OPEC may cancel April meet, but hold steady on oil output: Saudi energy minister

Saudi Arabia’s energy minister Khalid Al-Falih that April may be premature to make any production decision for the second half. (Reuters)
Updated 18 March 2019
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OPEC may cancel April meet, but hold steady on oil output: Saudi energy minister

  • ‘As long as the levels of inventories are rising and we are far from normal levels, we will stay the course guiding the market toward balance’
  • ‘The consensus we heard ... is that April will be premature to make any production decision for the second half’

BAKU: OPEC and its non-OPEC partners need to reconsider if there is a need for a meeting in April, Saudi Arabia’s energy minister said on Monday, adding that there was no pressure from the United States to increase supply.
“We are not under pressure except by the market,” Khalid Al-Falih told reporters ahead of a meeting of the Joint Ministerial Monitoring Committee (JMMC) in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan.
“As long as the levels of inventories are rising and we are far from normal levels, we will stay the course guiding the market toward balance.”
The JMMC includes major oil producers Saudi Arabia and Russia and monitors the oil market and conformity levels with supply cuts.
“There is a consensus that has also emerged that no matter what, we should stay the course until the end of June.”
Asked whether he was updated on whether the United States administration would extend the waivers it granted to buyers of Iranian crude, which are due to end in May, Al-Falih said: “Until we see it hurting consumers, until we see the impact on inventory, we are not going to change course.”
The oil producers are due to meet next in April in Vienna, but Al-Falih said this may not happen.
“The consensus we heard ... is that April will be premature to make any production decision for the second half,” Al-Falih said.
“We may not have a meeting in April,” he said, adding that the JMMC may recommend this later on Monday.


South Korea-Japan trade feud engulfs tech giant Samsung

Updated 11 min 22 sec ago
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South Korea-Japan trade feud engulfs tech giant Samsung

  • Company begins testing non-Japanese material for semiconductors as dispute deepens

SEOUL: Samsung has started testing non-Japanese materials used in producing state-of-the-art semiconductors amid a deepening trade dispute between Seoul and Tokyo.

According to company sources, the South Korean chipmaker has begun testing hydrogen fluoride etching gas from China, Taiwan and some local suppliers.

The etching gas — one of three materials that Japan has decided to restrict shipping to South Korea — is crucial for producing semiconductors since it is used in removing excess material around circuit patterns on silicon wafers.

“We’re testing hydrogen fluoride etching gas from companies outside Japan, such as Taiwan and China, in an effort to diversify supply sources,” a Samsung official told Arab News, asking not to be identified. “We’re also searching for local suppliers of the chemical.”

Testing from new suppliers, however, is to expect to take at least six months, and it remains to be seen if the quality of non-Japanese etching gas will be high enough to be used in the production of semiconductor, the official said, refusing to elaborate new supply sources.

SK Hynix and LG Display have also started testing of non-Japanese high-purity hydrogen fluoride to minimize the impact of Japan’s trade embargo, according to the company officials.

Binhua Group of China is known to be one of the Korean firms’ new suppliers for the etching gas. According to Shanghai Securities News, the chemical company based in Shandong has signed an agreement with South Korean chipmakers to supply etching gas.  

The gas needs to be 99.999 percent pure for it to be used in chipmaking. Companies in Japan maintain top technology levels in the field, taking up to 90 percent of the global market.

HIGHLIGHT

Samsung is the world’s largest chipmaker.

On July 1, Japan announced it would curb shipments to South Korea of three materials used for chip and display production — fluorinated polyimide, photoresists and hydrogen fluoride. The move is widely seen as punitive action for a recent court ruling here that orders two Japanese firms to compensate wartime forced laborers. 

With the Moon Jae-in administration rejecting Tokyo’s demand for third-party arbitration, Japan is expected to take the dispute to the International Court of Justice.

Japanese companies can still export high-tech materials to South Korea, but they are required to get a license from the government. The license could take 90 days to come through even if they are approved.

Samsung Electronics and SK Hynix, the world’s two biggest memory chipmakers, have been hit hardest by the tougher export controls by the Japanese government, as both semiconductor manufacturers rely on Japanese supplies for the materials.

According to the Korea International Trade Association, South Korea imported about 92 percent of photoresists and 43.9 percent of hydrogen fluoride from Japan.

Analysts believe the Japanese trade restrictions will compromise Samsung’s next-generation semi-conductor businesses, such as those based on 7-nanometer chip fabrication. The 7-nano chips are made with technology involving extreme ultraviolet lithography, which requires the use of photoresists.

“Samsung was scheduled to mass-produce 7-nano-chips from the latter half of this year with the supply of photoresists from Japan’s supplier, JSR,” said Lee Mi-hye, a researcher at the Export-Import Bank of Korea.

“JSR-made photoresists are produced in Belgium, so it’s not subject to the restrictions for now. But the foreign branches of Japanese firms would be vulnerable to regulations in the near future.”