World shares slide to a one-month low as uncertainty grips markets

World shares slide to a one-month low as uncertainty grips markets
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Updated 20 September 2021

World shares slide to a one-month low as uncertainty grips markets

World shares slide to a one-month low as uncertainty grips markets
  • European shares sank 1 percent to a near two-month low on Monday
  • The benchmark European stocks index has now fallen for three straight weeks on worries about slowing global growth

World shares skidded and the dollar firmed on Monday ahead of a week packed with global central bank meetings, while debt troubles at property group China Evergrande dragged Hong Kong stocks towards to a one-year low.

European shares sank 1.8 percent to a two-month low on Monday, tracking Asian equities lower, with energy and mining stocks tumbling as the dollar's jump to near four-week highs crushed commodity prices.

Holidays in Japan, China and South Korea meant trading was thin in Asia, while politics added extra uncertainty with elections in Canada and Germany bookending the week.

Shares in China Evergrande plummeted 12 percent after earlier losing as much as 19 percent to more than 11-year lows.

The company's listed units also fell, as investors worried about the real estate developer's ability to repay a small portion of its $305 billion debt due this Thursday.

Evergrande's troubles added to growing concerns about the health of China's economy after Beijing's recent crackdown on tech firms. The Hang Seng index shed 3.5 percent, while Singapore-traded FTSE China futures fell 3 percent.

MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan slid 1.7% to its lowest since August 24, with Australia stocks, in their worst session in nearly seven months, slumping 2.1 percent.

The MSCI All Country World Index lost 0.5 percent, close to a one-month low and down further from record highs hit earlier this month.


Oil stays near $85 a barrel, Brent set for seventh weekly gain

Oil stays near $85 a barrel, Brent set for seventh weekly gain
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Updated 22 October 2021

Oil stays near $85 a barrel, Brent set for seventh weekly gain

Oil stays near $85 a barrel, Brent set for seventh weekly gain
  • Prices have been boosted by worries about coal and gas shortages in China, India and Europe

Oil prices stayed near multi-year highs on Friday, erasing some earlier losses in Asian trading hours, with concerns about tight supply and stockpiles fuelling bullish sentiment.

Brent crude futures rose 23 cents, or 0.3 percent, to $84.84 a barrel at 0933 GMT, after Thursday's three-year high of $86.10. The benchmark is set for its seventh weekly gain.

U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures gained 20 cents, or 0.2%, to reach $82.70 a barrel, not far off a seven-year high hit this week.

Prices have been boosted by worries about coal and gas shortages in China, India and Europe, spurring some power generators to switch from gas to fuel oil and diesel.

Winter weather in much of the United States is expected to be warmer than average, according to a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration forecast.

"Crude oil's sharp rise may make it vulnerable to profit taking, however, a substantial correction may not happen unless global energy crisis subsides," said Ravindra Rao, vice president for commodities at Kotak Securities.

"Global gas and coal prices have eased but concerns persist with tighter market and higher demand winter season around the corner."

U.S. crude found support this week as investors eyed low crude stocks at the U.S. storage hub in Cushing, Oklahoma.

U.S. Energy Information Administration data on Wednesday showed crude stocks at Cushing fell to 31.2 million barrels, their lowest level since October 2018.

"America’s gasoline demand appears to be experiencing an Indian summer," PVM analysts said in a note, pointing to the highest implied demand for this time of year since 2007 despite high pump prices.




Equities eye third week of gains after tech boost, S&P 500 hits new record

Equities eye third week of gains after tech boost, S&P 500 hits new record
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Updated 22 October 2021

Equities eye third week of gains after tech boost, S&P 500 hits new record

Equities eye third week of gains after tech boost, S&P 500 hits new record

Global shares were on course for their third straight week of gains on Friday, buoyed by tech stocks in Asia overnight, while the dollar dipped and oil prices held steady.

MSCI's broadest gauge of global shares was up 0.1 percent in early European trade, 1.4 percent higher on the week and just 0.8 percent off its all-time high.

Germany's DAX gained 0.4 percent to 15,535.16. In Paris, the CAC 40 jumped 1.1 percent to 6,759.46, while Britain's FTSE 100 added 0.4 percent to 7,220.57.

The future for the S&P 500 was nearly unchanged while the future for the Dow industrials gained less than 0.1 percent.

On Thursday, the S&P 500 rose 0.3 percent to 4,549.78, its seventh straight gain. That eclipsed the record high it set on Sept. 2. 

That followed gains in Asia, where equity bulls were also comforted by news that heavily indebted Chinese property firm China Evergrande Group had made a surprise interest payment, averting a default for now.

Japan's Nikkei advanced 0.3 percent, led by the technology sector, while energy and basic materials shares were the biggest drags as coal futures extended their losses after Beijing signalled it would intervene to cool surging prices that contributed to the country's electricity shortage.

More broadly, investors have become increasingly concerned that persistent inflation could force central bankers to tighten monetary policy at a point where global economic growth remains fragile.

Mark Haefele, Chief Investment Officer, UBS Global Wealth Management, said in a note to clients that equities could still move higher, despite growing concerns around the impact of inflation and the potential for central banks to tighten policy.

"With current issues still appearing more temporary than structural, we believe equity markets will continue to move higher," Haefele said.

"Indeed, small increases in inflation expectations can be positive for markets if it helps to banish fears of deflation. Furthermore, by our assessment, global growth remains strong, supply chain challenges should recede into 2022, and corporate earnings should continue to grow."

U.S. stock futures point to a 0.1 percent lower open, after the cash index posted a record closing high overnight, led by surging tech shares.

Next week, Facebook, Apple, Amazon, and Google-owner Alphabet all report, with bulls hoping they can follow forecast-beating earnings this week from Netflix.

Meanwhile, yields on benchmark 10-year Treasury notes were at 1.6828 percent, easing back from a five-month high of 1.7050 percent reached overnight.

The dollar index, which gauges the greenback against six major rivals, was down 0.1 percent to 93.639 on Friday, despite initially bouncing off recent lows after U.S. jobless claims fell to a 19-month low, pointing to a tighter labor market.

The Fed has signalled it could start to taper stimulus as soon as next month, with rate hikes to follow late next year. Full employment is among the Fed's stated requirements for rates lift-off.

Fed Chair Jerome Powell speaks later on Friday in a panel discussion.

Across commodities, oil was flat with Brent crude set for its first losing week in seven and West Texas Intermediate its first in nine.

Gold was up 0.5 percent on the back of the weaker dollar, on course for its second week of gains.

STV eyes $1 billion for its second middle east tech fund

STV eyes $1 billion for its second middle east tech fund
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Updated 22 October 2021

STV eyes $1 billion for its second middle east tech fund

STV eyes $1 billion for its second middle east tech fund
  • Interest in the technology industry in the Middle East has increased the past few years as governments seek to diversify their energy-dependent economies

Riyadh - STV, a venture capital firm started by ex-Google executive Abdulrahman Tarabzouni, is looking to raise at least $1 billion for its second Middle East technology investment fund, making it potentially the biggest fund of its kind in the region, according to people familiar with the matter as reported on Bloomberg.

The company, which was formed in 2017, has started talks with other potential backers, including Middle East sovereign wealth funds and international pension funds and endowments, Bloomberg reported the people as saying.

The people chose to remain anonymous as the details of the fund remain private.

Interest in technology has grown significantly with most governments within the region seeking to diversify away from dependency on oil and investors seeking long term investment sources.

IPOs in the region have also recently taken prominence with Adnoc Drilling coming to the market as the largest IPO on the Abu Dhabi stock market.

STV was an early investor in Careem and also invested in communications platform Unifonic, which received a $125 million infusion led by SoftBank Group’s Vision Fund 2 in September, Bloombergn reported

STV declined to comment.

China coal prices dive as govt plans intervention to ease power crunch

China coal prices dive as govt plans intervention to ease power crunch
Updated 22 October 2021

China coal prices dive as govt plans intervention to ease power crunch

China coal prices dive as govt plans intervention to ease power crunch
  • China thermal coal prices plunge 12.8 percent

BEIJING: China’s thermal coal futures sank about 13 percent on Friday, extending their losses since Tuesday when Beijing said it would intervene to cool surging prices of the commodity to help electricity producers out of a widespread power crunch.
The most-active thermal coal futures on Zhengzhou Commodity Exchange, for delivery in January, tumbled to 1,384 yuan per ton by 1130 Beijing time (0329 GMT) — down more than 30 percent since Tuesday’s all-time peak of 1,982 yuan per ton.
Coking coal was down 9.91 percent and coke futures fell 7.42 percent on the Dalian Commodity Exchange in morning trade, having fallen by the maximum 12 percent in day-time trade on Thursday.
A widening power crisis in China caused by shortages of coal led to record high fuel prices amid booming post-pandemic industrial demand as the country shifts to greener fuels.
China has halted production at factories which has dragged on factory gate inflation.
China is pushing miners to ramp up coal production and increasing imports so that power stations can rebuild stockpiles before the winter heating season, but analysts say shortages are likely to persist for at least another few months.
“We’re now seeing the fruits of China’s supply response, as the government has given miners carte blanche to produce at full tilt — even permitting the relaxation of safety inspections in some cases,” said Atilla Widnell, managing director at Navigate Commodities in Singapore.
“The parabolic pricing action largely represented the fear of buyers being unable to source sufficient volumes to feed power plants and coke ovens,” Widnell said.
“Therefore, we can expect prices to fall almost as fast as they’ve risen now that a wave of supply is inbound,” he added.

China’s state planner, the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), said this week that it was studying ways to lower coal prices and would take all necessary steps to bring them into a reasonable range.
The NDRC said on Friday it would send teams of inspectors to major coal producing regions to probe the costs of coal production and circulation.
It added that it had met with the China Coal Industry Association and key firms, and was looking at steps to prevent coal companies from seeking excessive profits.
China’s securities regulator has said it would ask futures exchanges to raise fees, restrict trading quotas and crack down on speculation in response to high coal prices.
The NDRC “has concluded that the unbridled soaring of coal prices is partly driven by those hoping to hit the jackpot by taking advantage of the power supply falling short of actual need,” Chinese state media outlet China Daily wrote on Thursday.
There should be “zero tolerance to the hoarding of coal,” the newspaper added. “It is of the utmost importance to rein in coal prices as they will pose a threat to people’s daily lives when winter sets in.”
Due to cold winds and rain, temperatures in most parts of central and eastern China are currently lower than normal, the National Meteorological Center said.

The Saudi Green Initiative: a technology-driven revolution

The Saudi Green Initiative: a technology-driven revolution
Updated 22 October 2021

The Saudi Green Initiative: a technology-driven revolution

The Saudi Green Initiative: a technology-driven revolution
  • Saudi Green Initiative (SGI) Forum to be held in Riyadh on 23-24 October
  • Saudi Arabia plans to plant 10 billion trees

RIYADH: The forthcoming Saudi Green Initiative (SGI) Forum, to be held in Riyadh on 23-24 October, is set to be a milestone in the historic effort to transform the oil-based economy of Saudi Arabia into a cleaner and more sustainable one.
In addition to planting 10 billion trees (covering 30 percent of total land area), the SGI aims to create vast protected zones, conserve marine life around the coasts and encourage alternative forms of agriculture. One key aspect of this sea change will be the contribution of technology to the greening of Saudi Arabia.
A leader in the realm of agritech is Dr. Nahid Sidki, chief technology officer with Research Products Development Company (RPDC), a PIF-owned not-for-profit resource for the commercialization of Saudi-based research and breakthrough technology.
With a 30-year background in Silicon Valley, where he was executive director at the Stanford Research Institute, Dr. Sidki is an authority on robotics and artificial intelligence (AI).
“The SGI is a great initiative that can produce a clean future, reduce carbon emissions and impact climate change,” Dr. Sidki told Arab News. “AI and robotics can play a major role in this, not only here in Saudi Arabia but across the Gulf region.”
But how exactly does hi-tech have anything to do with planting trees and growing crops? The answer lies partly in the sheer volume of what the SGI envisions.
“To plant 10 billion trees in a country like Saudi Arabia, one has to ask how they will be monitored and how their health will be sustained for decades to come. We cannot rely on just hoping for the best. We need to look to the ultimate goal and then work backwards in terms of the development and implementation of technology. It’s like a closed-loop ecosystem: planting, monitoring, irrigating and harvesting the trees.”
A primary consideration of the SGI is the use (and misuse) of water, a precious resource in the desert kingdom. Conventional irrigation methods often lead to significant wastage.
Smart dust
“AI can play a crucial role here via smart, efficient irrigation systems that utilize sensors and data analytics to monitor climate conditions and soil moisture,” Dr. Sidki said. “If every tree and every plant had sensors to monitor the condition of the soil surrounding the roots, this could determine exactly when it requires water and exactly what amount.”
Such AI-based solutions are already being put into practice, for example in the form of “smart dust,” nanoparticles that communicate with each other, enabling complex data collection and efficient decision-making in all aspects of agriculture.
“Land health monitoring is also very important,” said Dr. Sidki. “Throughout the life cycle of crops, drones can enable precision spraying and maximize seed pollination, and the same kind of sensor technology can be used for livestock monitoring, crop spraying and smart harvesting.”
These technologies, combined with local and global advances in genetic engineering, could soon turn the parched landscape of Saudi Arabia into an agricultural powerhouse with many verdant oases. Having said that, the greening of Saudi Arabia will require not just the conservation but also the production of potable water.
Some 60 percent of the Kingdom’s fresh water is currently supplied by energy-intensive seawater desalination plants reliant on polluting fossil fuels, an unsustainable solution in view of the SGI. But new desalination and water filtration techniques are emerging quickly, positioning the KSA as a hub for proprietary green technology.
In one RPDC-assisted project called the Red Sea Farm, a group of KAUST researchers have successfully grown tomatoes using a mix of 75 percent seawater and 25 percent freshwater, a scalable method that was recognized and lauded by the United Nations General Assembly in September.
“The idea is to develop smart technology to reduce the cost of desalination,” said Dr. Sidki. “Imagine if we could utilize solar energy for desalination. We would have unlimited fresh water from the ocean, which we are surrounded by in the KSA.”
The SGI represents one aspect of Saudi Arabia’s broader 4th Industrial Revolution (4IR), the fusion of AI, robotics, Internet of Things (IoT), genetic engineering and quantum computing, blurring the boundaries between the physical, digital and biological worlds. This is a highly collaborative movement involving numerous government bodies, PIF-owned companies (both commercial and not-for-profit), academic institutions, corporations, startups and SMEs.
“Robotics and AI will be playing a major role in every sector of society,” said Dr. Sidki. “And here in Saudi Arabia we have huge public and private funds to build capabilities.”
Innovation largely comes down to talent and education, and Dr. Sidki is again optimistic in this regard. “Saudi Arabia has a population of about 35 million, 70 percent of which is 25 or younger. And the percentage of those with a higher degree is very high compared to most other countries. In terms of PhD-holders the KSA probably ranks the highest in the region.”
Saudi Arabia is on the cusp of a major transformation that will involve a great deal of hard work and a lot of imagination.
“There’s an endless list of ways that new forms of technology can improve the quality of our daily life,” Dr. Sidki said. “People need to be very passionate about what they’re doing, and to be aware of the contributions they can make to their society, in order to have a huge impact. I think the combination of education and passion, and that impact, are the ingredients for a society to successfully achieve whatever it wants to do.”