Oil falls on lower China refining activity, fresh US crude output record

OPEC, together with Russia, will officially meet in Vienna on June 22 to discuss production policy. (Reuters)
Updated 14 June 2018
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Oil falls on lower China refining activity, fresh US crude output record

SINGAPORE: Oil prices eased on Thursday, dragged down by rising output and a decline in China’s refining activity, although strong fuel consumption in the US and a drop in its crude inventories provided the market with some support.
Brent crude futures were at $76.55 per barrel at 0445 GMT, down 19 cents, or 0.25 percent, from their last close.
US West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures were at $66.62 a barrel, down 2 cents from their last settlement.
China on Thursday reported a drop in its refinery activity, from 12.06 million barrels per day (bpd) in April to 11.93 million bpd in May, although year-on-year runs were still up by 8.2 percent.
Also weighing on prices was another rise in US oil production, which hit a weekly record of 10.9 million bpd last week, according to the Energy Information Administration (EIA) on Wednesday.
US crude output has risen by almost 30 percent in the last two years, and it is now close to top global producer Russia, which produced 11.1 million bpd overall in the first two weeks of June.
But the rising output came amid strong demand, which traders said prevented crude prices from falling further.
US consumption of gasoline in the US rose to a historic high of 9.88 million bpd last week, according to the EIA.
US crude inventories fell by 4.1 million barrels in the week to June 8, to 432.4 million barrels.
Still, US output is now above that of top exporter Saudi Arabia, which currently churns out slightly above 10 million bpd.
The surge in American output puts pressure on other producers, who are losing market share.
Russian and Saudi production has been held back voluntarily since 2017, when the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), together with some non-OPEC producers including Russia, started supply cuts aimed at propping up prices.
With Brent prices up by around 180 percent from their 2016 lows and demand strong, OPEC and Russia may soon end their voluntary supply cuts.
OPEC, together with Russia, will officially meet in Vienna on June 22 to discuss its production policy.
US bank Morgan Stanley said OPEC and its partners had “largely achieved their stated objective of rebalancing the oil market.”
With demand for oil strong, Morgan Stanley said the group’s “production is likely to creep higher.”
OPEC’s de-facto leader Saudi Arabia and Russia will also have the chance to talk before the Vienna meeting.
Russia and Saudi Arabia are set to open the football world cup, which kicks off in Russia on Thursday.
“The two producers’ ministers plan to discuss the issue during tomorrow’s World Cup game between the two countries,” ANZ bank said.


Malaysia reviews China infrastructure plans

Malaysia’s former PM Najib Razak (AFP)
Updated 18 June 2018
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Malaysia reviews China infrastructure plans

  • Malaysia's scandal-mired former PM Najib Razak signed a string of deals for Beijing-funded projects, including a major rail link and a deep-sea port.
  • New Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has announced a planned high-speed rail link between Kuala Lumpur and neighboring Singapore will not go ahead as he seeks to reduce the country’s huge national debt.

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia has been a loyal partner in China’s globe-spanning infrastructure drive, but its new government is to review Beijing-backed projects, threatening key links in the much-vaunted initiative.

Kuala Lumpur’s previous regime, led by scandal-mired Najib Razak, had warm ties with China, and signed a string of deals for Beijing-funded projects, including a major rail link and a deep-sea port.

But the long-ruling coalition was unexpectedly voted out last month by an electorate alienated by allegations of corruption and rising living costs.

Critics have said that many agreements lacked transparency, fueling suspicions they were struck in exchange for help to pay off debts from the financial scandal which ultimately helped bring down Najib’s regime.

The new government, led by political heavyweight Mahathir Mohammed, has pledged to review Chinese deals seen as dubious, calling into question Malaysia’s status as one of Beijing’s most cooperative partners in its infrastructure push.

China launched its initiative to revive ancient Silk Road trading routes with a global network of ports, roads and railways — dubbed “One Belt, One Road” —  in 2013.

Malaysia and Beijing ally Cambodia were seen as bright spots in Southeast Asia, with projects in other countries often facing problems, from land acquisition to drawn-out negotiations with governments.

“Malaysia under Najib moved quickly to approve and implement projects,” Murray Hiebert, a senior associate from think-tank the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told AFP.

Chinese foreign direct investment into Malaysia stood at just 0.8 percent of total net FDI inflows in 2008, but that figure had risen to 14.4 percent by 2016, according to a study from Singapore’s ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute.

However, Hiebert said it was “widely assumed” that Malaysia was striking quick deals with China in the hope of getting help to cover debts from sovereign wealth fund 1MDB.

Najib and his associates were accused of stealing huge sums of public money from the investment vehicle in a massive fraud. Public disgust at the allegations — denied by Najib and 1MDB — helped topple his government.

Malaysia’s first change of government in six decades has left Najib facing a potential jail term.

New Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has announced a planned high-speed rail link between Kuala Lumpur and neighboring Singapore will not go ahead as he seeks to reduce the country’s huge national debt.

The project was in its early stages and had not yet received any Chinese funding as part of “One Belt, One Road.” But Chinese companies were favorites to build part of the line, which would have constituted a link in a high-speed route from China’s Yunnan province to trading hub Singapore, along which Chinese goods could have been transported for export.

Work has already started in Malaysia on another line seen as part of that route, with Chinese funding — the $14-billion East Coast Rail Link, running from close to the Thai border to a port near Kuala Lumpur.

Mahathir has said that agreement is now being renegotiated.

Other Chinese-funded initiatives include a deep-sea port in Malacca, near important shipping routes, and an enormous industrial park.

It is not clear yet which projects will be amended but experts believe axing some will be positive.

Alex Holmes, Asia economist for Capital Economics, backed canceling some initiatives, citing “Malaysia’s weak fiscal position and that some of the projects are of dubious economic value.”

The Chinese foreign ministry did not respond to request for comment.

Decoder

What is the "One Belt, One Road" initiative?

The “One Belt, One Road” initiative, started in 2013, has come to define the economic agenda of President Xi Jinping. It aims to revive ancient Silk Road trading routes with a network of ports, roads and railways.