Oil hits 11-month highs on Saudi cuts, shrugs off US turmoil

Oil hits 11-month highs on Saudi cuts, shrugs off US turmoil
Oil pump jacks work at sunset near Midland, Texas, U.S., August 21, 2019. (Reuters)
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Updated 08 January 2021

Oil hits 11-month highs on Saudi cuts, shrugs off US turmoil

Oil hits 11-month highs on Saudi cuts, shrugs off US turmoil
  • Record N. Sea cargoes trade on Platts amid Saudi cuts
  • Stocks climb after Democrats win control of US Senate

NEW YORK: Oil prices settled higher on Thursday, hitting 11-month peaks, as markets remained focused on Saudi Arabia’s unexpected pledge to deepen its oil cuts and firmer equities, shrugging off political turmoil in the United States.
Brent crude settled up 8 cents to $54.38 a barrel after touching $54.90, a high not seen since before the first COVID-19 lockdowns in the West.
US West Texas Intermediate (WTI) settled up 20 cents to $50.83, after hitting a session high at $51.28.
On Wednesday, crude futures prices briefly dipped when President Donald Trump’s supporters stormed the US Capitol after he urged them to protest Congress’s certification of his election loss.
Oil prices have been supported this week by a pledge by Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest oil exporter, to cut output by an additional 1 million barrels per day (bpd) in February and March.
“By next month, this bull market could re-establish into higher levels mainly with the benefit of Saudi Arabia’s unexpected voluntary 1 million bpd production cut,” said Jim Ritterbusch, president of Ritterbusch and Associates in Galena, Illinois.
Seven North Sea crude cargoes were bought and sold in the trading window operated by Platts on Thursday, a record amount that trade sources say may reflect tighter supply after the surprise cut.
“Saudi Arabia ...intimately knows the relationship between the oil price and the global inventory levels. Lower inventories equal higher prices,” SEB chief commodity analyst Bjarne Schieldrop said.
Global equities were higher as investors believe Democratic US President-elect Joe Biden would be empowered to spend more freely following victories by two Democrats in Senate races in Georgia that gave the party control of both chambers of US Congress.
“Expected stimulus measures under a Biden administration that will likely include significant infrastructure investment represents a supportive consideration capable of boosting gasoline and diesel demand,” Ritterbusch said.


UAE, Ukraine discuss new trade, investment partnerships

UAE, Ukraine discuss new trade, investment partnerships
Updated 32 min 16 sec ago

UAE, Ukraine discuss new trade, investment partnerships

UAE, Ukraine discuss new trade, investment partnerships
  • The committee, which was formed after the state visit, discussed plans to enhance trade, investment and other partnership opportunities for both countries

DUBAI: The UAE-Ukraine Coordination Committee has held its first remote meeting to discuss potential partnerships between the two countries, state news agency WAM has reported.

The meeting followed the first visit of Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky to the UAE, and was attended by several Emirati ministers.

“The Ukrainian president’s visit to the UAE resulted in setting up a clear strategy to enhance the strong strategic relations between the two countries, which would contribute to opening doors for exploring new cooperation prospects,” Mariam Bint Mohamed Almeheiri, minister of state for food and water security, said.

The committee, which was formed after the state visit, discussed plans to enhance trade, investment and other partnership opportunities for both countries.

“We will work together over the coming months to explore initiatives that will contribute to increasing our trade volume and improve our economy on the basis of trade, investment and joint interests,” Almeheiri said.


China’s factory activity expands at a slower pace in February, misses expectations

China’s factory activity expands at a slower pace in February, misses expectations
Updated 40 min 33 sec ago

China’s factory activity expands at a slower pace in February, misses expectations

China’s factory activity expands at a slower pace in February, misses expectations
  • This year, the government appealed to workers to remain local to curb the spread of COVID-19

BEIJING: China’s factory activity expanded in February at a slower pace than a month earlier, hitting the lowest level since last May and missing market expectations after brief COVID-19-related disruptions earlier in the year.
The official manufacturing Purchasing Manager’s Index (PMI) fell to 50.6 from 51.3 in January, data from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) showed on Sunday, remaining above the 50-point mark that separates growth from contraction.
Analysts had expected it to decline to 51.1.
Chinese factory activity normally goes dormant during the Lunar New Year break as workers return to their home towns. This year, the government appealed to workers to remain local to curb the spread of COVID-19.
Generally, China’s economic recovery has been gathering pace due to robust exports, pent-up demand and government stimulus.
The official PMI, which largely focuses on big and state-owned firms, showed the sub-index for new export orders was 48.8 in February compared with 50.2 in January, slipping back into contraction after months boosted by overseas demand.
A sub-index for activity among small firms stood at 48.3 in February versus 49.4 a month earlier. Smaller firms were more affected by the seasonal effects of the Lunar New Year, said Zhao Qinghe, an official with the NBS in comments released with the data.
A sub-index for employment in the official PMI stood at 48.1 in February, down from January’s 48.4 as firms laid off more workers and at a faster pace.
Still, some manufacturing sector firms are seeing increasing pressure from rising labor costs and a shortage of workers, said Zhao.
China’s factory gate prices rose on year in January for the first time in a year, as months of strong manufacturing growth pushed raw material costs higher.
China eked out 2.3% economic growth last year. This year, the government may avoid setting a growth target for fear of provincial economies feeling pressured to take on more debt, policy sources previously told Reuters.
China will reinforce policy support for foreign trade and ensure the smooth operation of supply chains, its new commerce minister said earlier this week.
In the services sector, activity expanded for the 11th consecutive month but at the slowest pace in a year.


In oil-rich Iraq, a few women buck norms, take rig site jobs

In oil-rich Iraq, a few women buck norms, take rig site jobs
Updated 28 February 2021

In oil-rich Iraq, a few women buck norms, take rig site jobs

In oil-rich Iraq, a few women buck norms, take rig site jobs
  • They are part of a new generation of talented Iraqi women who are testing the limits imposed by their conservative communities

BASRA: It’s nearly dawn and Zainab Amjad has been up all night working on an oil rig in southern Iraq. She lowers a sensor into the black depths of a well until sonar waves detect the presence of the crude that fuels her country’s economy.
Elsewhere in the oil-rich province of Basra, Ayat Rawthan is supervising the assembly of large drill pipes. These will bore into the Earth and send crucial data on rock formations to screens sitting a few meters (feet) away that she will decipher.
The women, both 24, are among just a handful who have eschewed the dreary office jobs typically handed to female petroleum engineers in Iraq. Instead, they chose to become trailblazers in the country’s oil industry, donning hard hats to take up the grueling work at rig sites.
They are part of a new generation of talented Iraqi women who are testing the limits imposed by their conservative communities. Their determination to find jobs in a historically male-dominated industry is a striking example of the way a burgeoning youth population finds itself increasingly at odds with deeply entrenched and conservative tribal traditions prevalent in Iraq’s southern oil heartland.
The hours Amjad and Rawthan spend in the oil fields are long and the weather unforgiving. Often they are asked what — as women — they are doing there.
“They tell me the field environment only men can withstand,” said Amjad, who spends six weeks at a time living at the rig site. “If I gave up, I’d prove them right.”
Iraq’s fortunes, both economic and political, tend to ebb and flow with oil markets. Oil sales make up 90% of state revenues — and the vast majority of the crude comes from the south. A price crash brings about an economic crisis; a boom stuffs state coffers. A healthy economy brings a measure of stability, while instability has often undermined the strength of the oil sector. Decades of wars, civil unrest and invasion have stalled production.
Following low oil prices dragged down by the coronavirus pandemic and international disputes, Iraq is showing signs of recovery, with January exports reaching 2.868 million barrels per day at $53 per barrel, according to Oil Ministry statistics.
To most Iraqis, the industry can be summed up by those figures, but Amjad and Rawthan have a more granular view. Every well presents a set of challenges; some required more pressure to pump, others were laden with poisonous gas. “Every field feels like going to a new country,” said Amjad.
Given the industry’s outsized importance to the economy, petrochemical programs in the country’s engineering schools are reserved for students with the highest marks. Both women were in the top 5% of their graduating class at Basra University in 2018.
In school they became awestruck by drilling. To them it was a new world, with it’s own language: “spudding” was to start drilling operations, a “Christmas tree” was the very top of a wellhead, and “dope” just meant grease.
Every work day plunges them deep into the mysterious affairs below the Earth’s crust, where they use tools to look at formations of minerals and mud, until the precious oil is found. “Like throwing a rock into water and studying the ripples,” explained Rawthan.
To work in the field, Amjad, the daughter of two doctors, knew she had to land a job with an international oil company — and to do that, she would have to stand out. State-run enterprises were a dead end; there, she would be relegated to office work.
“In my free time, on my vacations, days off I was booking trainings, signing up for any program I could,” said Amjad.
When China’s CPECC came to look for new hires, she was the obvious choice. Later, when Texas-based Schlumberger sought wireline engineers she jumped at the chance. The job requires her to determine how much oil is recoverable from a given well. She passed one difficult exam after another to get to the final interview.
Asked if she was certain she could do the job, she said: “Hire me, watch.”
In two months she traded her green hard hat for a shiny white one, signifying her status as supervisor, no longer a trainee — a month quicker than is typical.
Rawthan, too, knew she would have to work extra hard to succeed. Once, when her team had to perform a rare “sidetrack” — drilling another bore next to the original — she stayed awake all night.
“I didn’t sleep for 24 hours, I wanted to understand the whole process, all the tools, from beginning to end,” she said.
Rawthan also now works for Schlumberger, where she collects data from wells used to determine the drilling path later on. She wants to master drilling, and the company is a global leader in the service.
Relatives, friends and even teachers were discouraging: What about the hard physical work? The scorching Basra heat? Living at the rig site for months at a time? And the desert scorpions that roam the reservoirs at night?
“Many times my professors and peers laughed, ‘Sure, we’ll see you out there,’ telling me I wouldn’t be able to make it,” said Rawthan. “But this only pushed me harder.”
Their parents were supportive, though. Rawthan’s mother is a civil engineer and her father, the captain of an oil tanker who often spent months at sea.
“They understand why this is my passion,” she said. She hopes to help establish a union to bring like-minded Iraqi female engineers together. For now, none exists.
The work is not without danger. Protests outside oil fields led by angry local tribes and the unemployed can disrupt work and sometimes escalate into violence toward oil workers. Confronted every day by flare stacks that point to Iraq’s obvious oil wealth, others decry state corruption, poor service delivery and joblessness.
But the women are willing to take on these hardships. Amjad barely has time to even consider them: It was 11 p.m., and she was needed back at work.
“Drilling never stops,” she said.


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
  • Women-led startups tend to be on the outside of the “pipeline” that unofficially funnels entrepreneurs to venture capitalists

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.