Are The U.S. Oil Shales The Culprit?

It is debatable, in my opinion, if the continued growth of the U.S. onshore oil production can be identified as the primary cause of the current correction in the oil price. Most likely, North American shale oil is just one of several powerful factors, on both supply and demand sides, that came together to cause the price decline.

The history of oil production increases from North America in the past three years shows that the OPEC Basket price remained within the fairly tight band, as highlighted on the graph above, during 2012-2013, the period when such increases were the largest. Global oil prices “broke down” in September of 2014, when North American oil production was growing at a lower rate than in 2012-2013.

(Source: OPEC, October 2014)

If the supply growth from North America was indeed the primary “disruptive” factor causing the imbalance, one would expect the impact on oil prices to become visible at the time when incremental volumes from North America were the highest, i.e., in 2012-2013.

Should One Expect A Strong Slowdown in North American Oil Production Growth?

There is no question that the sharp pullback in the price of oil will impact operating margins and cash flows of North American shale oil producers. However, a major slowdown in North American unconventional oil production growth is a lot less obvious.

First, the oil price correction being seen by North American shale oil producers is less pronounced than the oil price correction experienced by OPEC exporters. It is sufficient to look at the WTI historical price graph below (which is also presented in “today’s dollars”) to realize that the current WTI price decline is not dissimilar to those seen in 2012 and 2013 and therefore represents a signal of lesser magnitude than the one sent to international exporters (the OPEC Basket price).

(Source: Zeits Energy Analytics, November 2014)

Furthermore, among all the sources of global oil supply, North American oil shales are the least established category. Their cost structure is evolving rapidly. Given the strong productivity gains in North American shale oil plays, what was a below-breakeven price just two-three years ago, may have become a price stimulating growth going into 2015.

Therefore, the signal sent by the recent oil price decline may not be punitive enough for North American shale oil producers and may not be able to starve the industry of external capital.

Most importantly, review of historical operating statistics provides an indication that the previous similar WTI price corrections – seen in 2012 and 2013 – did not result in meaningful slowdowns in the North American shale oil production.

The following graph shows the trajectory of oil production in the Bakken play. From this graph, it is difficult to discern any significant impact from the 2012 and 2013 WTI price corrections on the play’s aggregate production volumes. While a positive correlation between these two price corrections and the pace of production growth in the Bakken exists, there are other factors – such as takeaway capacity availability and local differentials – that appear to have played a greater role. I should also note that the impact of the lower oil prices on production volumes was not visible in the production growth rate for more than half a year after the onset of the correction.

(Source: Zeits Energy Analytics, November 2014)

Leading U.S. Independents Will Likely Continue to Grow Production At A Rapid Pace

Production growth track record by several leading shale oil players suggests that U.S. shale oil production will likely remain strong even in the $80 per barrel WTI price environment. Several examples provide an illustration.

Continental Resources (NYSE:CLR) grew its Bakken production volumes at a 58% CAGR over the past three years (slide below). By looking at the company’s historical production, it would be difficult to identify any impact from the 2012 and 2013 oil price corrections on the company’s production growth rate. Continental just announced a reduction to its capital budget in 2015 in response to lower oil prices, to $4.6 billion from $5.2 billion planned initially. The company still expects to grow its total production in 2015 by 23%-29% year-on-year.

(Source: Continental Resources, October 2014)

EOG Resources (NYSE:EOG) expects that its largest core plays (Eagle Ford, Bakken and Delaware Basin) will generate after-tax rates of return in excess of 100% in 2015 at $80 per barrel wellhead price. EOG went further to suggest that these plays may remain economically viable (10% well-level returns) at oil prices as low as $40 per barrel. The company expects to continue to grow its oil production at a double-digit rate in 2015 while spending within its cash flow. EOG achieved ~40% oil production growth in 2012-2013 and expects 31% growth for 2014. While a slowdown is visible, it is important to take into consideration that EOG’s oil production base has increased dramatically in the past three years and requires significant capital just to be maintained flat. Again, one would not notice much impact from prior years’ oil price corrections on EOG’s production growth trajectory.

(Source: EOG Resources, November 2014)

Anadarko Petroleum’s (NYSE:APC) U.S. onshore oil production growth story is similar. Anadarko increased its U.S. crude oil and NLS production from 100,000 barrels per day in 2010 to close to almost 300,000 barrels per day expected in Q4 2014. Anadarko has not yet provided growth guidance for 2015, but indicated that the company’s exploration and development strategies remain intact. While recognizing a very steep decline in the oil price, Anadarko stated that it wants “to watch this environment a little longer” before reaching conclusions with regard to the impact on its future spending plans.

(Source: Anadarko Petroleum, October 2014)

Devon Energy (NYSE:DVN) posted company-wide oil production of 216,000 barrels per day in Q3 2014. While Devon will provide detailed production and capital guidance at a later date, the company has indicated that it sees 20% to 25% oil production growth and mid‐single digit top‐line growth “on a retained‐property basis” (pro forma for divestitures) in 2015.

The list can continue on.

In Conclusion…

Based on preliminary 2015 growth indications from large shale oil operators, North American oil production growth in 2015 will likely remain strong, barring further strong decline in the price of oil.

No slowdown effect from lower oil prices will be seen for at least six months from the time operators received the “price signal” (August-September 2014).

Given the effects of the technical learning curve in oil shales and continuously improving drilling economics, the current ~$77 per barrel WTI price is unlikely to be sufficient to eliminate North American unconventional production growth.

North American shale oil production remains a very small and highly fragmented component of the global oil supply.

The global oil “central bank” (Saudi Arabia and its close allies in OPEC) remain best positioned to quickly re-instate stability of oil price in the event further significant decline occurred.

High Stakes in Dracula’s Transylvania

House hunters are turning to Romania’s central region of Transylvania, popularized by the tale of Count Dracula. Restrictions were lifted this year on local purchases of local real estate by European Union nationals. Bran Castle, above, in Bran, Brasov county, is marketed as the home of Count Dracula, but in reality it was a residence of Romanian Queen Marie in the early 20th century.Romania draws foreign buyers looking for historic mansions and modern villas in resort areas

Count Dracula, the central character of Irish author Bram Stoker’s classic vampire novel, eagerly left for England in search of new blood, in a story that popularized the Romanian region of Transylvania. Today, house hunters are invited to make the reverse journey now that Romania is a member of the European Union and that restrictions were lifted this year on purchases of local real estate by the bloc’s nationals.

Britain’s Prince Charles, for one, unwinds every year in Zalanpatak. The mud road leading to the remote village stretches for miles, with the clanging of cow bells accompanying tourists making the trek.

Elsewhere in the world, the heir to the British throne occupies great castles and sprawling mansions. In rural Romania, he resides in a small old cottage. His involvement, since 2006, in the restoration of a few local farmhouses has given the hamlet global popularity and added a sense of excitement about Transylvania living.

A living room in Bran Castle, a Transylvania property marketed as Count Dracula’s castle. The home is for sale, initially listed for $78 million.A living room in Bran Castle, a Transylvania property marketed as Count Dracula’s castle. The home is for sale, initially listed for $78 million.

Transylvania, with a population of more than seven million in the central part of Romania, has a number of high-end homes on the market. And, yes, one is a castle. Bran Castle in Brasov county is marketed as the home of Count Dracula. In reality it was a residence of Romanian Queen Marie in the early 20th century. In 2007, the home was available for $78 million. The sellers are no longer listing a price, said Mark A. Meyer, of Herzfeld and Rubin, the New York attorneys representing the queen’s descendants, but will entertain offers.

Foreign buyers had been focused on Bucharest, where there was speculative buying of apartments after the country joined the EU in 2007. But Transylvania has been luring house hunters away from the capital city.

A guesthouse on the property in Zalanpatak, Transylvania, that is owned by Britain’s Prince Charles. His presence has boosted interest in Romanian real estate.A guesthouse on the property in Zalanpatak, Transylvania, that is owned by Britain’s Prince Charles. His presence has boosted interest in Romanian real estate.

Transylvania means “the land beyond the forest” and the region is famous for its scenic mountain routes. Brasov, an elegant mountain resort and the closest Transylvanian city to the capital, has many big villas built in the 19th century by wealthy merchants. A 10-room townhouse from that period in the historic city center is listed for $2.7 million. For $500,000, a 2,200-square-foot apartment offers rooftop views of the city and the surrounding mountains.

A seven-bedroom mansion in the nearby village of Halchiu, close to popular skiing resorts, is on the market for $2.4 million. The modern villa features two huge living rooms, a swimming pool, a tennis court and spectacular views of the Carpathian Mountains.

The village, founded by Saxons in the 12th century, has rows of historic houses across the street. Four such buildings were demolished to make way for the mansion, completed in 2010.

A $2.4 million mansion is for sale in Halchiu village.A $2.4 million mansion is for sale in Halchiu village.

“Rather than invest a million or more to buy an existing house, the wealthy prefer to build on their own because construction materials and work is cheaper,” said Raluca Plavita, senior consultant at real-estate firm DTZ Echinox in Bucharest.

Non-EU nationals can’t purchase land outright—although they may use locally registered companies to circumvent the restriction—but they can buy buildings freely, said Razvan Popa, real-estate partner at law firm Kinstellar. High-end properties are out of reach for many Romanians, who make an average of $500 in monthly take-home pay.

The country saw a rapid inflation of real-estate prices before 2008, on prospects of Romania’s entry to the EU and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, as well as aggressive lending by banks. Values then fell by half during the global financial crisis.

The economy is stronger now, with the International Monetary Fund estimating 2.4% growth this year. But the country is still among Europe’s poorest. Its isolation during the dictatorship of Nicolae Ceausescu gave it a bad image.

The interior of the seven-bedroom Halchiu mansion, which was built on the site of four traditional Saxon homes.The interior of the seven-bedroom Halchiu mansion, which was built on the site of four traditional Saxon homes.

“Interest in Romania isn’t comparable with Prague or Budapest where some may be looking to buy a small apartment with a view of Charles Bridge or the Danube,” said Mr. Popa, the real-estate lawyer.

The international publicity around Prince Charles’s properties offers a counterbalance to some of the negative press Romania has received in Western Europe, which is worried about well-educated Romanians moving to other countries to provide inexpensive labor.

The Zalanpatak property is looked after by Tibor Kalnoky, a descendant of a Hungarian aristocratic family. The 47-year-old studied in Germany to be a veterinarian and, after reclaiming family assets in Romania, has managed the prince’s property and has hosted him during his visits.

These occasional visits are enough to attract scores of tourists throughout the year to the formerly obscure village in a Transylvanian valley. The fact that few street signs lead there, that the property offers no Internet or TV and that cellphone signals are absent for miles, seems only to add to the mystery of the place.