Shell evacuates foreign staff from Iraq’s Basra Gas project — executives

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A general view of the South Gas Company in Basra, southeast of Baghdad, March 30, 2016. (Reuters)
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Customers buy fuel as environmental activists hold banners demanding Shell Oil Company to end investments in fossil fuel next to a Shell petrol station in Prague, Czech Republic, May 19, 2020. The banner reads: "End of oil, end of Shell". (Reuters)
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Updated 21 May 2020

Shell evacuates foreign staff from Iraq’s Basra Gas project — executives

  • Shell temporarily evacuates staff
  • Workers protest over delayed salaries

BASRA: Royal Dutch Shell evacuated some 60 foreign staff from Iraq’s Basra Gas Company as a security measure following a protest over delayed pay, company officials said on Thursday, adding production was unaffected.
The staff were flown out of the country on Wednesday after workers protested at the headquarters of Basra Gas Company (BGC), a venture between state-owned South Gas Company, Shell and Mitsubishi, to demand payment of their delayed salaries, officials said.
“Shell confirms that as result of a security breach at the accommodation camp of Basra Gas Company, we have temporarily relocated Shell secondees,” Shell said in emailed comments.
“All staff and contractors are safe and BGC production is not impacted,” Shell said.
It said the staff, evacuated for security reasons, would work remotely and it did not anticipate any short-term impact on production from the Basra Gas Company, which project officials say is around 900 million standard cubic feet per day.
Shell said it was working with its Iraqi state partner to solve the pay issue and hoped the evacuated staff could resume work onsite as soon as possible.
Iraqi officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, also said they were seeking a quick solution to pay the delayed salaries and that the gas project, overseen by Iraqi engineers, was functioning normally.
“Shell’s evacuation is a precautionary and temporary measure and its foreign staff will provide advice and perform their duties remotely for now,” a senior Basra Gas Company official said.
Iraqi officials providing security at the Basra Gas Company said Wednesday’s protest, which was also close to a Shell compound, was limited and under control.
Most energy companies in Iraq’s south cut wages or laid off workers to cut costs after oil prices fell because of the coronavirus crisis. In April, benchmark Brent crude fell to its lowest levels in more than 20 years.


S&P 500 inches closer to record high

Updated 12 August 2020

S&P 500 inches closer to record high

  • US stock market index returns to levels last seen before the onset of coronavirus crisis

NEW YORK: The S&P 500 on Tuesday closed in on its February record high, returning to levels last seen before the onset of the coronavirus crisis that caused one of Wall Street’s most dramatic crashes in history.

The benchmark index was about half a percent below its peak hit on Feb. 19, when investors started dumping shares in anticipation of what proved to be the biggest slump in the US economy since the Great Depression.

Ultra-low interest rates, trillions of dollars in stimulus and, more recently, a better-than-feared second quarter earnings season have allowed all three of Wall Street’s main indexes to recover.

The tech-heavy Nasdaq has led the charge, boosted by “stay-at-home winners” Amazon.com Inc., Netflix Inc. and Apple Inc. The index was down about 0.4 percent.

The blue chip Dow surged 1.2 percent, coming within 5 percent of its February peak.

“You’ve got to admit that this is a market that wants to go up, despite tensions between US-China, despite news of the coronavirus not being particularly encouraging,” said Andrea Cicione, a strategist at TS Lombard.

“We’re facing an emergency from the health, economy and employment point of view — the outlook is a lot less rosy. There’s a disconnect between valuation and the actual outlook even though lower rates to some degree justify high valuation.”

Aiding sentiment, President Vladimir Putin claimed Russia had become the first country in the world to grant regulatory approval to a COVID-19 vaccine. But the approval’s speed has concerned some experts as the vaccine still must complete final trials.

Investors are now hoping Republicans and Democrats will resolve their differences and agree on another relief program to support about 30 million unemployed Americans, as the battle with the virus outbreak was far from over with US cases surpassing 5 million last week.

Also in focus are Sino-US tensions ahead of high-stakes trade talks in the coming weekend.

“Certainly the rhetoric from Washington has been negative with regards to China ... there’s plenty of things to worry about, but markets are really focused more on the very easy fiscal and monetary policies at this point,” said Paul Nolte, portfolio manager at Kingsview Asset Management in Chicago.

Financials, energy and industrial sectors, that have lagged the benchmark index this year, provided the biggest boost to the S&P 500 on Tuesday.

The S&P 500 was set to rise for the eighth straight session, its longest streak of gains since April 2019.

The S&P 500 was up 15.39 points, or 0.46 percent, at 3,375.86, about 18 points shy of its high of 3,393.52. The Dow Jones Industrial Average was up 341.41 points, or 1.23 percent, at 28,132.85, and the Nasdaq Composite was down 48.37 points, or 0.44 percent, at 10,919.99.

Royal Caribbean Group jumped 4.6 percent after it hinted at new safety measures aimed at getting sailing going again after months of cancellations. Peers Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd. and Carnival Corp. also rose.

US mall owner Simon Property Group Inc. gained 4.1 percent despite posting a disappointing second quarter profit, as its CEO expressed some hope over a recovery in retail as lockdown measures in some regions eased.

Advancing issues outnumbered decliners 3.44-to-1 on the NYSE and 1.44-to-1 on the Nasdaq.

The S&P index recorded 35 new 52-week highs and no new low, while the Nasdaq recorded 50 new highs and four new lows.