Fueling car in Lebanon now more than salary

Fueling car in Lebanon now more than salary
Nearly 80 percent of the population is living below the poverty line. (AFP/File)
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Updated 21 October 2021

Fueling car in Lebanon now more than salary

Fueling car in Lebanon now more than salary
  • To fill a medium-sized vehicle’s tank, Lebanese would now have to pay more than the monthly minimum wage of 675,000 pounds

BEIRUT: Filling a car with fuel in Lebanon cost more than the monthly minimum wage from Wednesday, after authorities effectively ended subsidies.
A revised price list published by the energy ministry set the cost of 20 liters of 95-octane fuel at 302,700 Lebanese pounds, or about $15 at the black market rate and five times the price set at the end of June.
To fill a medium-sized vehicle’s tank, Lebanese would now have to pay more than the monthly minimum wage of 675,000 pounds, at a time when nearly 80 percent of the population is living below the poverty line.
The revised price “marks a complete lifting of petroleum subsidies,” said Fadi Abou Chakra of the fuel distributors’ association. “The fuel price hike will cause the cost of services to also increase, especially transport.”
The ministry also raised the price of diesel and cooking gas after a drop in the value of the pound against the US dollar on the black market. The pound was selling for about 20,500 to the dollar, its lowest value in months.
The currency collapse is focusing attention on a forensic audit of Lebanon’s central bank, a key demand of the International Monetary Fund as part of reforms to unlock funds for a potential bailout.
President Michel Aoun on Wednesday met a delegation from the professional services firm Alvarez and Marsal, who told him their audit of the bank’s accounts would begin on Thursday morning. Aoun urged them to work quickly because of the urgency of the task. IMF official Jihad Azour said: “Last time we had a full update of the situation was August 2020, before the resignation of the previous government. Many things have happened since and we need to update the numbers and have a new baseline,” he said.


Biden order to make US government carbon neutral by 2050

Biden order to make US government carbon neutral by 2050
Updated 08 December 2021

Biden order to make US government carbon neutral by 2050

Biden order to make US government carbon neutral by 2050

WASHINGTON: President Joe Biden on Wednesday signed an executive order to make the federal government carbon-neutral by 2050, aiming for a 65 percent reduction in planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and an all-electric fleet of car and trucks five years later.

The White House said the order shows how the government will “leverage its scale and procurement power to lead by example in tackling the climate crisis.” The order will reduce emissions across federal operations, as part of a governmentwide effort to confront climate change.

The order directs that government buildings use 100 percent carbon pollution-free electricity by 2030; that the US fleet of cars and trucks become all-electric by 2035; and that federal contracts for goods and services be carbon-free by 2050.

Government buildings should be carbon-free by 2045, including a 50 percent emissions cut by 2032, Biden said.

The executive action is a part of Biden’s commitment to support the growth of clean energy and clean technology industries, while accelerating US progress toward achieving a carbon pollution-free electricity sector by 2035, the White House said.

“The United States government will lead by example to provide a strong foundation for American businesses to compete and win globally in the clean energy economy while creating well-paying, union jobs at home,” the White House said in a statement.


US businesses advertised near-record 11 million open jobs

US businesses advertised near-record 11 million open jobs
Updated 08 December 2021

US businesses advertised near-record 11 million open jobs

US businesses advertised near-record 11 million open jobs

WASHINGTON: US employers posted 11 million open jobs in October, nearly matching a record high reached in July and a sign that companies were confident enough in the economy to expand.

The government report Wednesday also showed that the number of people quitting their jobs dropped slightly in October to 4.2 million, from 4.4 million in September, though that is still the third-highest number of monthly resignations on records dating back to 2000.

The figures from the Labor Department’s Job Openings and Labor Turnover survey, or JOLTS, show that with so many companies chasing relatively few unemployed people, job-seekers have the most bargaining power they have had in at least two decades. Wages are rising at a healthy pace, particularly for lower-paid employees, though much of that bump in pay is being eroded by higher inflation.

There were just 7.4 million people counted as unemployed in October, equal to just two-thirds of the 11 million open jobs. In the two decades that the government has issued the JOLTS report, there has usually been unemployed people than available workers.


Oil steadies as investors assess omicron’s impact

Oil steadies as investors assess omicron’s impact
Updated 08 December 2021

Oil steadies as investors assess omicron’s impact

Oil steadies as investors assess omicron’s impact
  • US output up, crude stocks fall modestly

NEW YORK: Oil prices edged lower in choppy trade on Wednesday, taking a breather after gains earlier this week, as investors assessed the impact of the omicron coronavirus variant on the global economy.

The market had a muted reaction to US weekly inventory figures, which showed a smaller-than-anticipated decline in crude stocks and another bump up in overall production, giving credence to expectations that supply will increase in coming months.

Brent crude futures were down 15 cents, or 0.2 percent, to $75.29 a barrel at 10:52 a.m. EDT (1552 GMT). US West Texas Intermediate crude was at $71.94 a barrel, down 16 cents or 0.3 percent.

Brent crude prices have rebounded by over 9 percent since Dec. 1 on signs omicron has had only a limited impact on oil demand, after a 16 percent drop since Nov. 25.

“Around two-thirds of the previous price slide (has) been corrected," Commerzbank said in a note.

"There has been no noticeable slowing effect on oil demand as yet. Even aviation, the sector that should have been hit first, has seen only a marginal decrease in seating capacity.”

The emergence of the variant combined with the US decision to release inventories from its strategic reserve to knock the market back on expectations that supply would outweigh demand by the early months of 2022.

Ultimately, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allies including Russia, known as OPEC+, chose to maintain its schedule of boosting supply by 400,000 barrels per day every month — despite fears that the new coronavirus variant would sap demand.

US output, meanwhile, rose to 11.7 million barrels per day in the most recent week, though weekly output figures are volatile. The US Energy Department also said gasoline and distillate inventories rose more than anticipated, while crude stocks fell by a mere 240,000 barrels, less than expected.

“The headline numbers are bearish and the market is not reacting aggressively in either direction,” said Tony Headrick, energy market analyst at CHS Hedging.

The market was also focused on the resumption of talks between Washington and Tehran over Iran’s nuclear program. Western officials have voiced dismay at sweeping Iranian demands. If US sanctions were eased, it could lead to higher exports of Iranian oil, which could add downward pressure on oil prices.

Tensions between Western powers and Russia over Ukraine also remained high after President Joe Biden warned Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday that the West would impose “strong economic and other measures” on Russia if it invades Ukraine, while Putin demanded guarantees that NATO would not expand farther eastward.


Sudan cut off from $650 million of international funding after coup

Sudan cut off from $650 million of international funding after coup
Updated 08 December 2021

Sudan cut off from $650 million of international funding after coup

Sudan cut off from $650 million of international funding after coup
  • Foreign funding was seen as crucial in helping Sudan emerge from decades of isolation
  • The US has put on hold $700 million in economic assistance since the coup

KHARTOUM: Sudan was unable to access $650 million in international funding in November when assistance was paused after a coup, the finance minister of the dissolved government said — a freeze that puts in doubt basic import payments and the fate of economic reforms.
The financing included $500 million in budget support from the World Bank and $150 million in special drawing rights from the International Monetary Fund, said Jibril Ibrahim, who was appointed to a civilian transitional government in February.
Foreign funding was seen as crucial in helping Sudan emerge from decades of isolation and supporting a transition toward democracy that began with the 2019 overthrow of Omar Al-Bashir.
The Oct. 25 coup upended that transition. The United States has put on hold $700 million in economic assistance since the coup and the World Bank, which had promised $2 billion in grants, has paused disbursements.
After mass protests, the military on Nov. 21 announced a deal to reinstate Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok. He is tasked with forming a government of technocrats but faces political opposition to the deal.
“Sudan had tremendous international support. Now donors will be much more cautious,” said one former official from the dissolved government.
The onus will now be on the military and the government to show they are not returning to the very Bashir-era model that was being restructured and reformed, the former official said.
The US Treasury declined to comment. The IMF, which approved a $2.5 billion, 39-month loan program in June that is subject to periodic review, said it continued to “closely monitor developments.”
Before the coup the inflation rate, one of the highest in the world, had begun to fall, and the exchange rate had stabilized following a sharp devaluation in February.
Western diplomats and bankers say those reforms are now at risk and it is unclear how Sudan can fund imports without printing banknotes, a policy that fueled a long-running economic crisis but stopped during the transition.
Around the time of the coup, Sudan had enough reserves to cover just two months of strategic imports, a second former official said.
Ibrahim, a former rebel leader who secured his ministerial role through a peace deal and expects to retain it, said he hoped international support would return gradually over the next three to six months and that meanwhile bills could be paid and reforms would continue.
“Basically we depend on tax, customs and gold revenues and on different (state) companies working in various fields,” Ibrahim said in an interview at the Finance Ministry in Khartoum. For imported basic goods, such as flour, fuel and medicine, “we cannot cover it completely, but the majority of the strategic commodities we can cover with our exports,” he said.
The government had begun to reduce its trade deficit through tax and customs reforms, but those revenues were interrupted by a blockade by a tribal group at Port Sudan before the coup. A further blockade has been threatened.
Ibrahim said the main impact of the freeze in international support would be on development projects covering areas including water supply, electricity, agriculture, health and transport. An internationally funded basic income program to lessen the impact of subsidy reform has also been frozen.
Sudan’s 2022 budget was being planned with no allowance for international assistance, Ibrahim said, but with a target of sticking to a 1.5 percent deficit limit defined under an IMF financing program. Projected growth for 2022 could fall from 3 percent to 1.5-2 percent, he said.
Ibrahim said Sudan would seek investment rather than grants from wealthy Gulf Arab states that now face their own economic challenges.
“Up till now there have not been any big promises of support from any country, Arab or non-Arab, but contacts with all friendly states continue,” he said.


Australia proposes central bank digital currency: Crypto Wrap

Australia proposes central bank digital currency: Crypto Wrap
Updated 08 December 2021

Australia proposes central bank digital currency: Crypto Wrap

Australia proposes central bank digital currency: Crypto Wrap

RIYADH: Australia turned the heads of crypto enthusiasts on Wednesday with the country’s Treasurer Josh Frydenberg announcing a consultation on digital currency reforms.

In a speech in Melbourne, Frydenberg said the government is studying plans for a central bank digital currency, along with regulating the crypto market, as it seeks to reform how consumers and businesses in the country pay for goods and services.

The government will also consult on a digital version of cash that will be universally accessible and consider a license framework that allows crypto transactions in a regulated environment.

The Australian government expects to receive advice on both by the end of 2022, Bloomberg reported.

“If we do not reform the current framework, it will be Silicon Valley that determines the future of our payments system,” Frydenberg said in the speech. “These are significant shifts which we need to be in front of.”

Reacting to the speech, Mikkel Morch, executive director at crypto/digital assets hedge fund ARK36 said: “Governments around the world are waking up to the reality that cryptocurrencies have already become an entrenched part of the global payments environment - and one that is preferred over the legacy systems by a growing number of individuals.

“After the recent EU crypto regulation proposal, Australia has now announced its working on a similar document - and it is to be expected that other major jurisdictions will follow suit.”

“Importantly, the scope of the regulation outlined by the Australian Treasurer doesn't seem to be overly restrictive. Clearly, then, the regulators recognise the immense economic and innovation potential of crypto and don't want to stifle it,” Morch added.

Edan Yago, the lead contributor to the Bitcoin DeFi protocol Sovryn commented that it is a “question of time” before all payments and financial transactions are digitised on public ledgers, adding: “The future of money and finance is borderless and digital.”

India

India is considering appointing a capital markets regulator to oversee cryptocurrencies, as authorities look to classify them as financial assets, Bloomberg reported.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government, which is planning to introduce legislation in the ongoing Parliament session, will give cryptocurrency holders a deadline to declare their assets and fulfil any new rules.

The bill will likely use the term crypto assets instead of cryptocurrency and will not refer to the central bank's plan to create its own digital currency, according to people with knowledge of the matter.

Violators can be fined up to 200 million rupees ($2.7 million) or imprisoned for a year and a half, according to the proposals.

The government may also consider setting a minimum investment level for crypto assets to protect small investors, Bloomberg News reported.

Daily Trading

Bitcoin, the leading cryptocurrency in trading internationally, traded lower on Wednesday, falling by 2.18  percent to $50,126 at 5:37 p.m Riyadh time.

Ether, the second most traded cryptocurrency, traded at $4,401, up by 2.38 percent, according to data from Coindesk.