Lebanon needs political action to avoid economic collapse -finance minister

Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil made the remarks following a meeting with the government’s economic and social council. (Reuters)
Updated 12 September 2018
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Lebanon needs political action to avoid economic collapse -finance minister

BEIRUT: Politicians in Lebanon, still lacking a government four months after national elections, need to take action to stop the country’s economic crisis becoming an economic collapse, its finance minister said on Wednesday.
Infighting has hampered efforts by Prime Minister-designate Saad Al-Hariri to form a national unity administration, leaving a political vacuum that has increased concerns for the highly-indebted economy.
“We are not concealing this crisis, but will this crisis inevitably lead us to a collapse? ... I say that with strong political commitment, political will and cooperation between all sectors we can avoid it,” caretaker Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil said.
His comments, which followed a meeting with the government’s economic and social council, were televised. Asked by Reuters what he meant by collapse, he replied “the economic situation.”
Leaders from across the political spectrum agree a government urgently needs to be formed, but a deal remains elusive.
Its formation would be likely to help raise investor confidence in the country, unlock billions of dollars in donor funding and enable parliament to embark on long-overdue reforms.
In April, international donors meeting in Paris pledged more than $11 billion of investment, but they want evidence of economic reforms first. At that meeting Hariri promised to reduce the budget deficit as a percentage of GDP by 5 percent over five years.
Lebanon had the world’s third highest debt-to-GDP ratio, at over 150 percent, at the end of 2017. The International Monetary Fund wants to see immediate and substantial fiscal adjustment to improve debt sustainability.
On Wednesday, parliamentary speaker Nabih Berri said Lebanon did not have the luxury of time when it came to forming a government “especially when it comes to the economic situation.”
Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh has said the Lebanese pound, which is pegged to the dollar, will remain stable and that the central bank has high foreign reserves.
He reiterated those comments to broadcaster CNBC on Tuesday.
Lebanon’s foreign assets excluding gold were $43.56 billion at the end of August, according to central bank data.


Brent oil trades near 4-year high, but US crude retreats

Updated 26 September 2018
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Brent oil trades near 4-year high, but US crude retreats

  • The US will apply sanctions to halt oil exports from Iran, the third-largest OPEC producer, starting on November 4
  • Brent is on course for its fifth consecutive quarterly increase, the longest such stretch for the global benchmark since early 2007

TOKYO: Brent crude was trading around its highest in nearly four years on Wednesday, while US crude futures fell as Washington tried to assure consumers that the market would be well supplied before sanctions are re-imposed on producer Iran.
Brent crude futures were up 10 cents, or 0.1 percent, at $81.87 a barrel by 0645 GMT, after gaining nearly 1 percent the previous session. Brent rose on Tuesday to its highest since November 2014 at $82.55 per barrel.
US crude futures were down 4 cents at $72.24 a barrel. They climbed 0.3 percent on Tuesday to close at their highest level since July 11.
The US will apply sanctions to halt oil exports from Iran, the third-largest producer in the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), starting on November 4. The pending loss of Iranian supply has been a major factor in the recent surge in crude prices.
US officials, including President Donald Trump, are trying to assure consumers and investors that enough supply will remain in the oil market while requesting producers raise their output.
“We will ensure prior to the re-imposition of our sanctions that we have a well-supplied oil market,” Washington’s special envoy for Iran, Brian Hook, told a news conference at the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday evening.
In an earlier speech at the UN, Trump reiterated calls on OPEC to pump more oil and stop raising prices. He also accused Iran of sowing chaos and promised further sanctions on the country.
The so-called ‘OPEC+’ group, which includes the world’s biggest producer Russia, met over the weekend but did not see the need to add new output as the market is well-supplied currently.
“The lack of new production growth guidance by OPEC does not reflect a desire to let prices appreciate meaningfully further, but rather the historical pattern of OPEC responding to rather than front-running production losses,” Goldman Sachs said in a report.
“We continue to expect that the decline in Iran exports will reach 1.4 million barrels per day, and while it is occurring faster than we had previously expected, we continue to expect it to remain offset by a faster ramp-up in production from other producers.”
The investment bank reiterated its view that “Brent prices will stabilize back in their $70-80/bbl range into year-end.”
Brent is on course for its fifth consecutive quarterly increase, the longest such stretch for the global benchmark since early 2007, when a six-quarter run led to a record-high of $147.50 a barrel.
Meanwhile, in the US, the world’s biggest oil user, an industry report on Tuesday showed crude stockpiles unexpectedly climbed last week.
Crude inventories rose by 2.9 million barrels in the week to Sept. 21 to 400 million, compared with analyst expectations for a decrease of 1.3 million barrels, the American Petroleum Institute said.
Official figures on stockpiles and refinery runs from the US Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration are due at 10:30 a.m. EDT (1430 GMT) on Wednesday.