Oil near 4-year high as producers resist output rise to offset Iran sanctions

Bank of America Merrill Lynch said ‘the Iran factor may dominate the market near-term and cause a (crude price) spike.’ (AFP)
Updated 25 September 2018
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Oil near 4-year high as producers resist output rise to offset Iran sanctions

  • The United States from November 4 will target Iran’s oil exports with sanctions
  • US President Donald Trump has demanded that OPEC and Russia increase their supplies to make up for the expected fall in Iranian exports

SINGAPORE: Oil prices on Tuesday were within reach of four-year highs hit in the previous session, as looming US sanctions against Iran and unwillingness by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) to raise output supported the market.
Brent crude futures were at $81.45 per barrel at 0421 GMT, up 25 cents, or 0.3 percent, and close to the intraday peak touched the previous day at $81.48, the highest level since November 2014.
US West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures were at $72.27 a barrel, up 19 cents, or 0.3 percent from their last settlement.
The United States from Nov. 4 will target Iran’s oil exports with sanctions, and Washington is putting pressure on governments and companies around the world to fall in line and cut purchases from Tehran.
“Iran will lose sizeable export volumes, and given OPEC+ reluctance to raise output, the market is ill-equipped to fill the supply gap,” Harry Tchilinguirian, global head of commodity markets strategy at French bank BNP Paribas, told the Reuters Global Oil Forum on Tuesday.
OPEC+ is the name given to the group of oil producers, including non-OPEC supplier Russia, that agreed to curtail output starting in 2017.
While Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and Iran on Tuesday said they were determined to develop payment mechanisms to continue trading despite the sanctions by the United States, most analysts expect Washington’s actions to knock between 1 million and 1.5 million barrels per day (bpd) of crude oil supplies out of markets.
“We view Brent’s rally above $80 per barrel as fundamentally justified,” said Fitch Solutions in a note.
US President Donald Trump has demanded that OPEC and Russia increase their supplies to make up for the expected fall in Iranian exports. Iran is the third-largest producer in OPEC.
OPEC and Russia, however, have so far rebuffed such calls.
“Any formal decision on oil output by the producer group, barring an extraordinary meeting, will only take place at the December meeting. Thus, the window period for oil prices to potentially extend gains is quite wide as Iran loses exports and OPEC+ remains on standby,” Tchilinguirian said.
Ashley Kelty, oil analyst at financial services firm Cantor Fitzgerald said crude could soon hit $90 per barrel.
“We don’t believe OPEC can actually raise output significantly in the near term, as the physical spare capacity in the system is not that high,” Kelty said.
Bank of America Merrill Lynch has lifted its average Brent price forecast for 2019 from $75 per barrel to $80, while it increased its WTI crude oil forecast by $2 to $71 per barrel.
The bank said “the Iran factor may dominate the market near-term and cause a (crude price) spike,” although it added that emerging market “demand concerns could reappear thereafter.”
Indian refiners — struggling from high crude feedstock prices and a sliding rupee — are planning to reduce oil imports in what could be a first sign that high prices are starting to hurt demand.
Despite the bullish sentiment, some traders said current prices already reflected the tighter market, and that more oil would be coming in 2019.
Commodity trading giant Vitol said on Tuesday that non-OPEC producers, especially the United States, may insert up to 2 million bpd of new crude into the market in 2019.
To reflect rising US oil exports, CME Group Inc. said on Monday it will launch a WTI Houston crude futures contract in the fourth quarter.
CME’s announcement comes after rival Intercontinental Exchange said in July it would offer a Houston crude futures contract.


War-ridden Yemen’s other frontline — the central bank

Updated 18 December 2018
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War-ridden Yemen’s other frontline — the central bank

  • The Arab world’s poorest country is crippled by a humanitarian crisis
  • Many have died as a result of poverty, starvation, poor health care as the central bank is caught up in the conflict

ADEN: Cashiers sort through large stacks of money inside a ragged building that is Yemen’s central bank, another frontline in a ruinous conflict as it fights to stave off economic collapse.
The Arab world’s poorest country is crippled by a humanitarian crisis, with images of skeletal children in famine-like conditions grabbing global attention, but economic dysfunction appears to be at the heart of the problem.
Yemen is afflicted by what diplomats call a famine of jobs and salaries, with the central bank — headquartered in the government’s de facto capital Aden.
Running the economy from a building pocked with bullet holes in the southern port city, the bank is scrambling to revive a currency that has lost two-thirds of its value since 2015, exacerbating joblessness and leaving millions unable to afford basic food staples.
The central bank expects a $3 billion cash injection from Gulf donors Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates to prop up its sagging currency amid soaring inflation, its deputy chief Shokeib Hobeishy said in an interview last week, without giving a timeline.
The potential lifeline, if confirmed, would follow a $2.2 billion infusion by Saudi Arabia to the depleted reserves of a bank that appears ever more dependent on international handouts.


Hobeishy acknowledged that the bank was struggling to assert authority over its branches outside government control, including in Sanaa, which was seized by Iran-aligned Houthi militia in September 2014.
The government moved the bank’s headquarters from the capital in 2016 following suspicion that the Houthis were plundering its reserves to finance their war effort.
The relocation practically left the country with two parallel centers of fiscal policy dealing in one currency.
Yemen’s rivals reached a truce accord last week, but conspicuously absent was an agreement on economic cooperation as the Houthis rejected government calls for the Aden central bank to handle public sector salary payments on both sides, a diplomat who attended the talks told AFP.
The central bank is now “arguably the most dangerous frontline in the Yemen war,” said Wesam Qaid, executive director at Yemen’s Small and Micro Enterprise Promotion Service.
“The death toll as a result of bombings or land mines and military operations stands in the thousands,” Qaid told AFP.
“Many more have died as a result of poverty, starvation, poor health care as the central bank is caught up in the conflict.”


Yemen’s economy has contracted by 50 percent since the escalation of conflict in 2015 and inflation is projected at over 40 percent this year, according to the World Bank.
A weakened currency has diminished the purchasing power of millions and the private sector is haemorrhaging with businesses shutting down or making layoffs.
New Prime Minister Maeen Abdulmalik Saeed, appointed in October, said he was seeking to revive oil exports that once contributed about three-quarters of state revenue.
But such are the fears of insolvency that many Yemenis are afraid of putting their money in local banks.
“Banks often say: ‘We don’t have money. Come tomorrow, come next week’,” said a 54-year-old school employee in Aden.
Businesses also criticize the central bank over cumbersome processes to obtain letters of credit for vital imports — in a country that depends almost entirely on food from abroad.
In a letter sent in November to the prime minister and central bank chief, Aden’s chamber of commerce voiced concern that traders in areas outside government control were struggling to import essential goods. A central bank order requires payment in cash only.
The letter, seen by AFP, said the policy had caused a sharp decline in imports in those densely populated areas, making them prone to famine.
On the other side, businesses say the rebels are obstructing traders and banks in their areas from opening credit lines to Aden.
Central bank chief Mohammed Zemam said this month five Sanaa-based central bank employees had fled to Aden over safety fears and were immediately blacklisted by the Houthis.
“We are asking the Houthis to leave the banking sector alone,” he said in a separate interview in Riyadh.
“This is the only way to feed the people.”