Saudi Arabia slashes oil prices after collapse of OPEC+

Saudi Arabia slashes oil prices after collapse of OPEC+
There were big falls on Friday as OPEC failed to get a deal with non-OPEC members to extend output deals. (Saudi Aramco photo)
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Updated 09 March 2020

Saudi Arabia slashes oil prices after collapse of OPEC+

Saudi Arabia slashes oil prices after collapse of OPEC+
  • Latest move to deal a major blow to US shale companies

DUBAI: The eyes of the world will be on the oil markets when the big trading hubs in Europe and North America open following the end of the deal between Saudi Arabia and Russia that has helped to sustain crude at relatively high levels for the past three years.

There were big falls on Friday when ministers from the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) failed to get a deal with non-OPEC members — the so-called OPEC+ — to extend output agreements. Brent oil was down nearly 10 percent at $45.27 going into the western weekend.

Saudi Aramco took immediate action to cut prices after the OPEC+ collapse, offering big discounts for crude deliveries from next month, when the current output restrictions end.

According to a notification sent to customers by Saudi Aramco, seen by Arab News, the Kingdom’s oil giant will cut between $4 and $8 per barrel, with the biggest discounts being offered to buyers in northwest Europe and the US.

Roger Diwan, an oil analyst at consultancy IHS Market, said: “We are likely to see the lowest oil prices of the past 20 years in the next quarter.”

West Texas Intermediate, the US oil benchmark, fell to $28.27 in November 2001.

The move raises the possibility of a “crude war” between the three biggest oil blocs — the US, Russia and the Arabian Gulf. Some analysts believe the American shale industry is more vulnerable to low prices than either the Russians or the Saudis.

Robin Mills, head of the Qamar consultancy, told Arab News: “I don’t think this was premeditated but Saudi Arabia has clearly swung quickly into action to put the Russians under pressure. But the Russians, with low debt and a flexible exchange rate, can cope with a few months of low prices.”

The boom in US shale has made the country the biggest oil producer in the world, but with high financing costs. Lower global prices would put a lot of shale companies out of business.

On the other hand, American motorists, and President Donald Trump, would be pleased to see lower fuel prices in an election year. 

In Moscow, one prominent financier with ties to the Kingdom played down the long-term significance of the Vienna fallout.

Kirill Dmitriev, chief executive of the Russian Direct Investment Fund, told Arab News: “Saudi Arabia is our strategic partner, and cooperation between our two countries will continue in all areas. We will also continue to work within the framework of the Russia-Saudi Economic Council.” 

One Russian official, who asked not to be named, added: “There is a good relationship between Alexander Novak, Russian energy minister, and his Saudi counterpart Prince Abdul Aziz bin Salman, and I am sure they will continue talking to each other less formally.”


Why North American investors are gobbling up booming bitcoin

Updated 18 min 10 sec ago

Why North American investors are gobbling up booming bitcoin

Why North American investors are gobbling up booming bitcoin
  • Digital currency soars to record high amid dramatic $3.4bn global market shift

LONDON: Bitcoin has grabbed headlines this week with its dizzying ascent to an all-time high. Yet, under the radar, a trend has been playing out that could change the face of the cryptocurrency market: A massive flow of coin to North America from East Asia.

Bitcoin, the biggest and original cryptocurrency, soared to a record $19,918 on Tuesday, buoyed by demand from investors who variously view the virtual currency as a “risk-on” asset, a hedge against inflation and a payment method gaining mainstream acceptance.

But the boom represents a shift in the market, which has typically been dominated by investors in East Asian nations like China, Japan and South Korea since the digital currency was invented by the mysterious Satoshi Nakamoto over a decade ago.

It is North American investors who have been the bigger winners in the 165 percent rally this year.

Weekly net inflows of bitcoin — a proxy for new buyers — to platforms serving mostly North American users have jumped over 7,000 times this year to over 216,000 bitcoin worth $3.4 billion in mid-November, data compiled for Reuters shows.

East Asian exchanges have lost out.

HIGHLIGHTS

  • North American exchanges win out in bitcoin boom.
  • Huge bitcoin flows to that region from East Asia.
  • Market players cite demand from large US investors.
  • Fewer retail punters in Asia another factor at play.

Those serving investors in the region bled 240,000 bitcoin worth $3.8 billion last month, versus an inflow of 1,460 in January, according to the data from US blockchain researcher Chainalysis.

The change is being driven by an increasing appetite for bitcoin among bigger US investors, according to Reuters interviews with cryptocurrency platforms and investors from the US and Europe to South Korea, Hong Kong and Japan.

“The sudden influx of institutional interest from the North American region is driving a shift in bitcoin trading, which is rebalancing asset allocations across different exchanges and platforms,” said Ciara Sun of Seychelles-based Huobi Global Markets, whose parent company has roots in China and operates in several Asian markets.

East Asia, North America and Western Europe are the biggest bitcoin hubs, with the first two alone accounting for about half of all transfers, according to Chainalysis, which gathers data by region with tools such as tagging cryptocurrency wallets.

Industry experts caution it is too early to call a fundamental shift in the market, particularly in an unprecedented year of pandemic-induced financial turmoil.

Growing flows to North America this year are not necessarily “an indication that the center of gravity is tilting toward the US,” said James Quinn of Q9 Capital, a Hong Kong cryptocurrency private wealth manager.

Others also point out that cryptocurrency trading is highly opaque compared with traditional assets and patchily regulated, making comprehensive data on the emerging sector rare.

Nonetheless, Chainalysis found North American trading volumes at major exchanges — those with the most blockchain activity — had eclipsed East Asia’s this year. This is not unheard of, with North America having moved ahead on occasions in the past, but never by such a large margin.

Volumes at four major North American platforms have doubled this year to reach 1.6 million bitcoin per week at the end of November, while trading at 14 major East Asian exchanges have risen 16 percent to 1.4 million, according to the data.

By comparison, a year before, East Asia led the way with 1.3 million a week versus North America’s 766,000.

Those interviewed said compliance-wary US investors, many of whom had been deterred by the opaque nature of the market in the past, are being attracted by the tightening oversight of the American crypto industry.

US exchanges are in general more tightly regulated than many of those in East Asia, and there have been several moves by American regulators and law-enforcement agencies this year to clarify how bitcoin is overseen.

A leading banking regulator said in July, for instance, that national banks could provide custody services for cryptocurrencies. The justice department also outlined an enforcement framework for digital coins in October.

“You’re increasingly starting to see distinctions in the market between those that have no regulatory or little regulatory clarity, versus those that do,” said Curtis Ting of major US exchange Kraken.

“Larger institutions seek the predictability that a regulated venue offers.”

Assets under management at New York-based Grayscale, the world’s largest digital currency manager, have soared to a record $10.4 billion, up more than 75 percent from September. Its bitcoin fund is up 85 percent.

“A lot of US funds are trading with large US counterparties,” said Christopher Matta of 3iQ, a Canadian digital asset manager with clients in the US, citing exchanges such as California’s Coinbase that are overseen by New York financial regulators.

“It tells you right there how important the regulatory nature of the space is, and having venues to trade on that are regulated — it’s definitely something that institutional investors are thinking about.”

Another factor behind the 2020 trend is a decline in the armies of retail investors in Asia who drove bitcoin’s 2017 boom, which pushed it to its previous peak.

In South Korea, strict regulations have been discouraging such investors, according to In Hoh of Korea University’s Blockchain Research Institute.

Concerns that major retail exchanges linked to China but based elsewhere could be caught up in a crackdown by Beijing may have pushed down demand, said Leo Weese, co-founder of the Hong Kong Bitcoin Association.

In October, for instance, Malta-headquartered OKEx, which was founded in China, suspended crypto withdrawals for nearly six weeks because an executive was cooperating with an investigation by Chinese law enforcement.