Crude oil price rise signals a return to balanced market

Crude oil prices recovered by the end of the week, with the Brent crude price settling above $60 per barrel after deteriorating below that level during the week. (Reuters)
Updated 19 January 2019
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Crude oil price rise signals a return to balanced market

  • Iran’s crude oil output averaged 3.8 million bpd in 2017 and fell to 2.7 million bpd by the end of 2018, despite the US granting waivers in early November 2018 to eight of the largest importers of Iranian crude oil
  • If the US does not intend to renew the waivers, Iran’s crude oil output is likely to fall further below 2.5 million bpd

RIYADH: Crude oil prices recovered by the end of the week, with the Brent crude price settling above $60 per barrel after deteriorating below that level during the week. The Brent price rose to $62.70 per barrel and WTI rose to $53.80 per barrel.
The price market structure for the Brent crude price has flipped to a slight backwardation after hovering in a slight contango for the past two weeks. Even if the OPEC+ output cut of 1.2 million barrels per day (bpd) is yet to be reflected in the market, this signals an upcoming tight market amid strong supply-demand fundamentals and a well-balanced market for the first half of 2019.
Conversely, some market participants assumed a far more bearish fundamental outlook, while output cuts by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) should limit inventory builds and settle the market in a sustainable range above $75 per barrel for Brent, especially when the US continues to push for zero waivers on Iranian crude oil imports.
Iran’s crude oil output averaged 3.8 million bpd in 2017 and fell to 2.7 million bpd by the end of 2018, despite the US granting waivers in early November 2018 to eight of the largest importers of Iranian crude oil. If the US does not intend to renew the waivers, Iran’s crude oil output is likely to fall further below 2.5 million bpd.
The International Energy Agency’s (IEA) monthly report came with stronger oil demand this year compared with 2018, despite the expected economic slowdown amid concerns over economic growth in China and the US.
The IEA also reported that US oil output will rise by 1.3 million bpd in 2019, though S&P Global Platts reported US oil rigs dropping for the ninth consecutive week when Brent prices fell below $70 per barrel in mid-November 2018. Baker-Hughes drilling statistics show that the US oil-rig count has been moving in a relatively narrow band of 858-886 since June 2018.
China, as the world’s second-largest economy and largest crude oil importer, took advantage of the low oil prices in late 2018 and imported a record 10.35 million bpd in December 2018, amid independent refiners lifting their import quotas. China’s crude oil imports in 2019 are likely to rise before the impact of the OPEC+ output cuts on the market.
In late 2018, US refiners that have enjoyed record wide discounts of Western Canadian Select (WCS) to WTI are now threatened as this discount has narrowed amid Alberta’s output cuts of 325,000 bpd throughout 2019.
Consequently, US refining margins are threatened, while American refiners are already struggling with a glut of refined product inventories. Wide Canadian price spreads have played a major role in justifying rampant refinery utilization in the US, particularly in the mid-continent. Nevertheless, the narrowed discount means higher net-backs for Canadian oil sands producers.
The US Energy Information Administration (EIA) reported mid-continent refining utilization capacity averaging around 93 percent in 2018, when US refiners basically profited from the widening WTI/WCS spread.
Planned winter maintenance in US refineries started in early January. This will give some relief to the US downstream amid robust refined product inventories. Some refiners might choose to extend maintenance in an effort to bring a degree of balance to the oversupplied refined products market.


Saudi Arabia aims to achieve e-payment target of 70%

Updated 22 February 2019
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Saudi Arabia aims to achieve e-payment target of 70%

  • Reform plan seeks cashless society
  • E-payments could exceed $22bn in next four years

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia wants to achieve an e-payment target of 70 percent by 2030, a banking official told Arab News on Thursday, as the country moves toward becoming a cashless society.

Talat Hafiz, from the Media and Banking Awareness Committee for Saudi Banks, said online or cashless transactions were part of the Vision 2030 reform plan.

The Financial Sector Development Program (FSDP) was one of the initiatives to support the economic growth goals of Vision 2030, he added.

“Basically it is to transfer Saudi society from being heavily cash dependent in buying goods and services to a cashless society using digital and electronic payment,” he told Arab News. “One of the FSDP’s main targets is to increase and improve the percentage of non-cash utilization, from 18 percent in 2016 to 28 percent in 2020. However, the goal will increase of course with the target to 70 percent by 2030.”

Hafiz, in an Arab News column published earlier this month, said the Saudi Arabian Monetary Authority (SAMA) had been encouraging electronic payments and settlements in order to reduce the reliance on cash.

SAMA had introduced a number of e-payment systems in the last two decades to help consumers and institutions, he wrote, such as the Saudi Arabian Riyal Interbank Express and the online bill payment portal SADAD.

Earlier this week Apple Pay was launched in the Kingdom, joining the cashless roster of payment methods available to Saudi consumers.

A cashback service operated by credit card companies, where a percentage of the amount spent is paid back to the cardholder, was introduced last year in Saudi Arabia.

An illustration of how direct debit works, courtesy of the Saudi Arabian Monetary Authority (SAMA).

“All of these efforts collectively from the SAMA side are to reach the ambitious goal of the FSDP.”

Hafiz explained that e-payments saved time and effort and allowed people to access service and goods around-the-clock. 

“This is basically why SAMA is very active and now we see SAMA and the National Payment System are responsible and leading (the country) toward a cashless society by achieving the target set by 2030.”

Last February the Amazon-owned Payfort online payments service registered a new company in Saudi Arabia.

According to the “Payfort State of Payments 2017” report, Saudi Arabia and the UAE are the fastest growing markets in the region for electronic payments.

The report estimates that Saudi Arabia conducted $8.3 billion of payment transactions in 2016, showing 27 percent year-on-year growth.

E-payments in the Kingdom are expected to double over the next four years to reach more than $22 billion, the report added.