Brent oil rises back above $80 as Iran sanctions loom

US drillers added four oil rigs in the week to October 19, bringing the total count to 873, Baker Hughes energy services firm said on Friday. (Reuters)
Updated 22 October 2018

Brent oil rises back above $80 as Iran sanctions loom

  • The US sanctions on the oil sector in Iran are set to start on November 4
  • other producers may struggle to fully make up for the expected Iran disruption, and that oil prices could rise further

SINGAPORE: Brent crude oil prices rose back above $80 a barrel on Monday as markets were expected to tighten once US sanctions against Iran’s crude exports are implemented next month.
Benchmark Brent crude oil futures were at $80.26 a barrel at 0646 GMT, up 48 cents, or 0.6 percent, above their last close.
US West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures were at $69.60 a barrel, up 48 cents, or 0.7 percent.
The US sanctions on the oil sector in Iran, the third-largest producer in the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), are set to start on November 4. The United States under President Donald Trump is trying to reduce Iranian oil exports to zero to force the country to renegotiate an agreement on its nuclear program.
US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told Reuters on Sunday that it would be harder for countries to get sanction waivers than it was during the previous Obama administration, when several countries, especially in Asia, received them.
OPEC agreed in June to boost supply to make up for the expected disruption to Iranian exports.
However, an internal document reviewed by Reuters suggested OPEC is struggling to add barrels as an increase in Saudi supply was offset by declines elsewhere.
Fatih Birol, executive director of the International Energy Agency (IEA), said on Monday that other producers may struggle to fully make up for the expected Iran disruption, and that oil prices could rise further.
Some relief may come from North America, where US drillers added four oil rigs in the week to Oct. 19, bringing the total count to 873, Baker Hughes energy services firm said on Friday, raising the rig count to the highest level since March 2015.
The US rig count is an early indicator of future output. With activity increasing after months of stagnation, US crude production is also expected to continue to rise.
Reflecting rising US crude exports, the Intercontinental Exchange said its new Permian West Texas Intermediate crude futures contract deliverable in Houston, Texas, will begin trading on Monday.
In addition to the potential for rising oil supply, the ongoing Sino-American trade dispute is expected to start dragging on demand.
“The full impact of the US-China trade war will hit markets in 2019 and could act as a considerable drag on oil demand next year, raising the possibility of the market returning to surplus,” said Emirates NBD bank in a note.
Shipping brokerage Eastport said “Chinese manufacturing is beginning to slow” and that “Trump’s proposal of slapping ... tariffs on additional ... Chinese goods from 1 January would be a further drag on trade.”
K.Y. Lin, spokesman for Taiwan’s Formosa Petrochemical Corp, a major fuel refiner, said “weaker demand in Europe and the US” was already affecting gasoline profit margins as excess fuel is being sent to Asia.


Japan’s ‘Suganomics’ will target quick wins, not grand visions

Japan’s Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, center, with cabinet ministers this week. Suga’s plans for structural reforms will focus more on spurring competition, rather than deeper social change. (AP)
Updated 19 September 2020

Japan’s ‘Suganomics’ will target quick wins, not grand visions

  • New prime minister to build political capital in lead-up to introducing tougher reforms, officials say

TOKYO: Japan’s new prime minister will pursue economic structural reforms through a mixed bag of policies that target specific industries, rather than a grand strategy to reshape society and boost long-term growth.

Armed with a strong grip on Japan’s bureaucracy, Yoshihide Suga knows which levers to pull to get results, say government and ruling party officials who know him or have worked with him.
But an initial need to consolidate popular support means he will first target quick policy wins that will later give him the political capital to pursue tougher reforms, they said.
“He isn’t after visions. He’s someone who wants to accomplish small goals one by one,” said political analyst Atsuo Ito, a former ruling party staffer. “He’ll initially focus on pragmatic goals that directly affect people’s livelihood.”
Suga has said he will continue his predecessor Shinzo Abe’s pro-growth “Abenomics” strategy aimed at pulling Japan out of deflation with heavy monetary and fiscal stimulus coupled with structural reforms.
But unlike Abe, Suga’s plans for structural reforms will focus more on spurring competition, rather than deeper social change.
For Suga, economic reform will be a political priority in its own right, unlike Abe, whose reforms were wrapped up in a broader political agenda that included the thorny challenge of revising Japan’s pacifist constitution.
Suga must act quickly as his current term lasts for only for a year unless he calls a snap election to win the public’s mandate to run a full, three-year term.

HIGHLIGHTS

• Reform mix of ideas rather than grand strategy.

• Suga armed with strong grip on bureaucracy.

• Targets “quick-hit” reforms appealing to voters.

• Plans include consolidating small firms, lenders.

That means he will first seek “quick-hit” achievements that directly channel money to households. Among the sweeteners would be to slash cellphone charges by about 40 per cent, raise the minimum wage and increase payouts to cushion the blow from the pandemic.
“At this moment, he has to focus on very short-term issues like how to stimulate economy,” said Heizo Takenaka, who served in the cabinet of reformist former premier Junichiro Koizumi.
Removing protections in industry will be one such objective, even if that riles some parts of corporate Japan.
“Introducing competition among mobile phone carriers could be a very symbolic policy for Suga because he loves competition,” said Takenaka, who retains close contact with Suga. “He hates people with vested interests.”
If successful, Suga could pursue bolder reforms such as liberalising the heavily protected medical sector, consolidating weak regional banks and breaking barriers that hamper competition among small- and mid-sized firms.
Having served as Abe’s top spokesman, Suga already knows his way around Japan’s massive bureaucracy.
Suga relaxed visa requirements to boost inbound tourism, overcoming push-back from the justice ministry. He also cut through bureaucratic opposition and expanded a scheme that gave tax breaks for donations to Japan’s regional areas.
“Suga may not be charismatic, but he gets things done,” said Taimei Yamaguchi, a ruling party lawmaker close to Suga. “Some of the best advice I got from him was to make the most of the expertise the bureaucrats have.”
Some government officials say Suga’s focus on deregulation makes his policies closer to those of Koizumi, who consolidated big banks and deregulated the labor market in the early 2000s.
Suga’s slogan urging the public to “look after yourself before seeking government help” reflects his background as a self-made politician who made his way up from a son of a strawberry farmer to Japan’s leader, people who know him say.