New Lebanon government calls for ‘painful economic reforms’

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Al-HarirI heads a meeting to discuss a draft policy statement at the governmental palace in Beirut. (Reuters)
Updated 07 February 2019

New Lebanon government calls for ‘painful economic reforms’

  • State jobs hiring freeze as Lebanon tightens belt
  • Statement sets the main policy objectives of Prime Minister Saad Al-Hariri's government

BEIRUT:  Lebanon is to freeze hiring for state jobs as it embarks on a program of economic reform described as “difficult and painful.”

The halt to new government employment “in all its forms” will last throughout 2019, followed by four years of replacing only half the number of people who retire, and on condition that strict new deficit reduction targets are met.

A draft government policy statement, parts of which were leaked on Wednesday, sets the main policy objectives of Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s national unity government, which was formed last week after nine months of wrangling over ministerial appointments.

The statement commits to bringing down the debt-to-GDP ratio by boosting the size of the economy and reducing the budget deficit. The government is committed to a “financial correction” equal to at least 1 percent of the GDP a year over five years.

This would be achieved by boosting revenues and cutting spending, starting with transfers to the state-run power company, which the World Bank has described as a “staggering burden” on the public finances.

Information Minister Jamal Al-Jarrah said the government was not considering tax increases. There were no major points of contention over the policy statement and it was expected to be approved by the government on Thursday, he said. “The atmosphere was very positive and there was no dispute about any point.”

Hariri’s adviser Nadim Al-Mulla told Arab News: “The government will implement reforms on the restructuring of the electricity and water sector, and tackle corruption.

“Most of the measures aim to reduce the deficit by reducing expenditure. The reduction will affect all ministries without exception and will include administrative expenses.”

The policy statement also said the government would continue the policy of exchange rate stability, as a priority for “social and economic stability.” The Lebanese pound has been pegged to the US dollar for over two decades.

Lebanon has some of the world’s worst debt and balance-of-payments ratios but has avoided financial disaster, confounding critics who have warned for years of debt defaults and a collapse of the pound; all have failed to materialize.

Nevertheless, pessimists were out in force on Wednesday. The Lebanese economy was “an unsustainable story over the medium term,” said Kevin Daly of Aberdeen Standard Investments.

“Having a government in place, that’s important, but they need to address key vulnerabilities and the big one is in the electricity sector — that plus no growth.”

ADNOC wants its flagship crude as global benchmark

Updated 4 min 39 sec ago

ADNOC wants its flagship crude as global benchmark

  • Abu Dhabi oil giant’s ambitious call comes amid falling Brent volumes and new UAE exchange plan

ABU DHABI: Abu Dhabi National Oil Co. (ADNOC) is aiming to have its Murban futures contract eventually replace North Sea benchmark Brent whose volumes are declining, an ADNOC executive said on Tuesday.

Intercontinental Exchange Inc. plans to launch a new exchange in the UAE, ICE Futures Abu Dhabi (IFAD), in the first half of 2020 to host ADNOC’s flagship Murban crude grade.

“We want to give the industry Murban as a replacement for Brent crude futures,” Philippe Khoury, head of trading at ADNOC group, told an energy conference in the UAE capital Abu Dhabi.

“We still have to demonstrate that over time the community can trust the crude as a benchmark,” he added.

Oil majors BP, Total, Inpex, Vitol , Shell, Petrochina, Korea’s GS Caltex, Japan’s JXTG and Thailand’s PTT have agreed to become partners in the new exchange.

Vitol CEO Russel Hardy said that it will take time to build liquidity on the new exchange, and that Brent, a basket of different crude qualities, and US West Texas Intermediate (WTI) were very established.

“There is a great deal of different constituents playing in those markets. These things will take time to build up on the exchange here,” he said at the same panel discussion.

“It is right to have that level of ambition but it will take some time to build that level of liquidity,” he said of ADNOC’s plans for Murban.

The new contract will create an alternative benchmark to the most commonly used Middle East standard, the Dubai/Oman benchmark operated by the Dubai Mercantile Exchange (DME) and traded on CME’s electronic platform.

Abu Dhabi’s Supreme Petroleum Council last week approved the launch of a new pricing mechanism for Murban crude as part of ADNOC’s broader transformation strategy. It authorized the state energy firm to remove destination restrictions on Murban sales.

ADNOC plans to implement new Murban forward pricing between the second quarter and third quarter of 2020.

UAE Energy Minister Suhail Al-Mazrouei said earlier on Tuesday that he saw no conflict between his country’s compliance with OPEC output cuts and plans to list Murban.

He said the UAE remained committed to cuts agreed by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, plus allies led by Russia. These countries have since January implemented a deal to cut output by 1.2 million barrels per day (bpd) which lasts until March 2020, in an attempt to boost prices.

“I don’t think there is a conflict in floating Murban with the fact that UAE is going to comply with whatever we agree to with OPEC. I am not worried about that,” Mazrouei said.

Murban light crude output is around 1.6-1.7 million barrels per day. The UAE has traditionally sold oil directly to end-users, mainly in Asia, based on retroactive pricing rather than forward pricing used by Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Iraq.

The UAE, the third-largest OPEC producer behind Saudi Arabia and Iraq, pumps around 3 million bpd, produced mostly by ADNOC.