Brent oil rises to 4-year high ahead of Iran sanctions, traders eye more hikes

Approximately 1.5 million barrels per day of Iranian oil will effectively be out of the market on November 4 once the US sanctions kick in. (AFP)
Updated 01 October 2018
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Brent oil rises to 4-year high ahead of Iran sanctions, traders eye more hikes

  • Brent was pushed up by looming sanctions against Iran, which will start targeting its oil sector from November 4
  • With oil prices soaring, there are concerns over their inflationary effect on demand growth

SINGAPORE: Brent crude oil prices rose to their highest since November 2014 on Monday ahead of US sanctions against Iran, the third-largest producer in the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), that kick in next month.
Benchmark Brent crude oil futures rose to as much as $83.27 a barrel and were at $83.21 at 0339 GMT, up 48 cents, or 0.6 percent from their last close.
US West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures were up 32 cents, or 0.4 percent, at $73.57 a barrel.
WTI prices were supported by a report on Friday of a stagnant rig count in the United States, which points to a slowdown in US crude production, which now rivals top producers Russia and Saudi Arabia.
Brent was pushed up by looming sanctions against Iran, which will start targeting its oil sector from November 4.
ANZ bank said on Monday that “the market is eyeing oil prices at $100 per barrel.”
In a sign that the financial market is positioning itself for further price rises, hedge funds increased their bullish wagers on US crude in the week to Sept. 25, data from the US Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) showed on Friday, increasing futures and options positions in New York and London by 3,728 contracts to 346,566 during the period.
In a further sign of the impact that the US sanctions on Iran will have on the market, China’s Sinopec said it is halving loadings of Iranian crude oil this month. China is the biggest buyer of Iranian oil.
“If Chinese refiners do comply with US sanctions more fully than expected, then the market balance is likely to tighten even more aggressively,” Edward Bell, commodity analyst at Emirates NBD bank wrote in a note published on Sunday.
“We’re going to find out very soon as approximately 1.5 million barrels (per day) of Iranian oil is effectively going offline on Nov. 4. If the market senses that Saudi Arabia capacity is tapped out at 10.5 million bpd ... oil prices will rocket higher with the flashy $100 per barrel price tag indeed a reasonable sounding target,” said Stephen Innes, head of trading for Asia-Pacific at futures brokerage Oanda in Singapore..
With oil prices soaring, there are concerns over their inflationary effect on demand growth, especially in Asia’s emerging markets where weakening currencies are further adding to high fuel import costs.
Add the trade disputes between the US and other major powers, especially China, and economic growth into 2019 could be eroded.
Growth in China’s manufacturing sector already sputtered in September as both external and domestic demand weakened, two surveys showed on Sunday.
In Japan, business confidence among big manufacturers declined in the last quarter its lowest in nearly a year, as firms felt the pinch from rising raw material costs and as global trade conditions worsened.


No need for more talks over draft budget: Lebanon finance minister

Updated 21 May 2019
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No need for more talks over draft budget: Lebanon finance minister

  • Lebanon’s proposed austerity budget may please international lenders but it could enrage sectors of society
  • Lebanon has one of the world’s heaviest public debt burdens at 150 percent of GDP

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s finance minister said on Tuesday there was no need for more talks over the 2019 draft budget, seen as a vital test of the government’s will to reform, although the foreign minister signalled the debate may go on.
The cabinet says the budget will reduce the deficit to 7.6% of gross domestic product (GDP) from last year’s 11.2%. Lebanon has one of the world’s heaviest public debt burdens at 150% of GDP.
“There is no longer need for too much talking or anything that calls for delay. I have presented all the numbers in their final form,” Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil said.
But Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil suggested the debate may go on, telling reporters: “The budget is done when it’s done.”
While Lebanon has dragged its feet on reforms for years, its sectarian leaders appear more serious this time, warning of a catastrophe if there is no serious action. Their plans have triggered protests and strikes by state workers and army retirees worried about their pensions.
President Michel Aoun on Tuesday repeated his call for Lebanese to sacrifice “a little“: “(If) we want to hold onto all privileges without sacrifice, we will lose them all.”
“We import from abroad, we don’t produce anything ... So what we did was necessary and the citizens won’t realize its importance until after they feel its positive results soon,” Aoun said, noting Lebanon’s $80 billion debt mountain.
A draft of the budget seen by Reuters included a three-year freeze on all forms of hiring and a cap on bonus and overtime benefits.
It also includes a 2% levy on imports including refined oil products and excluding medicine and primary inputs for agriculture and industry, said Youssef Finianos, minister of public works and transport.
“DEVIL IN THE DETAIL“
Marwan Mikhael, head of research at Blominvest Bank, said investors would welcome the additional efforts in the latest draft to cut the deficit.
“There will be some who claim it is not good because they were hit by the decline in spending or increased taxes, but it should be well viewed by the international community,” he said.
Jason Tuvey, senior emerging markets economist at Capital Economics, said: “The numbers will be of some comfort to investors, but the devil will be in the detail.”
“Even if the authorities do manage to rein in the deficit, it probably won’t be enough to stabilize the debt ratio and some form of restructuring looks increasingly likely over the next couple of years,” Tuvey said.
The government said in January it was committed to paying all maturing debt and interest payments on the predetermined dates.
Lebanon’s main expenses are a bloated public sector, interest payments on public debt and transfers to the loss-making power generator, for which a reform plan was approved in April. The state is riddled with corruption and waste.
Serious reforms should help Lebanon tap into some $11 billion of project financing pledged at a Paris donors’ conference last year.
Once approved by cabinet, the draft budget must be debated and passed by parliament. While no specific timetable is in place for those steps, Aoun has previously said he wants the budget approved by parliament by the end of May.
On Monday, veterans fearing cuts to their pensions and benefits burned tires outside the parliament building where the cabinet met. Police used water cannon to drive them back.