US grants Iraq sanctions waiver for Iranian electricity imports

Iraq suffered widespread power outages last summer. (AFP/File photo)
Updated 15 June 2019
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US grants Iraq sanctions waiver for Iranian electricity imports

  • Iraq has had several extensions to the waiver first granted last year after Washington reimposed sanctions on Tehran’s oil sector

The United States has allowed Iraq to import Iranian gas for its power grid for another three months by extending a waiver to sanctions — but insists that Baghdad seek alternative sources.
Iraq has had several extensions to the waiver first granted last year after Washington reimposed sanctions on Tehran’s oil sector forbidding countries from purchasing Iranian energy.
“An additional 120-day waiver was granted to allow Iraq to continue to pay for electricity imports from Iran,” the US State Department said.
An Iraqi government source said the extension was given during a phone call between Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
The State Department said the United States continued to insist on “diversifying energy imports away from Iran,” however.
President Donald Trump’s administration has said oil-rich Iraq must become more self-reliant for its electricity, including by harnessing gas energy and reducing flaring at oil production sites.
US energy giant General Electric is in the running to win a large share of multibillion-dollar contracts to rebuild Iraq’s electricity system amid intense US lobbying efforts.
Washington reimposed sanctions on Iran’s oil industry in November, citing concerns about its nuclear program and what it said was its meddling in the Middle East.
Iraqi officials have said they might need years to wean the country of Iranian power.
Iraq relies heavily on Iranian gas to feed several power stations, importing roughly 1.5 billion standard cubic feet per day via pipelines in the south and east.
Washington wants to roll back Iranian influence in the Middle East, including in Iraq, where Tehran holds broad sway over politics and trade.
Although Iraq has one of the world’s largest natural gas reserves, it has moved slowly to develop them and has relied on Iran to supply it with gas and electricity.


China central bank moves to support financial institutions

Chinese 100 yuan banknotes are seen on a counter of a branch of a commercial bank in Beijing, China, March 30, 2016. (REUTERS)
Updated 24 July 2019
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China central bank moves to support financial institutions

  • Many market watchers believe the PBOC will adjust its money market rates in early August if the US Federal Reserve cuts its key rate, as widely expected, on July 31

BEIJING: China’s central bank offered medium-term loans to financial institutions on Tuesday in an attempt to get more affordable funds to struggling smaller firms, as it steps up efforts to support a slowing economy.
With growth in China sliding to a near 30-year low, global financial markets are closely watching to see if the People’s Bank
of China (PBOC) will trim interest rates soon in line with expected easing by other central banks.
While the PBOC left rates on the medium-term loans unchanged on Tuesday, and the injection had been expected, it funneled more lower-cost funds into a credit program aimed specifically at reducing strains on small and medium-sized businesses.
The PBOC lent 497.7 billion yuan ($72.31 billion), including 200 billion yuan through one-year medium-term lending facility (MLF) loans and another 297.7 billion yuan through targeted medium-term lending facility (TMLF) loans, it said in a statement.
The size of the TMLF funding was 11 percent larger than the last such injection in April.
Interest rates for both liquidity facilities were unchanged from previous levels. The one-year MLF and TMLF remained at 3.30 percent and 3.15 percent, respectively.
The total amount roughly offset 502 billion yuan of MLF loans that were set to expire on Tuesday,
ensuring a steady supply of cash.
“Replacing some MLF with TMLF effectively cut funding costs. We should focus on the lower rate, instead of the net drainage on the day,” said Frances Cheung, head of Asia macro strategy at Westpac in Singapore.

BACKGROUND

China is keeping all its policy tools within reach as the trade war with the US gets longer and costlier, but sees more aggressive action like interest rate cuts as a last resort given concerns about rising debt.

The central bank said banking system liquidity will be “reasonably ample” after the lending operations.
About 160 billion yuan in reverse repos were also set to expire on Tuesday, according to Reuters calculations based on official data. The PBOC did not say in its statement whether it had drained funds from money markets on Tuesday.

BACKGROUND

China is keeping all its policy tools within reach as the trade war with the US gets longer and costlier, but sees more aggressive action like interest rate cuts as a last resort given concerns about rising debt.

Some traders said Tuesday’s moves were in line with the PBOC’s support measures since last year, which have been aimed at getting more affordable financing to small and private companies.
While Chinese regulators have urged banks to keep lending to distressed firms, such companies are often considered higher credit risks than big, state-owned enterprises.
Traders and analysts still expect the PBOC to cut rates on some of its liquidity tools in coming months.
The PBOC has already slashed banks’ reserve requirement ratios (RRR) six times since early 2018 to free up more money to lend, while guiding short-term market rates lower through liquidity injections in various forms.
Many market watchers believe the PBOC will adjust its money market rates in early August if the US Federal Reserve cuts its key rate, as widely expected, on July 31.
Cheung from Westpac said it was still possible the PBOC could lower the MLF rate after the Fed’s policy decision.
She also has pencilled in a 50 basis-point RRR cut this quarter, and another in the fourth quarter.