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

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

China’s rich seek bodyguards schooled in digital arts

Updated 21 September 2020

China’s rich seek bodyguards schooled in digital arts

  • Positions worth up to $70k, graduates eye jobs as guards to burgeoning ranks of rich

TIANJIN, China: At the “Genghis Security Academy,” which bills itself as China’s only dedicated bodyguard school, students learn that the threats to the country’s newly rich in the tech age are more likely to emerge from a hacker than a gunman.

Each day students in matching black business suits toil from dawn until midnight at the school in the eastern city of Tianjin, where digital defenses are given equal pegging to the traditional close-protection skillset of
combat, weapons training and high-speed driving.

Around a thousand graduate each year, hoping to land jobs as guards to China’s burgeoning ranks of rich and famous, positions which can be worth up to $70,000 — several times more than an annual office wage.

But the school says it can’t meet demand as China’s rapid growth mints millionaires — 4.4 million according to a Credit Suisse 2019 report, more than in the US.

The course fees are up to $3,000 a student, and while they had to cancel training between February and June because of the coronavirus pandemic, it has not dampened demand.

Only the best make the cut, says founder Chen Yongqing, insisting his disciplinarian standards are stricter than in the army.

“I’m quick-tempered and very demanding,” the army veteran from China’s northern Inner Mongolia region told AFP.

“Only by being strict can we cultivate every good sword. If you don’t forge it well, it will break itself.”

About half of the students are ex-military, Chen says.

They train in rows in a large, shabby sports hall, holding blue plastic guns ahead of them with a steady stare — before practicing hustling their clients safely into a black Audi with smashed windows.

Other sessions are held in a classroom or gym, where they box in matching red T-shirts.

Mobile phones are confiscated throughout, while meals are taken in silence in a large dining hall presided over by pictures of acclaimed graduates, who have protected everyone from China’s second richest man Jack Ma to visiting French presidents.

“We have been defining the standard of Chinese bodyguards,” instructor Ji Pengfei told AFP.

In one class, students in pairs work through a scenario protecting a “client” from an intruder.

A new skillset to protect the country’s tycoons has been introduced. (AFP)

“Danger!” shouts Ji, prompting the guard to quickly throw their “boss” behind them and pull out a gun in the same move.

Those who fail to do it in two seconds are assigned 50 push-ups.

The guns at the Tianjin school are fake — China outlaws possession of firearms. For live firearms training, students are taken to Laos in Southeast Asia.

But in a highly surveilled country with a low rate of street crime, the modern minder needs an up-to-date skillset, against state monitoring or professional hackers.

“Chinese bosses don’t need you to fight,” Chen tells his students of a client base which includes the country’s biggest real estate and tech firms.

Repelling hacks on mobile phones, network security, spotting eavesdroppers and wiping data are all required tools in the bodyguard’s armory.

“What would you do if the boss wants to destroy a video file immediately?” Chen asks a class.

Even so, old-school threats still exist in China — earlier this year billionaire He Xiangjian, founder of Midea and one of the country’s richest men, was kidnapped at his home.

According to Chinese media, He’s son escaped by jumping into a river and was able to call the police, who said they arrested five suspects at the scene.

Student Zhu Peipei, a 33-year-old army veteran from northern Shanxi province, hopes becoming a bodyguard could offset his lack of professional skills or academic qualifications.

“And of course, it’s cool,” he added.

But the alumni of the Genghis Academy also provide humdrum services, like accompanying children of the rich and famous to school — for a fee of 180,000 yuan ($26,000) a year.

That in itself is far more than the base salary in private companies of around 53,000 yuan.

Students must also navigate the quirks of their wealthy clients, says trainer Ji.

Some only trust bodyguards whose Chinese zodiac sign matches theirs, he explains — while one, from a Fortune 500 company, only wanted to hire from his hometown.

Another demanded a prospective bodyguard tell him what books he liked to read — he was hired after saying he liked military novels.