Brent near one-month low as oil hit by market sell-off

US energy companies added six oil rigs in the week to February 2, bringing the total to 765, energy services company Baker Hughes reported on Friday. (Reuters)
Updated 05 February 2018
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Brent near one-month low as oil hit by market sell-off

TOKYO: Oil prices on Monday extended declines from the end of last week amid a wider market sell-off and a stronger dollar, with Brent crude falling to its lowest in nearly a month.
Other markets dropped as investors were spooked by Friday’s payrolls report from the US, which showed wages growing at their fastest pace in more than 8-1/2 years, fueling inflation expectations.
Brent was down 57 cents, or 0.8 percent, at $68.01 a barrel at 0716 GMT, after falling 1.5 percent on Friday. Brent’s weekly drop was 2.75 percent last week.
US West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude declined 47 cents to $64.98 a barrel, after dropping 0.5 percent in the previous session. WTI fell by 1 percent during the last week.
“Oil is caught up in this general risk-off move, not helped at the margins by a little bit of strength in the US dollar,” said Ric Spooner, chief market analyst at CMC Markets in Sydney.
Asian shares were down the most in more than a year on Monday as fears of resurgent inflation battered bonds.
Wall Street dropped last week from record highs as inflation concerns sparked speculation that central banks globally might be forced to tighten policy more aggressively.
The three major US indexes capped their worst weekly losses in two years, after closing at record highs the previous week.
“The size of the move in US equities doesn’t always mean this, but usually after a move like that and particularly when it follows such a long uptrend, there is follow-through selling,” Spooner said.
Rising US oil production has also helped push down oil prices, undermining attempts by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries to support prices.
Data from the US government last week showed that output climbed above 10 million barrels per day in November for the first time since 1970, as shale drillers expanded operations after gains in oil prices last year.
“Over the course of the next few weeks one of the key things is going to be US production data and whether the increase in shale rigs recently is going to increase,” Spooner said.
US energy companies did add oil rigs for a second week in a row last week, energy services company Baker Hughes Inc. reported on Friday. Drillers added six oil rigs in the week to February 2, bringing the total to 765.
Hedge funds and money manager reduced last week their bullish positions on US crude, cutting their net-long positions from a record after three weeks of increases.
The speculator group cut its combined WTI futures and options positions on New York and London exchanges by 18,365 contracts to 531,235 in the week to January 30, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission reported on Friday.


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.”