RIYADH: Oman Investment Authority, the Gulf state’s sovereign wealth fund, aims to spend 1.9 billion rials ($4.95 billion) on investment projects in 2023, state media reported on Tuesday.
The OIA said the financing will come from the local and foreign private sectors, from financing institutions, or from the agency itself or its subsidiaries.
The OIA has also reportedly joined a group of foreign investors to invest $214 million in Group14 Technologies, a battery materials manufacturing company based in the US. Group14 develops lithium-silicon battery materials and aims to replace the standard lithium-ion batteries.
According to a Fast Company report, Group14 has stated that it had secured a total of $614 million in its Series C investment round with the latest funding infusions. Some of the key investors in Group14 Technologies include SK Materials and Porsche.
The report stated that OIA intends to incorporate Oman into the firm’s worldwide supply chain through its investment in Group14 Technologies. The firm also added that the consortium behind the recent additional funding included Lightrock Climate Impact Fund, Moore Strategic Ventures, Microsoft’s Climate Innovation Fund, and Molicel.
The state’s general budget for 2023 will be approved at an oil price of $55 per barrel, local media reported quoting a Finance Ministry statement on Tuesday.
The ministry estimates that the 2023 budget deficit will amount to about 1.3 billion rials, constituting 11 percent of total revenues and 3 percent of the gross domestic product.
Preliminary estimates for the 2023 budget show that total public spending is estimated at 12.950 billion rials, up by 7 percent from the approved spending in the 2022 budget.
Oil Updates — Crude slips; BP says Ukraine war will accelerate transition to clean energy
Updated 30 January 2023
RIYADH: Oil prices edged lower on Monday, even as Beijing pledged over the weekend to promote a consumption recovery that would support fuel demand.
Brent crude futures fell 31 cents, or 0.36 percent, to $86.35 a barrel at 08.20 a.m. Saudi time, while US West Texas Intermediate crude was at $79.45 a barrel, down 23 cents, or 0.29 percent.
On Saturday, China’s cabinet said it would promote a consumption recovery as the major driver of the economy and boost imports, state broadcaster CCTV reported.
Ukraine war to accelerate shift to clean energy: BP
Russia’s war in Ukraine is expected to weigh on long-term energy demand and accelerate the world’s shift to renewables and low-carbon power as countries boost domestic energy supplies, oil giant BP said in its latest report.
In its benchmark 2023 Energy Outlook, BP said the Ukraine war will slow global economic activity by 2035 by around 3 percent compared with last year’s forecast due to higher food and energy prices as well as reduced trade activity.
BP lowered its oil and gas demand forecast in 2035 by 5 percent and 6 percent, respectively, under its central forecast scenario that is based on governments’ current energy transition plans. The changes are focused mostly in Europe and Asia which rely heavily on energy imports, BP said.
Under its three scenarios, global energy demand peaks between the late 2020s and 2035, according to BP, whose Chief Executive Bernard Looney aims to rapidly grow the company’s renewables business and slash oil and gas output by 2030.
Put together, BP expects primary energy consumption in 2035 to be lower by 2 percent compared with last year’s outlook, with half of the decline due to gains in energy efficiency and half due to lower economic activity.
“The increased focus on energy security as a result of the Russia-Ukraine war has the potential to accelerate the energy transition as countries seek to increase access to domestically produced energy, much of which is likely to come from renewables and other non-fossil fuels,” BP Chief Economist Spencer Dale said in the report.
Oil demand is set to start declining rapidly after 2030 under BP’s three scenarios, but will continue to play a major role in the global energy system, with world demand reaching 70 to 80 million barrels per day by 2035, compared with today’s consumption of around 100 million bpd.
Carbon emissions in 2030, under BP’s central scenario, are 3.7 percent lower than in the previous outlook.
TotalEnergies says well drilling in Lebanon’s offshore Block 9 to begin in Q3
TotalEnergies is keen to start work on Lebanon’s offshore Block 9 “as soon as possible,” with assessments to begin early next month and well-drilling to launch in the third quarter of 2023, its CEO Patrick Pouyanne said on Sunday.
Pouyanne was speaking at a joint news conference in Beirut after signing a three-way consortium deal with QatarEnergy and Eni to explore oil and gas in two maritime blocks off the coast of Lebanon known as Blocks 4 and 9.
Following months of talks, QatarEnergy has taken a 30 percent stake in the consortium, leaving TotalEnergies and Eni with 35 percent each.
Lebanon hopes discoveries will help it reverse a crippling economic crisis that has cost the local currency more than 97 percent of its value, eroded the country’s foreign reserves and caused rolling blackouts across towns and cities.
Pouyanne said a vessel would arrive in Lebanese waters on Feb. 6 to carry out an environmental survey in Block 9, “and we plan to drill during the third quarter of the year.”
The CEO of Eni, Claudio Descalzi, said the exploration could offer a “big opportunity” for Lebanon as the world was facing a major lack of gas.
“From a geological point of view, I am positive” about a discovery in Lebanon’s Block 9, Descalzi told reporters.
“We have to hope and pray that it is a real and material one,” he said.
Pouyanne and Qatar’s energy minister Saad Al-Kaabi, also the CEO of QatarEnergy, said they were discussing possible coordination on renewable energy in Lebanon.
Oil climbs after drone attack in Iran, China’s pledge to promote consumption
Israel suspected to be behind a Saturday night drone attack on a military factory in Iran
China resumes business this week after its Lunar New Year holidays
Updated 30 January 2023
SINGAPORE: Oil prices climbed in early Asia trade on Monday, supported by tensions in the Middle East following a drone attack in Iran and as Beijing pledged over the weekend to promote a consumption recovery which would support fuel demand.
Brent crude futures rose 54 cents, or 0.6 percent, to $87.20 a barrel by 0115 GMT while US West Texas Intermediate crude was at $80.22 a barrel, up 54 cents, or 0.7 percent.
Israel appears to have been behind an overnight drone attack on a military factory in Iran, a US official said on Sunday.
“It is not really clear yet what’s happening in Iran, but any escalation there has the potential to disrupt crude flow,” said Stefano Grasso, a senior portfolio manager at 8VantEdge in Singapore.
Ministers from the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and allies led by Russia, known collectively as OPEC+, are unlikely to tweak its current oil output policy when they meet virtually on Feb. 1.
Still, indication of a rise in crude exports from Russia’s Baltic ports in early February caused Brent and WTI to post their first weekly loss in three last week.
On Saturday, China’s cabinet said it would promote a consumption recovery as the major driver of the economy and boost imports, state broadcaster CCTV reported.
“We have Russia on the supply side and China on the demand side. Both can swing by more than 1 million barrels per day above or below expectation,” said Grasso, formerly an oil trader with Italy’s Eni.
“China seems to have surprised the market in terms of how fast they are coming out of zero COVID while Russia has surprised in terms of resilience of export volume despite the sanctions.”
China resumes business this week after its Lunar New Year holidays. The number of passengers traveling prior to the holidays rose above levels in the past two years but is still below 2019, Citi analysts said in a note, citing data from the Ministry of Transport.
“Overall international traffic recovery remains gradual, with high-single to low-teens digits to 2019 level, and we expect further recovery when outbound tour group travel resumes on Feb. 6,” the Citi note said.
China’s 2022 smartphone sales fall 13%, says report
Android handset maker Vivo was the top-selling brand over the year, with a market share of 18.6 percent
Updated 30 January 2023
SHANGHAI: China’s smartphone sales fell 13 percent year-on-year in 2022, the largest plunge for the sector in a decade as consumers spent cautiously, market research firm IDC said on Sunday.
The total number of devices shipped was 286 million. That meant total 2022 sales volume was the lowest since 2013 and the first time since then that annual sales have dropped below 300 million, IDC said in a report.
Android handset maker Vivo was the top-selling brand over the year, with a market share of 18.6 percent. Its total shipments fell 25.1 percent year-on-year, however.
Honor ranked as the second best-selling brand, with shipments growing more than 34 percent, albeit from a low base.
Apple Inc. was the third best-selling phone brand in 2022, tied with Oppo.
In Q4, despite being the top-selling brand in the three-month period, year-on-year sales for iPhones were still down, as supply chain issues caused by worker unrest at manufacturer Foxconn’s plant in the city of Zhengzhou compounded worse-than expected demand, researchers wrote. Strict COVID-19 controls in China, which ramped up in the spring of 2022 across several cities, weighed heavily on its economy which slumped to one of its worst levels in nearly half-a-century last year.
The plunge in smartphone sales in China reflected the sector’s performance globally. In 2022, global smartphone shipments hit 1.2 billion, the lowest since 2013 and a year-on-year fall of more than 11 percent, according to IDC.
GCC can be a ‘latter-day Venice,’ says former UK government adviser
European trade policy expert Paul McGrade explains why now is the time for a GCC-UK free trade agreement
Domestic politics rules out UK-US FTA while India wrestles with divisions over protectionism and politics, he asserts
McGrade says British public feel Brexit was a mistake, bringing costs and “very, very few benefits”
Updated 30 January 2023
DUBAI: The GCC bloc, with its strategic location and fast-growing economies, can be a latter-day Venice, balancing between East and West, according to Paul McGrade, a former UK government adviser and an expert on UK and European trade policy, who was speaking as the GCC and the UK prepare to launch the third round of their free trade talks.
He predicts that the UK’s attempts to forge free-trade agreements with the US and India will meet with failure, in contrast with an FTA deal with the GCC, which could work despite the two sides’ policy differences over China and Russia.
He also asserts, citing opinion surveys, that the British public now feel that “Brexit was a mistake and has brought costs and very, very few benefits.”
McGrade made the comments during an appearance on “Frankly Speaking,” the Arab News current affairs talk show that dives deep into regional headlines by speaking with leading policymakers and business leaders.
He discussed what a GCC-UK trade deal would entail, whether an agreement could materialize before the end of this year and, given the political upheaval of the last 12 months, whether GCC leaders could really trust the British government’s trade promises.
“The GCC region will still have strong links with China. Energy needs there are huge and growing. (But I hope) the region will continue to have strong links with the West,” he said.
“There’s a difficult balancing act that’s going to get harder in the decades ahead. But the region is very strongly placed and, you (can) already see with the UK, and Europe more broadly, a stronger recognition that this is a strategic partnership, or a set of strategic partnerships, that they can’t afford to ignore.”
Last month, the UK government said it was committed to signing a significant trade deal with the GCC. However, given the political roller-coaster ride that the UK went on in 2022 and the fact that it is no longer the manufacturing giant of the last century, many wonder why GCC countries should still be interested and whether they can trust that the UK will deliver.
“It’s a fair question after six years really of instability in the UK, a country that always prided itself and partly sold itself on its political stability and its business-friendly regulation. It has been a bit of a roller-coaster, but I think that the high tide of Brexit disruption has passed,” McGrade said.
He said although the Tory government and the main opposition Labour Party claim they are committed to making Brexit work, what they really mean is sound public finances, a more stable regulatory relationship with Europe, a more predictable one where essentially the UK will broadly follow what the EU is doing in big areas like net-zero.
“This gives investors some confidence,” he told Katie Jensen, the host of “Frankly Speaking.”
“The UK is not going to be towing itself off into mid-Atlantic or the Pacific Ocean. It’s going to be geographically, obviously and in regulatory terms, very firmly anchored in the European neighborhood. That gives a bit of confidence and a bit of stability going forward. And the UK needs investment, which has dropped off sharply since the 2016 vote.”
As the West decouples from China, experts say it will need strong relationships with the Gulf states. McGrade believes the war in Ukraine has refocused minds on the importance of the strategic partnership with the Gulf countries. “Not just through the trade deal, which could help in some areas, but it’s a broader picture,” he said.
“There’s a huge opportunity here for Gulf states and their investors to kind of reshape this relationship in the sectors that they might want to draw into their own economies in terms of building sustainable, high-skilled models for the future.”
The Conservative government in the post-Brexit era had promised that Britain would be able to make trade deals all over the world. However, they missed their targets last year. The UK has only signed trade agreements with about 60 percent of their global trade partners and talks with the US and India have stalled.
“Some of those (trade) talks have stalled, but some of them probably weren’t very realistic anyway,” McGrade said. “The domestic politics on both sides of the Atlantic probably ruled out the kind of deep trade deal with the US that some Brexiteers said they wanted.”
As for India, he said the country does not “really have a modern ambitious free trade deal with (any entity). It is an economy that is wrestling with its own internal divisions over degrees of protecting its domestic industry. And there are politics at play on things like visas.”
He continued: “It’s a different picture when you look at the Arab world and especially the GCC, because there’s a very strong historic relationship. There are obviously difficult issues in any trade deal about market access, but the relationship is probably more positive and the politics less difficult around the content of that trade deal.”
Elaborating on the potential for cross-border investments, McGrade said: “A lot of the UK’s economic sectors are in a weak position. (But) some of the fundamentals are pretty strong in areas like health tech, digital health. We have got Arab Health Week, of course, and creative industries, net-zero technology, the traditional strengths and areas like banking, other professional services.
“These are sectors that matter to Gulf economies and may matter increasingly, as we look to kind of building a sustainable net-, post-net-zero economy. So, there’s a lot on offer in the UK and probably some of it is underpriced because of the economic hit that the country has taken over the last few years. This probably is a very good time to invest, whether or not we have a trade deal quickly. But this trade deal potentially is an easier one to do than, say, US or India in political terms.”
The Gulf states are strong strategically but the relationship with the UK will need to be two-way, experts say, with British innovation holding the promise of helping the former to become high-skilled, high-tech economies.
McGrade, for one, is confident that as the UK seeks to diversify its trade and investment relationships, the Gulf states would be important in providing access to new markets, energy sources and other areas.
“(They are) going to be vital, (when) you see a Europe cutting itself off from traditional Russian supplies of oil and gas, and is also recalibrating the relationship with China,” he said. “The US talks openly about decoupling from Chinese supply chains. The UK talks a similar kind of language. The UK is probably a bit closer to the US than some of the big European powers on this.
“If that’s the kind of world that we’re going to, then the Gulf states become more important than ever, not just for energy, but for the markets that they represent, the investment and the partnerships that they’re looking to build.”
“Look at the scale of the ambition in the Gulf, not just for sort of investment for return, but for the huge long-term sustainability project that (Gulf) governments, sovereign wealth funds and other investors are aiming for. There’s a huge opportunity for genuine partnerships where some of those innovative technologies that the UK still excels at could be a part of building up that sustainable skills base in Gulf economies.”
The UK estimates that an FTA with the GCC would add about £1.6 billion ($1.98 billion) to its economy. So, where does McGrade see the most gains for countries such as Saudi Arabia and the UAE?
“A trade deal is nice to have, but it’s not essential. These are already quite open economies in global terms. They already have strong trading relationships with the UK. A trade deal could help reduce some of the barriers, but it’s not the biggest game in town,” he said.
“The broader picture is looking at the sectors where UK innovation in particular can help achieve the long-term strategic aims of countries like Saudi Arabia and the UAE. If you look at some of the real strengths, in medical technology, health technology, digital health, we have a lot of innovation in the UK market, which is often underpinned by the fact that you have this almost unique data set because you have a huge national health service covering sort of 60 million people.”
McGrade believes the creative sector is another big source of the UK’s global strength, which can be important for areas like tourism and culture, in which some Gulf states have made a big investment. “There are areas like education that are traditional strengths and where there’s already a presence in the region from the UK,” he said.
“The professional services, banking and financial services is an obvious one. But we increasingly see legal and accounting services as well as sort of management consultancy establishing and growing their presences in the region.”
He next turned to what he called another big area, “which is the technology around net-zero, getting to net-zero, but helping make that sustainable and build economies that will be fast growing and rich, and high skilled beyond the dependence on hydrocarbons.”
“There’s a lot there. Sovereign wealth funds in the region are already investing in some of these sectors. In some cases, what they’re looking for in a partnership is to bring some of those skills back home to the region so that they can be used to help build up the domestic high skills and high tech that will be needed (in the) longer term into the century to keep high-growing rich economies in the Gulf region.”
But what happens if the UK fails to sign a specific deal with the GCC as a whole? Does it then have the option to look at single individual trade deals with, say, the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Qatar?
McGrade says this has been happening in fact. “It’s been signing individual agreements across some sectors with some of the GCC members. That would continue,” he said.
“Whatever the governments do, those economic fundamentals ought to be attractive to Gulf investors, whether that’s at the state, kind of sovereign wealth fund level or kind of business level, because some of those strengths of the UK economy, innovation across several sectors, can really be part of the answer to what Gulf economies need to do and know they need to do to build sustainable, high-skilled, post-net-zero economies for the 21st century.”
As for the GCC countries’ less hawkish approach to Russia, McGrade does not see that as a hindrance to talks with the UK. “For two reasons,” he said. “There is a greater recognition of the strategic importance of the Gulf region, for the UK and for the West generally because of the war in Russia. Because of what that means for energy prices and long-term energy needs.
“The other point is that if the West is going to decouple from China, then it needs the Gulf. The Gulf states are well placed. They are in a strong position economically.”
To be sure, McGrade said, “the UK and Western governments generally always wrestle with some public opinion and campaigning groups at home on some of the values agenda. They always worry about if that can be squared off with the needs of the strategic relationship with the Gulf. That will continue to be an issue.”
Alluding to technical and political barriers to reaching a trade deal, he acknowledged that the two sides have different opinions on certain issues but said: “They are not showstoppers. The deal is doable. It’s probably more about political will in London. It would be a failure of political will if that deal isn’t done.”
McGrade was forthright about his opinions on British voters’ decision to leave the EU three years ago. “Pretty consistent polling over time suggests that an ever-growing number of the British public feel that Brexit was a mistake and has brought costs and very, very few benefits,” he said.
Nevertheless, he said, both the Conservative and Labour parties have concluded that they cannot revisit the trade deal in a fundamental way. “There is a review of the trade deal at the five-year point, which comes in 2025,” he said. “If Labour wins the election, they will want to improve the terms of the trade deal without changing its fundamental character.”
Quizzed about his personal opinion on Brexit’s costs — a weakened pound, higher inflation, trade and investment disruption, political uncertainty, loss of access to the EU single market — McGrade said it was clear that the downsides were huge and not just economic.
“The hit to Britain’s reputation for political stability, which is sort of the core of its soft power, has been in some ways even worse than the economic hit from loss of market access,” he said.
Qatar replaces Russian company in Lebanon’s gas exploration
Country hopes discoveries of commercial quantities of fuel will help reverse economic crisis
Updated 29 January 2023
BEIRUT: Lebanon announced on Sunday that Qatar has entered a consortium to explore for offshore gas in the Mediterranean Sea off the Lebanese coast.
The country is also counting on the participation of some other Gulf states in the consortium, a political observer said.
Lebanon is hoping the exploration and discovery of commercial quantities of oil and gas will help it overcome its current economic crisis.
The deal will see QatarEnergy receive a minority 30 percent stake in the two blocks of Lebanon’s exclusive economic zone.
QatarEnergy joins the consortium of TotalEnergies of France and Italy’s Eni company for oil and gas exploration in the two Lebanese blocks following the withdrawal of Russia from the agreement.
Lebanon’s share would range from 54 to 63 percent after the deduction of operational and capital costs, in any instance of oil and gas discovery.
Russian company Novatek withdrew from the exploration consortium in the wake of tensions resulting from the Ukraine conflict.
It announced its withdrawal last summer due to US sanctions as the company was no longer able to make any financial transfers outside Russia.
The new agreement was signed by Walid Fayad, Lebanon’s energy minister; Saad bin Sherida Al-Kaabi, Qatar’s energy minister and president and CEO of QatarEnergy; Patrick Pouyanne, CEO of TotalEnergies; and Claudio Descalzi, CEO of Eni.
The ceremony was held at the headquarters of the Lebanese prime minister and in the presence of the ambassadors of Qatar, France and Italy.
The agreement was the result of months-long talks and coincided with practical procedures initiated by the operator to carry out exploration and drilling activities during this year.
Najib Mikati, Lebanese caretaker prime minister, paid tribute to US mediator Amos Hochstein and his team for their handling of the indirect negotiation process between Lebanon and Israel to demarcate the maritime borders at the end of last year, which resulted in an agreement.
Fayad said he hoped the deal would initiate “the beginning of a new phase that would contribute to placing Lebanon on the petroleum map in the region, and boosting its role as an investment destination.”
He added that the deal demonstrates that “[countries] still trust Lebanon, despite all the crises it is going through.”
Al-Kaabi said: “It’s not the first exploration attempt in Lebanon, but it is a serious attempt for a promising exploration in the eastern Mediterranean basin.”
He added: “We are actually present in this region and not far from here, as we have discovered gas in the Glaucus well offshore Cyprus.
"There are many elements that make this agreement important for both Lebanon and QatarEnergy. One of these elements is that it came after the maritime border demarcation agreement, which paved the way for us to begin this ambitious effort.”
The Qatari minister sent the greetings of Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, who gave his hopes for a better future for Lebanon and its people.
Pouyanne said that “the maritime border demarcation resulted in a new momentum to explore the country’s hydrocarbon potential.”
He added: “We are determined, along with our partners, to drill an exploration well in Block 9 as soon as possible in 2023, and our teams are being fully equipped to carry out these operations.”
Pouyanne pointed out that the new deal between TotalEnergies and QatarEnergy expanded the scope of international cooperation in the exploration field, and raised the number of countries in which the two companies operate to nine.
Descalzi said: “This deal comes at a crucial time, as energy constitutes the basis of relations between the countries, and the Russian gas supply to Europe has been halted.
“I am very optimistic, especially since we are working with the best teams in this field and with the best international companies, QatarEnergy and TotalEnergies.
“We hope we will be able to achieve the desired commercial explorations for the benefit of the Lebanese people.”