Energy Recap: The oil market wavers

Oil prices went in different directions at the end of the week. (File photo/AFP)
Updated 24 March 2019
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Energy Recap: The oil market wavers

RIYADH: Oil prices went in different directions at the end of the week. Brent deteriorated to $67.03 per barrel and WTI rose to $59.04 per barrel, but both remain at four-month highs. 
Still, poor economic signals that added to the generally bearish mood did not manage to drive oil prices down because of the tightening global supplies that led the surprise drawdown in US inventories.
The 10 million barrels fall in US crude stocks was the largest drop since July 2018, due to a combination of strong exports and higher refining utilization. 
The reduced number of US oil rigs for a fourth week running sent drilling activity to its lowest in nearly a year.
The current level of oil prices does not reflect the market’s relatively strong fundamentals and supply tightness.
The Arabian Gulf sour crude grades have seen extensive buying activity with refiners securing spot cargoes in addition to their term cargoes.
Such high demand for the sour medium and heavy crude grades had Dubai crude in high demand.
Asian refiners are becoming increasingly concerned about the tightening supplies for the medium and heavy crude grade.
That is because many of them lack the flexibility to swiftly switch their refining systems to handle alternative light sweet crude grades that have low sulfur content. 
The market remains preoccupied with Iranian sanction waivers, which may be extended for another round of six months.
Given the tight oil market that has been further exacerbated by the sanctions on Venezuela, the second half of this year might experience further tightening.
The US is widely expected to continue extending the waivers for the key importing countries which are China, India, Korea and Japan. 
The a potential second round of waivers may not impact the market as much as last time in November 2018 when the price dropped by as much as $30 per barrel.
Helped by OPEC output cuts, the market has been stabilizing gradually even if not entirely recovering those early losses.
The current market appears too tight to be moved significantly by further waivers and should be able to absorb additional barrels — be they from Iran, Venezuela, Libya or the US.
Even with the last round of waivers, Iranian oil exports did not exceed 1.25 million barrels per day in February.

  • Faisal Mrza is an energy and oil market adviser. He was formerly with OPEC and Saudi Aramco. Reach him on Twitter: @faisalmrza


Saudi-backed SoftBank invests $125 million in Alphabet venture to put cellphone antennas in the sky

Updated 2 min 19 sec ago
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Saudi-backed SoftBank invests $125 million in Alphabet venture to put cellphone antennas in the sky

  • SoftBank’s year-old HAPSMobile and Alphabet’s Loon separately have been trying to fly networking equipment at high altitudes
  • The goal is to provide high-speed Internet where ground-based towers are unreachable

SAN FRANCISCO, USA: A SoftBank Corp. business seeking to find a way to fly cellphone antennas high in the atmosphere to provide internet in underserved areas said on Wednesday it was investing $125 million in an Alphabet Inc spinoff working on the same problem.

SoftBank’s year-old HAPSMobile and Alphabet’s Loon, which spun out last July from the research incubator of the Google parent, separately have been trying to fly networking equipment at high altitudes to provide high-speed Internet where ground-based towers are unreachable.
Loon carries the gear with a large balloon, while HAPSMobile uses a large drone.
Despite Internet coverage gaps in rural areas or during natural disasters, mobile network operators, governments and other potential customers have yet to demonstrate much enthusiasm for buying skyborne technologies.
Also in the competition to fill the coverage gaps are several billionaire entrepreneurs, including Elon Musk, Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos. Each is backing separate early-stage ventures that want to beam Internet from satellites in near-Earth orbit.
Loon and HAPSMobile said on Wednesday that collaboration could be the key to adoption. They are discussing the possibility of using each others’ technology, standardizing their airborne and ground networking gear and joining forces in regulatory discussions, they said in a statement.
The companies described their partnership as a “long-term” tie-up of one of Japan’s top three wireless carriers and one of the world’s biggest tech companies.
“I’m confident we can accelerate the path toward the realization of utilizing the stratosphere for global networks by pooling our technologies, insights and experience,” Junichi Miyakawa, SoftBank’s chief technology officer and HAPSMobile’s chief executive, said in the statement.
“Even in this current era of coming 5G services, we cannot ignore the reality that roughly half of the world’s population is without Internet access,” Miyakawa added.
Loon has tested balloons for nearly a decade and expects to hold its first commercial trial in Kenya this year.
HAPSMobile emerged from technology developed by dronemaker AeroVironment Inc, which owns 10 percent of the SoftBank subsidiary.
Loon said it has the option to later invest $125 million in HAPSMobile.