Al-Naimi: OPEC ‘must combat US shale boom’

Updated 30 November 2014
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Al-Naimi: OPEC ‘must combat US shale boom’

Petroleum and Mineral Resources Minister Ali Al-Naimi told fellow OPEC members in Vienna that they must combat the US shale oil boom, arguing against cutting crude output in order to depress prices and undermine the profitability of North American producers.
Ali Al-Naimi won the argument at Thursday’s meeting, although ministers from members such as Venezuela, Iran and Algeria had wanted to cut production to reverse a rapid fall in oil prices.
A Gulf delegate told Reuters that Al-Naimi had reassured members that the oil price would recover as demand will ultimately pick up. But he insisted that if OPEC cut output it would lose market share.
“Reaching a final decision took a lot of time convincing the others,” said another delegate.
Some members were not prepared to offer big cuts themselves, and, choosing not to clash with Saudi Arabia and their allies, ultimately agreeing to Al-Naimi’s suggestion.
“Al-Naimi spoke about market share rivalry with the US. And those who wanted a cut understood that there was no option to achieve it because Saudi Arabia wants a market share battle,” a source, who was briefed by a non-Gulf OPEC minister after Thursday’s meeting, told Reuters.
Oil hit a fresh four-year low below $72 per barrel on Friday.
A boom in shale oil production and weaker growth in China and Europe have sent prices down by over a third since June.
Secretary General Abdullah Al-Badri effectively confirmed OPEC was entering a battle for market share.
Asked on Thursday if the organization had a answer to rising US production, he said: “We answered. We keep the same production. There is an answer here.”
OPEC agreed to maintain — a ‘rollover’ in OPEC jargon — its ceiling of 30 million barrels per day, at least 1 million above its own estimate of demand for its oil in the first half of next year.
“We are together,” said Venezuelan Foreign Minister Rafael Ramirez when asked whether there was a price war within OPEC.
“OPEC is always fighting with the US because the US has declared it is always against OPEC... Shale oil is a disaster as a method of production, the fracking. But also it is too expensive. And there we are going to see what will happen with production,” he said.
Analysts, quoted by Reuters, said the decision not to cut output in the face of drastically falling prices was a strategic shift for OPEC.


Bitcoin craze hits Iran as US sanctions squeeze weak economy

Updated 18 July 2019
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Bitcoin craze hits Iran as US sanctions squeeze weak economy

  • Some Iranian officials worry that “mining” is abusing the subsidized electricity
  • Iranian Bitcoin miners are purchasing more affordable Chinese ready-made computers

TEHRAN: Iranians feeling the squeeze from US sanctions targeting the Islamic Republic’s ailing economy are increasingly turning to such digital currencies as Bitcoin to make money, prompting alarm in and out of the country.
In Iran, some government officials worry that the energy-hungry process of “mining” Bitcoin is abusing Iran’s system of subsidized electricity; in the United States, some observers have warned that cryptocurrencies could be used to bypass the Trump administration’s sanctions targeting Iran over its unraveling nuclear deal with world powers.
The Bitcoin craze has made the front pages of Iranian newspapers and been discussed by some of the country’s top ayatollahs, and there have been televised police raids on hidden computer farms set up to bring in money by “mining” the currency.
Like other digital currencies, Bitcoin is an alternative to money printed by sovereign governments around the world. Unlike those bills, however, cryptocurrencies are not controlled by a central bank. Bitcoin and other digital currencies like it trade globally in highly speculative markets without any backing from a physical entity.
As a result, computers around the world “mine” the data, meaning they use highly complex algorithms to verify transactions. The verified transactions, called blocks, are then added to a public record, known as the blockchain. Any time “miners” add a new block to the blockchain, they are rewarded with a payment in bitcoins.
To work, the expensive specialized computers require a lot of electricity to power their processors and to keep them cool. In Iran, “miners” have an edge because electricity is cheap thanks to longtime government subsidies. “Miners” also buy cheaper Chinese ready-made computers to do the work.
But the constant raids and authorities’ conflicting statements on the issue have Bitcoin “miners” in Iran incredibly leery of being identified. Those contacted by The Associated Press refused to speak about their work or to say how much they earn from their “mining.”
But they acknowledge they do this to make some money at a time when Iran’s currency, the rial, tumbled from 32,000 rials to $1 at the time of the 2015 nuclear deal, to around 120,000 rials to $1 now.
“It is clear that here has turned into a heaven for ‘miners,’” Mohammad Javad Azari Jahromi, Iran’s minister for information and communications technology, recently told AP in an interview. “The business of ‘mining’ is not forbidden in law but the government and the Central Bank have ordered the Customs Bureau to ban the import of (mining machines) until new regulations are introduced.”
Ali Bakhshi, the head of the Iran Electrical Industry Syndicate, said earlier this month that the country’s Energy Ministry likely would boost costs for Bitcoin “miners” to 7 cents for each kilowatt of electricity they consume, a massive increase from the current half-cent but still almost half the cost of electricity in the United States, according to the semi-official Fars news agency.
Still, there are concerns, especially among Iran’s religious leaders, that people might try to circumvent paying extra for the electricity as well as using digital currency to hide or move money illicitly.
Tabnak, a hard-line news website associated with a former commander of the country’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard, quoted three ayatollahs describing Bitcoin as either problematic or “haram,” meaning forbidden. Islam prescribes strict rules about finance.
But Jahromi said clerics became more receptive to the idea after his staff briefed them that Bitcoin had a value in the real world, which is required under Islamic finance. Islamic finance also prohibits gambling, the payment of interest and misleading others.
“Some of our top clerics have issued fatwas that say Bitcoin is money without a reserve, that it is rejected by Islamic and cybercurrencies are haram,” Jahromi said. “When we explain to them this is not a currency but an asset, they change their mind.”
Iran has tried to keep its economic situation in check by controlling foreign currency rates and cutting down on those moving their money from the rial to other currencies, including Bitcoin. Last year, the semi-official Mehr news agency quoted Mohammad Reza Pour-Ebrahimi, the head of the Iranian parliament’s economic commission, as suggesting that about $2.5 billion left Iran through digital currency purchases. He did not elaborate and authorities have not discussed it since.
The US, meanwhile, has been keeping a close watch on Iranians holding bitcoins. In November, a federal grand jury in Newark, New Jersey, accused two Iranian men of hacking and holding hostage computer systems of over 200 American entities to extort them for Bitcoin, including the cities of Newark and Atlanta.
“As Iran becomes increasingly isolated and desperate for access to US dollars, it is vital that virtual currency exchanges, peer-to-peer exchangers and other providers of digital currency services harden their networks against these illicit schemes,” said Sigal Mandelker, Treasury’s undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence.
Not so, said Jahromi.
“Cybercurrencies are effective in bypassing sanctions when it comes to small transactions, but we do not see any special impact in them as far as mega-transactions are concerned,” he said. “We cannot use them to go around international monetary mechanisms.”