Oil prices rise on gains prompted by tensions between US and Iran

The tanker Kokuka Courageous, which the US Navy says was damaged by a limpet mine, anchored off Fujairah. (AP)
Updated 25 June 2019

Oil prices rise on gains prompted by tensions between US and Iran

  • Russian energy minister praises international cooperation to stabilize oil markets

LONDON: Oil prices rose on Monday, extending large gains last week that were prompted by tensions between Iran and the US, as Washington was set to announce new sanctions on Tehran.

West Texas Intermediate crude was up 50 cents, or 0.87 percent, at $57.93 a barrel.

Brent futures were up 9 cents, or 0.14 percent at $65.29 a barrel by 1040 GMT.

US President Donald Trump said on Friday he called off a military strike in retaliation for the shooting down of a US drone by Iran, saying the potential death toll would be disproportionate, adding on Sunday that he was not seeking war.

Oil prices surged after Iran shot down the aircraft on Thursday that the US claimed was in international airspace and Tehran said was over its territory.

Brent racked up a gain of about 5 percent last week, its first weekly gain in five weeks, and WTI jumped about 10 percent, its biggest weekly percentage gain since December 2016.

But US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said “significant” sanctions on Iran would be announced on Monday aimed at further choking off resources that Tehran uses to fund its activities in the region.

British Foreign Minister Jeremy Hunt said the UK believed neither the US nor Iran wanted a conflict but warned tensions could lead to an “accidental war.”

Also boosting prices, global supply may remain tight as OPEC and its allies including Russia appear likely to extend their oil cut pact at their meeting July 1-2 in Vienna, analysts said.

“An extension of OPEC+ production cuts through the end of the year seems highly likely given recent price action,” US investment bank Jefferies said in a note.

“The market expects an extension though, and any failure could see oil price gap down. The probabilities favor restraint however,” it added.

Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak on Monday said international cooperation on crude production had helped stabilize oil markets and is more important than ever.

“There is a good example of successful cooperation in balancing the oil market between the OPEC countries and non-OPEC. Thanks to joint efforts, we today see a stabilization of world oil markets,” Novak said.

Boosting oil demand, prospects of a near-term interest rate cut by the Federal Reserve aimed at bolstering the US economy have weakened the dollar.

Oil is usually priced in dollars, and a slide in the value of the weaker greenback makes it cheaper for holders of other currencies.

Separately, Iranian crude exports have dropped so far in June to 300,000 barrels per day (bpd) or less after the US tightened the screws on Tehran’s main source of income, industry sources said and tanker data showed, deepening global supply losses.

The US reimposed sanctions on Iran in November after pulling out of a 2015 nuclear accord between Tehran and six world powers. Aiming to cut Iran’s sales to zero, Washington in May ended sanctions waivers to importers of Iranian oil.

Iran has nonetheless sent abroad about 300,000 bpd of crude in the first three weeks of June, according to two industry sources who track the flows. Data from Refinitiv Eikon put crude shipments at about 240,000 bpd.

“It’s a very low level of real crude exports,” said one of the sources.

The squeeze on exports from Iran, a member of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, is a key factor for the producer group and its allies, which meet on July 1-2 to decide whether to pump more oil in the rest of 2019.

Iran’s June exports are down from about 400,000-500,000 bpd in May as estimated by the industry sources and Refinitiv and a fraction of the more than 2.5 million bpd that Iran shipped in April 2018, the month before President Donald Trump withdrew the US from the nuclear deal.

Iranian exports have become more opaque since US sanctions returned in November, making it harder to assess volumes.

Tehran no longer reports its production figures to OPEC and there is no definitive information on exports since it can be difficult to tell if a vessel has sailed to a specific end-user.

Refinitiv Eikon data showed Iran has exported 5.7 million barrels of crude in the first 24 days of June to the United Arab Emirates, Turkey, Singapore and Syria, although these may not be the final destinations.

Kpler, another company which tracks oil flows, estimates that Iran loaded 645,000 bpd of crude and condensate, a light oil, onto tankers in the first half of June, of which 82 percent are floating in Gulf waters.

That would put actual crude exports in the first half of the month even lower than 300,000 bpd.

“American restrictions are having a clear effect on Iran’s ability to sell into global markets,” Kpler said.


Technology will not replace labor despite rapid digital transformation

Updated 28 January 2020

Technology will not replace labor despite rapid digital transformation

  • Hayman said he believes technology should help people and offer them support rather than replace them
  • The UAE is among the top performers in the Middle East in terms of digital transformation in industrial sectors

ABU DHABI: Digital technology will not replace labor; the aim of it is to improve areas of inefficiency in different industrial sectors, CEO of AVEVA Group plc Craig Hayman told Arab News.

Most sectors around the world from retail to financial services and telecommunication, have been digitized in some way, according to Hayman.

But while this widespread introduction of digital technology inevitably reduces costs and increases efficiencies in the workplace, it is also seen by many as the death knell for their jobs.

A 2019 report by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) estimates that approximately 14 percent of workers globally will face a high risk of their jobs one day becoming automated and “32 percent face major changes in the tasks required in their job and, consequently, the skills they would need to do their job.”

Another 2017 McKinzy&Company report said up to 800 million workers around the world could be replaced by robots by 2030.

But Hayman said he believes technology should help people and offer them support rather than replace them.

“In the industries AVEVA serves, there are so many areas of inefficiency that we are delivering improvement for without any replacement of labor. It is more about giving the people more tools to effectively do their jobs,” he added.

For example, Hayman said, a worker who is doing maintenance repair is given the tools to know more about the correct isolation procedures around this repair.

OECD’s 2019 report said the effect of digitization on labor will not be evenly distributed nor happen at a steady pace. “It is most likely to be concentrated in certain jobs, selected sectors and particular geographical areas, and may move in fits and starts,” the report adds.

While digital technology around the world began to witness a transformation in the last decade across different industrial sectors, the Middle East has become a major contributor to this transformation.

The UAE is among the top performers in the Middle East in terms of digital transformation in industrial sectors, Hayman said.

A 2016 report by McKinzy&Company also said the UAE ranks the top in adopting digital technology and it matches the world’s digital leaders on several metrics.

Hayman said he believes there is a strong digital ambition in the region. “I think some of the digital projects in the Middle East are starting to yield good results. We have seen this with customers like Al-Marai and Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC).”

In the UAE’s oil and gas sector for example, there is ADNOC’s Panorama Digital Command Centre which is a real-time data visualisation centre that offers insights and identifies new ways to improve performance. “The Panorama Digital Command Centre is known around the world; that was an eight-week project for us almost two years ago,” Hayman said.

Abu Dhabi's Crown Prince Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan inaugurated ADNOC's advanced Panorama Command Centre and Artificial Intelligence (AI) platform on Nov 12, 2017. (WAM)

Saudi Arabia’s Aramco has also established tech projects such as “the use of robots and self-guided autonomous devices in remote inspection and maintenance in plant areas, and the installation of smart sensors with advanced analytic capabilities,” according to a 2018 report by Aramco.

When asked how much companies spend to digitize their services in the oil and gas sector, Hayman said about $250 billion a year was spent in capital expenditure in the oil and gas sector.

Saudi Arabia has adopted a digital transformation strategy that began in 2019 and is expected to conclude in 2022. The strategy’s “main components are digital health, digital education, e-commerce, and smart cities,” a 2019 report by the Saudi National Platform said.

On health, the Kingdom launched a telemedicine technology in which in 2019 it saved a million lives out of which 10,000 were critical, the Kingdom’s Minister of Communication and Information Technology Abdullah bin Amer Al-Swaha said in a panel discussion held in Davos at this year’s World Economic Forum.

Telemedicine is a technology that provides electronic clinical services to patients without an in-person visit.

In the digital education sector, Saudi Arabia established the Saudi Digital Library (SDL), which is said to be the largest collection of academic information resources in the Arab world, according to the Kingdom’s Ministry of Education. “SDL includes over 310,000 scientific references covering the different academic disciplines. The content of the library is continuously updated, providing huge resources of knowledge in the long run.”

When asked about the opportunities and challenges the digital trend creates for entrepreneurs, Hayman said if an entrepreneur can deliver technology in the context of trust and partnership, he or she is definitely moving on the right track.

A 2019 report by the World Economic Forum said digital technology can help the government and private sectors to create initiatives that form “a holistic global entrepreneurial ecosystem that enables sharing, learning and access to resources at a mass scale and at low cost.”