Oil price soars to highest level in years

Gas prices are displayed at a Mobil station in New York. Oil prices are surging to the highest in years, spurred by tension in the Middle East.
Updated 19 April 2018
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Oil price soars to highest level in years

  • Syria tension sends price surging
  • Oil reaches highest in three and a half years

Oil surged Thursday close to three and a half-year peaks on simmering Mideast tensions and keen US demand.

World oil prices extended Wednesday’s gains on the back of data showing a drop in US stockpiles — indicating improved demand — and expectations that a Russia-OPEC output cap deal will be kept in place.

Tensions in the oil-rich Middle East also kept prices elevated.

“Saudi Arabia still calls the shots on global oil markets, and it is increasingly obvious the Saudis are comfortable with oil at $80 or more,” said Interactive Investor analyst Lee Wild.

“Add a drop in weekly US oil reserves to the mix and the only way for crude prices is up.”

In early morning deals, oil surged to summits last seen in November 2014 before paring gains.

London Brent struck $74.44 per barrel and New York crude touched $69.27.

European equity markets meanwhile diverged amid lingering fears over Syria and a possible China-US trade war, but London rose 0.2 percent despite news of sliding March retail sales.

The British capital’s benchmark FTSE 100 index was given a shot in the arm from media reports that Japan’s Takeda Pharmaceuticals was mulling a takeover tilt at Shire.

Shire, which is based in Ireland and listed on the London stock market, saw its share price rocket 6.19 percent to 3,986.5 pence.

Both companies have yet to comment on the latest takeover speculation, but Takeda had stated in March that it was considering the purchase of Shire.

Asian markets enjoyed another day of gains Thursday as the region’s energy firms also tracked a surge in oil prices.

Fresh hopes that Donald Trump and North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un will hold a historic summit within months also provided some much-needed optimism.

The positive trading environment is a far cry from the unease felt at the start of the week after US-led strikes on Syrian targets — in response to an alleged chemical attack — sparked worries of a confrontation with Russia, which is an ally of the Damascus regime.

However, reports have suggested Russian President Vladimir Putin is looking to ease tensions as he faces fresh sanctions.

China’s announcement of a timetable to remove restrictions on foreign ownership in its car market, the world’s biggest, also lifted optimism that a simmering trade war with the US can be avoided.

Tough rules on doing business in the country’s auto sector had been a major source of anger for Trump, who has already threatened tariffs on billions of dollars of Chinese imports in recent weeks as part of his “America First” protectionist agenda.

However, in its quarterly report on the US economy, the Federal Reserve warned there were concerns about the trade tensions among businesses and farmers, who had seen prices rise already.

The central bank’s Beige Book report said the world’s top economy continued to see moderate growth and it expected to lift interest rates twice more this year, having already hiked them in March.

Meanwhile, the British pound struggled to bounce back against the dollar after diving from post-Brexit vote highs on data Wednesday showing a surprise drop in British inflation.


Record budget spurs Saudi economy

The budget sets out to lift spending and cut the deficit. (Shutterstock)
Updated 19 December 2018
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Record budget spurs Saudi economy

  • “It is a growth-supportive budget with both capital and current expenditure set to rise.”
  • Government spending is projected to rise to SR 1.106 trillion

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia on Tuesday announced its biggest-ever budget — with spending set to increase by around 7 percent — in a move aimed at boosting the economy, while also reducing the deficit. 

However, analysts cautioned that the 2019 budget is based on oil prices far higher than today — which could prove an obstacle in hitting targets. 

Government spending is projected to rise to SR 1.106 trillion ($295 billion) next year, up from an actual SR 1.030 trillion this year, Minister of Finance Mohammed Al-Jadaan said at a briefing in Riyadh. 

The budget estimates a 9 percent annual increase in revenues to SR 975 billion. The budget deficit is forecast at SR 131 billion for next year, a 4.2 percent decline on 2018.

“We believe that the 2019 fiscal budget will focus on supporting economic activity — investment and wider,” Monica Malik, chief economist at Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank (ADCB), told Arab News.

“It is a growth-supportive budget with both capital and current expenditure set to rise.”

A royal decree by Saudi Arabia’s King Salman, also announced on Tuesday, ordered the continuation of allowances covering the cost of living for civil sector employees for the new fiscal year.

“The continuation of the handout package will be positive for household consumption by nationals,” said Malik. “We expect to see some overall fiscal loosening in 2019, which should support a further gradual pickup in real non-oil GDP growth.”

World oil prices on Tuesday tumbled to their lowest levels in more than a year amid concerns over demand. Brent crude contracts fell to as low as $57.20 during morning trading.

Malik cautioned that the oil-price assumptions in the Saudi budget looked “optimistic.”

“We see the fiscal deficit widening in 2019, with the higher spending and forecast fall in oil revenue,” she told Arab News.

Jason Tuvey, an economist at London-based Capital Economics, agreed that the oil forecast was optimistic, but said this should not pose problems for government finances.

“The government seems to be expecting oil prices to average $80 (per barrel) next year,” he said. 

“In contrast, we think that oil prices will stay low and possibly fall a little further to $55 … On that basis, the budget deficit is likely to be closer to 10 percent of GDP. That won’t cause too many problems given the government’s strong balance sheet. 

“Overall, then, we think that there will be some fiscal loosening in the first half of next year, but if oil prices stay low as we expect, the authorities will probably shift tack and return to austerity from the mid-2019, which will weigh on growth in the non-oil sector,” Tuvey said.

John Sfakianakis, chief economist at the Gulf Research Center, based in Saudi Arabia, said that the targets of the budget were “achievable” and the forecast oil price reasonable. 

“It is an expansionary budget that should spurt private sector activity and growth,” he said. 

“With Brent crude averaging around $68 per barrel for 2018 and $66 per barrel for 2019, the authorities have applied a conservative revenue scenario.”