Egypt, Iraq move forward with oil-for-reconstruction plan

Egypt, Iraq move forward with oil-for-reconstruction plan
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Delegations from Egypt and Iraq discuss bilateral ties in Baghdad. (Supplied)
Egypt, Iraq move forward with oil-for-reconstruction plan
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Flames shoot out of a chimney at Petroleum Pipelines Company (PPC) along a highway of Alexandria, Egypt December 6, 2020. (REUTERS)
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Updated 14 December 2020

Egypt, Iraq move forward with oil-for-reconstruction plan

Egypt, Iraq move forward with oil-for-reconstruction plan
  • Deal will see Egyptian firms implement development projects in Iraq in return for oil

CAIRO: The oil-for-reconstruction agreement signed between Egypt and Iraq will enter into bilateral implementation as soon as constitutional procedures are complete, Egyptian Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly has said.

Last month, the Egyptian government said it had reached a preliminary consensus with Iraq on establishing the mechanism.

The prime minister added that there is a presidential directive to begin a number of joint projects, pending the completion of ratification procedures.

Madbouly said Egypt is ready to provide any raw materials, supplies or equipment to the Iraqi side. He added that Egypt is keen to overcome any routine measures that may hinder the activation of the agreement, and prepare a presidential directive to form a permanent follow-up committee for the projects.

The agreement will see Egyptian companies implement development projects in Iraq in return for quantities of oil imported by Egypt.

Egyptian Minister of Petroleum Tarek El-Molla recently said that support for petroleum products in Egypt fell by 46 percent in the first quarter of the 2020-2021 fiscal year.

The Egyptian prime minister also said that a tripartite summit between Egypt, Iraq and Jordan is scheduled to be held during the first quarter of next year, in order to announce a number of joint projects between the three countries.

Madbouly stressed the importance of setting up implementation mechanisms, so that preparations for the upcoming tripartite summit can be completed.

Iraqi Minister of Planning Khaled Battal said that Iraq is keen to arrive at a specific list of development projects, which will be implemented in cooperation with the Egyptian side.

FASTFACTS

• The agreement will enter into bilateral implementation after constitutional procedures are complete.

• The Egyptian government reached a preliminary consensus with Iraq last month on establishing the mechanism.

“In the next few years, a specific list of projects that will be implemented will be reached, provided that it includes one or two projects nominated by each of the relevant ministries, and that there will be continuous follow-up by the relevant ministries on both sides, bearing in mind that a specific timetable will be set for the implementation of these projects, which has been agreed upon between the two sides,” Battal said.

Egyptian-Iraqi relations have developed significantly in recent months, culminating in 15 new agreements signed during Madbouly’s visit to Baghdad last month.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi ordered the rapid implementation of joint projects with Iraq and gave his support for security and stability in the cooperation.

During his meeting with Iraq’s deputy prime minister and minister of planning, El-Sisi stressed the fundamentals of the Egyptian policy in support of Iraq. He said Egypt will help Iraq boost its “Arab national role” and overcome challenges.

A large group of Egyptian factories recently laid out an ambitious plan to benefit from the oil-for-reconstruction agreement.

Last week saw meetings with Iraqi delegations to examine business opportunities for the factories.

Samir Aref, head of the Tenth of Ramadan Investors Association, said that factories have a “great desire” to take advantage of the Iraqi market, which will play a major role in increasing sales.

Aref added that more meetings will take place between Egypt and Iraq in the coming period to learn how to activate and benefit from trade opportunities.


Women fight for funding in man’s world of tech startups

Women fight for funding in man’s world of tech startups
Updated 28 February 2021

Women fight for funding in man’s world of tech startups

Women fight for funding in man’s world of tech startups
SAN FRANCISCO: Lauren Foundos has excelled at just about everything she has put her mind to, from college sports and Wall Street trading to her Forte startup that takes workouts online.
Being a woman in the overwhelmingly male world of venture capital was still a barrier — but, like many other female entrepreneurs, she only worked harder to succeed.
“In some cases, before I even spoke, they were asking me if I would step down as chief executive,” Foundos said of encounters with venture capitalists.
“This was a whole new level.”
Men would speak past her in meetings, discussing whether she could emotionally handle the job as if she wasn’t there, or wondering out loud who would take care of the books.
“When that happens, I tell them I am right here,” Foundos said. “I am the finance guy; I worked at big banks for more than 10 years. I’ve been the best at everything I have ever gone into.”
Startups can only get by so long relying on friends, family or savings before eventually needing to find investors willing to put money into young companies in exchange for a stake in the business.
Money invested in startups in their earliest days, perhaps when they are no more than ideas or prototypes, is called “seed” funding.
When it comes to getting backing for a startup it is about trust, and that seems to be lacking when it comes to women entrepreneurs, according to Foundos and others interviewed by AFP.
“I don’t think women need to be given things,” Foundos said of venture capital backing. “But I think they are not seeing the same amount of deals.”
Forte has grown quickly as the pandemic has gyms and fitness centers scrambling to provide online sessions for members.
Foundos brought on a “right-hand man,” a male partner with a British accent, to provide a more traditional face to potential investors and increase the odds of getting funding.
She has taken to asking venture capitalists she meets if they have invested in women-led companies before, and the answer has always been “no.”


A paltry few percent of venture capital money goes to female-led startups in the United States, according to Allyson Kapin, General Partner at the W Fund and founder of Women Who Tech (WWT).
Being sexually propositioned in return for funding, or even an introduction to venture capitalists, is common for women founders of startups, according to a recent WWT survey.
Some 44 percent of female founders surveyed told of harassment such as sexual slurs or unwanted physical contact while seeking funding.
And while last year set a record for venture capital funding, backing for women-led startups plunged despite data that such companies actually deliver better return-on-investment, according to Kapin.
“This isn’t about altruism or charity, this is about making a (load) of money,” Kapin said of backing women-led startups.


Prospects for funding get even more dismal for women of color.
Black entrepreneur Fonta Gilliam worked overseas with financial institutions for the US State Department before creating social banking startup Invest Sou Sou.
Gilliam took the idea of village savings circles she had seen thrive in places such as Africa and built it into a free mobile app, adding artificial intelligence and partnering with financial institutions.
She created a Sou Sou prototype and started bringing in revenue to show it could make money, but still found it tougher to get funding than male peers.
“We always have to over-perform and overcompensate,” Gilliam said. “Where startups run by men would get believed, we’d have to prove it 10 times over.”
Gilliam got insultingly low valuations for her startup, some so predatory that she walked away.
“We are still lean and mean bootstrapping, but I think it is going to pay off in the end,” Gilliam said.
“One thing about women-owned, black-owned startups: because there is such a high bar to get support our businesses tend to be scrappier, stronger and more resilient.”


Women-led startups tend to be on the outside of the “pipeline” that unofficially funnels entrepreneurs to venture capitalists, according to Kapin and others.
In Silicon Valley, that channel is open to male, white tech entrepreneurs from select universities such as Stanford.
“The pipeline becomes filled with people from the same universities; from similar backgrounds,” Kapin said.
“It is not representative of the world, which is problematic because you are trying to solve the world’s problems through the lens of very few people — mostly white men.”
Investors competing for gems in the frothy tech startup scrum are missing out on a wealth of returns, and stability, to be had by investing in neglected women founders, according to Caroline Lewis, a managing partner in Rogue Women’s Fund, which does just that.
“At the end of the day, it is the right thing to do and it is a good thing to do,” Lewis said.

UK’s Sunak will set out plans to raise income tax by $8.36bn: report

UK’s Sunak will set out plans to raise income tax by $8.36bn: report
Updated 28 February 2021

UK’s Sunak will set out plans to raise income tax by $8.36bn: report

UK’s Sunak will set out plans to raise income tax by $8.36bn: report
  • The chancellor will say he needs to raise more than 40 billion pounds to tackle the budget deficit, the report said

British finance minister Rishi Sunak will set out plans to raise income tax by 6 billion pounds ($8.36 billion), The Times reported on Sunday.
The chancellor will say he needs to raise more than 40 billion pounds to tackle the budget deficit and protect the economy from rising rates of interest on government borrowing, the report said.
The government on Saturday said Sunak will announce 5 billion pounds of additional grants to help businesses hit hard by pandemic lockdowns, in his budget.
Separately, the government said Sunak is also expected to announce an initial 12 billion pounds of capital and 10 billion pounds of guarantees for the new UK Infrastructure Bank.
A Telegraph report said Sunak is also weighing up bringing back the small profits rate, axed by George Osborne in 2014, to support small to medium-sized companies.


Europe less at risk of inflation and rate fears: analysts

Europe less at risk of inflation and rate fears: analysts
Updated 28 February 2021

Europe less at risk of inflation and rate fears: analysts

Europe less at risk of inflation and rate fears: analysts
  • Fears that US President Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus plan will stoke up the economy too much have unnerved investors in recent weeks

PARIS: Investors are watching inflation carefully, worried that a boiling over of prices will ruin the expected strong pandemic recovery although analysts believe Europe faces much less of a risk than the United States.
Fears that US President Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus plan — which was passed by the House of Representatives on Saturday — will stoke up the economy too much have unnerved investors in recent weeks.
A rise in yields on 10-year US Treasury bonds — a key indicator of expectations — shows the markets believe prices are set to rise much more sharply than last year’s gain of 1.4 percent, which could force the US Federal Reserve to hike interest rates earlier than it says it plans to do.
Bond yields have risen elsewhere too, with 10-year French government bonds turning positive on Thursday for the first time in months while the benchmark 10-year German Bund has also risen although it remains negative.
European inflation data for January showed a jump in prices of 0.9 percent compared to a minus 0.3 percent reading in December, as increased costs of raw materials fed through into services and industrial goods.
After having slowed considerably in 2020, inflation is expected to rise this year in Europe as the economy picks up following the relaxation of measures to slow the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic.
But it is not so much a spike in inflation that worries investors but that the Fed would raise interest rates faster than it has communicated.
Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell pledged Tuesday that the US central bank will keep benchmark lending rates low until the economy is at full employment and inflation has risen consistently above its 2.0 percent target.
But bond yields continued to rise, indicating investor concern about a rise in interest rates that would make borrowing and investment more expensive and slow the economy.
However, many analysts are skeptical that Biden’s stimulus program will spark considerable inflation.
“It isn’t clear that Biden’s recovery plan will create lots of inflation,” said Xavier Ragot, head of the French Economic Observatory think tank.
For the European Union, there is no likelihood that its pandemic recovery program would, he believes.
“The amounts of the European recovery plans pose absolutely no inflationary risk,” he said.


The European Commission’s recovery program is worth 750 billion euros ($920 billion), with several EU members also having their own national programs.
“We have a European recovery program... considerably less strong, and a loss of growth that is much greater, so there aren’t the same risks of overheating as in the United States,” said Fabien Tripier, an economist at CEPII, a Paris-based research center on the world economy.
The US economy shrank 3.5 percent last year while the drop for the eurozone was nearly double that.
There is “no risk of overheating or a sustained rise in inflation” in the eurozone, the head of the Banque de France, Francois Villeroy de Galhau, insisted this past week.
The French Economic Observatory’s Ragot also does not believe that if the Fed is pushed by the markets into raising rates that the European Central Bank would be forced to follow suit.
“It doesn’t work like that in macroeconomics,” he said, noting that the monetary policy of the Fed and ECB had diverged considerably at the start of the last decade.
“With loose financial conditions still necessary to support the economy, the ECB is unlikely to react to the coming inflation overshoot,” said Capital Economics economist Jack Allen-Reynolds.
Francois Villeroy de Galhau, who as head of the Banque de France also sits on the ECB’s Governing Council, said the central bank wants to “maintain favorable financing conditions.”
For Fabien Tripier, the ECB needs to send “a strong signal” to the markets against the idea that “just because inflation hits 1.5 percent or 2.2 percent, speculation it will hike rates should begin.”
The ECB issued a reassuring message on Friday as executive board member Isabel Schnabel said it could broaden its support for the economy in case of a sharp rise in interest rates.


Biden urges quick Senate action on huge stimulus package

Biden urges quick Senate action on huge stimulus package
Updated 28 February 2021

Biden urges quick Senate action on huge stimulus package

Biden urges quick Senate action on huge stimulus package
  • The package passed the House just after 2:00 am (0700 GMT) Saturday, in a 219 to 212 vote

WASHINGTON: President Joe Biden on Saturday welcomed the overnight passage by the US House of Representatives of an enormous, $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package, saying it moves the country closer to full Covid-19 vaccination and economic recovery.
The package passed the House just after 2:00 am (0700 GMT) Saturday, in a 219 to 212 vote, with not one Republican vote, and moves next week to the Senate.
"I hope it will receive quick action," Biden said in a brief address from the White House.
"We have no time to waste. If we act now, decisively, quickly and boldly, we can finally get ahead of this virus."
The vote in the House meant that "we're one step closer to vaccinating the nation, we are one step closer to putting $1,400 in the pockets of Americans, we're one step closer to extending unemployment benefits for millions of Americans who are shortly going to lose them."
He said the bill -- which would be the second-largest US stimulus ever, after a $2 trillion package approved in March -- would also help schools reopen safely and allow local and state governments to avoid "massive layoffs for essential workers."
The House vote came just days after the Covid-19 death toll surpassed 500,000 in the United States, the world's worst total.
Democrats have called the aid package a critical step in supporting millions of families and businesses devastated by the pandemic. It extends unemployment benefits, set to expire mid-March, by about six months.
But Republicans say it is too expensive, fails to target aid payments to those most in need, and could spur damaging inflation.
The administration appears poised to use a special approach requiring only 51 votes in the 100-seat Senate -- meaning the vote of every Democrat, plus a tie-breaking vote by Vice President Kamala Harris, would be required.
But progressives suffered a major setback when a key Senate official ruled Thursday that the final version of the bill in that chamber could not include a minimum wage hike.
Biden campaigned extensively on raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour, from the $7.25 rate that has stood since 2009. Progressives have been pushing the raise as a Democratic priority.
In his remarks Saturday, the president made no mention of the issue, a source of discord within the party.
Most Republicans, and a few Democrats, opposed the higher wage, so having it stripped from the Senate version of the legislation could actually ease its passage.


Weekly energy recap: February 26, 2021

Weekly energy recap: February 26, 2021
Updated 28 February 2021

Weekly energy recap: February 26, 2021

Weekly energy recap: February 26, 2021
  • The market is still assessing the resumption of US crude oil output after the fallout from the big freeze across Texas

RIYADH: Oil prices made another big weekly gain, as WTI rose above $60 per barrel and the Brent crude price settled above $65 per barrel, amid a sharp drop in US output due to the weather crisis in Texas. The week closed with Brent crude at $66.13 per barrel and WTI at $61.50.

The market is still assessing the resumption of US crude oil output after the fallout from the big freeze across Texas. The impact on US crude production is still unclear. Some American producers reported production losses of about four million barrels per day (bpd) during the cold blast, but the Energy Information Administration (EIA) reported a drop of only one million bpd.

US commercial crude stocks climbed by 1.28 million barrels to 463.04 million last week as the Texas freeze pushed refinery demand to 12-year lows. Global Platts S&P has reported the total U.S. refinery net crude input plunged 2.59 million bpd to 12.23 million bpd, the lowest since the week ended September 2008, as refinery utilization fell 14.5 percent to 68.6 percent of capacity.

Even before the striking impact of the Texas snowstorm on the US energy industry, output had fallen greatly. The EIA reported that US oil production has decreased to 9.7 million bpd, down 1.1 million from the week before and 3.4 million lower than the US peak of 13.1 million bpd a year ago. Coming in addition to the 8.2 million bpd output cuts from OPEC+ (including Saudi Arabia’s additional 1 million bpd voluntary cut), this has reduced global supplies by about 11.6 million bpd, which has so far kept the market intact and helped oil prices to head for their fourth monthly gain.

There has been bullish talk that prices might reach $100. This is completely false, despite the upcoming spring refineries maintenance season in Asia, where China is getting ready with lower crude oil imports. Continuing fears over the coronavirus may even push Asian refineries to make deeper run cuts until oil prices advance into the $70s in coming months.

Ironically, ahead of the OPEC+ meeting in early March, market participants and major shale oil producers are giving OPEC+ bullish signs to consider a modest production boost. These signals show the declining influence of US shale on OPEC and suggest that the organisation no longer needs to worry about the threat posed by the sector.