Oil in bear market as supply rises, demand outlook weakens

Washington has granted exemptions to Iran’s biggest buyers which will allow them to continue buying limited amounts of crude for at least another six months. (AFP)
Updated 09 November 2018
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Oil in bear market as supply rises, demand outlook weakens

  • ‘Oil prices ... are now officially in a bear market, having declined 20 percent from their (October) peak’
  • ‘A slowdown in the global economy remains the key downside risk to oil’

SINGAPORE: Oil markets stabilized on Friday but remained weak as rising supply and concerns of an economic slowdown pressured prices, with US crude down by around 20 percent since early October.
US West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude oil futures were at $65.73 per barrel at 0629 GMT, 6 cents above their last settlement. WTI is set for a fifth weekly fall, down 4 percent so far this week.
Front-month Brent crude oil futures were at $70.84 a barrel, 19 cents above their last close. Still, Brent is poised for an almost 3 percent drop for the week, its fifth straight week of decline.
Both Brent and WTI have fallen by around 20 percent from the four-year highs they reached in early October.
“Oil prices ... are now officially in a bear market, having declined 20 percent from their (October) peak,” said William O’Loughlin, investment analyst at Australia’s Rivkin Securities.
Analysts said the main downward price pressure came from rising supply, despite the US sanctions against Iran that were imposed this week, as well as concerns over an economic slowdown.
“As OPEC exports continue to rise, inventories continue to build which is putting downward pressure on oil prices,” analysts at Bernstein Energy said.
“A slowdown in the global economy remains the key downside risk to oil,” Bernstein added.
Traders said a glut in the refining sector, where a wave of unsold gasoline has pulled down profit margins into negative territory, may also lead to a slowdown in new feedstock crude orders, as refiners scale back operations to work down excess supply.
“The global gasoline glut reached Singapore this week, where gasoline cracks collapsed. Refining margins contracted across all regions, with gasoline cracks now near or below zero in all regions,” US investment bank Jefferies said in a note on Friday.
The decline in oil prices over the past weeks follows a rally between August and October when crude rose ahead of the re-introduction of sanctions against Iran’s oil exports on Nov. 5.
The sanctions, however, are unlikely to cut as much oil out of the market as initially expected as Washington has granted exemptions to Iran’s biggest buyers which will allow them to continue buying limited amounts of crude for at least another six months.
China National Petroleum Corp. (CNPC) said on Friday it was still taking oil from Iranian fields in which it has stakes.
“Our main cooperation with Iran is upstream investment. Lifting equity oil is recouping our investment there,” Hou Qijun, deputy general manager for CNPC, said on the sidelines of an industry event in Shanghai.
Bernstein Energy expects “Iranian exports will average 1.4-1.5 million barrels per day (bpd)” during the exemption period, down from a peak of almost 3 million bpd in mid-2018.


Infectious diseases are set to become as great a risk for global business as climate change

Updated 19 January 2019
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Infectious diseases are set to become as great a risk for global business as climate change

LONDON: The Global Risks Report 2019 jointly compiled by the World Economic Forum (WEF) and the Harvard Global Heath Institute describes a world that is woefully ill-prepared to detect and respond to disease outbreaks.
In fact, the world is becoming more vulnerable to pandemics, despite advances in medicine and public health.
Global GDP will fall by an average of 0.7 percent or $570 billion because of pandemics — a threat that is “in the same order of magnitude” to the losses estimated to be caused by climate change in the coming decades.
“Outbreaks are a top global economic risk and — like the case for climate change — large companies can no longer afford to stay on the sidelines,” said Vanessa Candeias, who heads the committee on future health and health care at the WEF.
Potential catastrophic outbreaks of disease occur only every few decades but regional and local epidemics are becoming more common. There have been nearly 200 a year in recent times and outbreaks of diseases such as influenza, Ebola, zika, yellow fever, SARS, and MERS have become more frequent over the last 30 years.
At the same time antibiotics have become less effective against bacteria.
The impact of influenza pandemics is estimated at $60 billion, according to a report by the Commission on a Global Health Risk Framework for the Future — more than double previous estimates.
The trend is expected to get worse as populations increase and become more mobile due to travel, trade or displacement. Deforestation and climate change are also factors.
Businesses need to bone up on the risk of infectious diseases and how to manage them if the overall economy is to remain resilient.
Peter Sands, research fellow at the Harvard Global Health Institute and executive director of the Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria, said, “When business leaders are more aware of what’s at stake, maybe there will be a different dialogue about global health, from being a topic that rarely touches the radar screen of business leaders to being a subject worthy of attention, investment and advocacy.”
Predicting where and when the next outbreak will come is an evolving science but it is possible to identify certain factors that would leave companies vulnerable to financial losses, such as the nature of the business, geographical location of the workforce, the customer base and supply chain.
Disease is not the only threat. There is also fear uninformed panic. Past epidemics have shown that misinformation spreads as fast as the infection itself and can undermine and disrupt medical response.
The report advises planning for such emergencies by “trusted public-private partnerships” so that “businesses can help mitigate the potentially devastating human and economic impacts of epidemics while protecting the interests of their employees and commercial operations.”
It is estimated that the outbreak of Ebola in West Africa in 2014-2016 cost $53 billion in lost commercial income and the 2015 MERS outbreak in South Korea cost $8.5 billion. According to the World Bank, disease accounts for only 30 percent of economic losses. The rest is largely down to healthy people changing their behavior as they seek to avoid becoming infected themselves.
The authors of the report will make recommendations next week at the World Economic Forum annual meeting in Davos.