Oil Updates — crude prices climb as risk appetite grows

Oil prices edged up on Monday, recouping some of the losses suffered at the end of last week, as investors focused on a tight global supply outlook while a last-minute deal that avoided a US government shutdown restored risk appetite.

Brent December crude futures rose 8 cents, or 0.9 percent, to $92.28 a barrel by 9:00 a.m. Saudi time.

US West Texas Intermediate crude futures gained 10 cents, or 0.11 percent, to $90.89 a barrel.

Both benchmarks rallied nearly 30 percent in the third quarter on forecasts of a wide crude supply deficit in the fourth quarter after Saudi Arabia and Russia extended additional supply cuts to the end of the year.

The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries with Russia and other allies, or OPEC+, is unlikely to tweak its current oil output policy when the panel called the Joint Ministerial Monitoring Committee meets on Wednesday, four OPEC+ sources told Reuters, as tighter supplies and rising demand drive an oil price rally.

“Oil prices started the week on a strong note amid supply concerns with no policy change by OPEC+ expected, while the avoidance of a US government’s shutdown over the weekend gave some relief,” said Hiroyuki Kikukawa, president of NS Trading, a unit of Nissan Securities.

“Still, whether or not the market will rise further will depend on future demand trends,” he said.

While OPEC+ is not expected to change its output policy given the recent strength in the market, Saudi Arabia could start to ease its additional voluntary supply cut of 1 million barrels per day, said ING analysts in a note on Monday.

Official data on Saturday showed that China’s factory activity expanded for the first time in six months in September, adding to a run of indicators suggesting the world’s second-largest economy has begun to stabilize.

However, a private-sector survey on Sunday was less encouraging, showing the country’s factory activity expanded slower in September.

Indeed, a durable recovery in China’s economy is delayed by a property slump, falling exports and high youth unemployment, raising fears of weaker fuel demand.

Elsewhere, a last-minute decision by Republican House of Representatives Speaker Kevin McCarthy to turn to Democrats to pass a short-term funding bill pushed the risk of the shutdown to mid-November, meaning the US federal government’s more than 4 million workers can count on continued paychecks for now.

Amplifying supply fears, the US oil and gas rig count, an early indicator of future output, fell by seven to 623 in the week to Sept. 29, the lowest since February 2022, energy services firm Baker Hughes said in its closely followed report on Friday.

Brent is forecast to average $89.85 a barrel in the fourth quarter and $86.45 in 2024, according to a survey of 42 economists compiled by Reuters on Friday.


UAE’s Emirates inks deal with Shell Aviation to procure SAF for Dubai hub

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As part of its ongoing commitment to sustainability, the UAE’s flagship carrier, Emirates, has entered into an agreement with Shell Aviation to procure over 300,000 gallons of blended sustainable aviation fuel for use at its international hub in Dubai.

According to a press statement, the initial SAF delivery under this partnership is expected to commence by the end of this year, marking the first instance of Dubai International Airport using biofuel.

Emirates has emphasized that this agreement underscores its environmental strategy, built upon three core pillars: reducing emissions, responsible consumption, and preserving wildlife and habitats.

Emirates President Tim Clarke said: “We hope that this collaboration develops further to provide an ongoing future supply of SAF in our hub, as there are currently no production facilities for SAF in the UAE.”

He added: “We look forward to continue collaborating with like-minded organizations and government entities to look at viable solutions that introduce more SAF, a fuel that is currently extremely limited in supply, into the aviation fuel supply chain and support Emirates’ efforts to reduce emissions across our operations.”

Shell Corporate Travel Vice President Chu Yong-Yi described this agreement as a significant milestone in the aviation industry’s journey toward achieving zero emissions.

“This agreement marks a step forward for the aviation industry in the UAE. Enabling SAF to be supplied at DXB for the first time is an important milestone and a perfect example of how the different parts of the aviation value chain have a role to play in unlocking progress on SAF,” said Yong-Yi.

He added: “We hope that this can act as a springboard for more action on SAF across the aviation industry in the UAE and region, delivering another step forward for our net zero emissions journey.”

In an earlier announcement in May, Emirates committed a $200 million fund to research and develop projects to mitigate the impact of fossil fuels in the commercial aviation sector.

The airline specified that this designated fund would be disbursed over three years, with Emirates actively seeking partnerships with organizations specializing in fuel and energy technologies.


OPEC optimistic on demand, calls for more oil and gas investment

The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries is optimistic on demand and sees under-investment as a risk to energy security, Secretary-General Haitham Al-Ghais said on Monday at an energy industry event in Abu Dhabi.

He stressed the importance of continued investment in the oil and gas industry and said he sees calls to stop investing in oil as counterproductive.

“We still see oil demand as quite resilient this year, as it was last year,” Al-Ghais said, noting the group’s forecast was for year-on-year demand growth of more than 2.3 million barrels per day (bpd).

He added that investment in the oil and gas sector was important for energy security.

“We are…running quite low on spare capacity; we have said this repeatedly and this requires a concerted effort by all of the stakeholders to see the importance of investing in this industry,” he said.

The UAE’s Energy Minister Suhail Al-Mazrouei echoed the call and said investment by both international and national oil companies was needed.

“And these investments need the financial world to be willing to finance oil and gas,” Al-Mazrouei said.

He later told reporters that his country is on track to expand its oil production capacity to 5 million bpd by 2027 from 4.2 million bpd currently.


Abu Dhabi’s non-oil economy surges 12.3% in Q2 to $42bn


Abu Dhabi’s non-oil economy grew by 12.3 percent in the second quarter of 2023, accompanied by a 3.5 percent increase in its overall gross domestic product, reported the Statistics Centre — Abu Dhabi.

The emirate’s real non-oil GDP soared to 154 billion dirhams ($42 billion), marking its highest since 2014. This increase represents a record for the first quarter of the current year, surpassing 146 billion dirhams.

SCAD’s statistical estimates revealed growth in the construction sector, with a year-on-year increase of 19.1 percent, reaching 25.3 billion dirhams.

The financial sector also grew 29.7 percent in the second quarter compared to the same period last year, reaching 18.3 billion dirhams.

The manufacturing sector also advanced 7 percent in the second quarter to 25 billion dirhams compared to the year-ago period.

The real estate sector climbed to 9.8 billion dirhams in the second quarter from 9.3 billion dirhams in this year’s first quarter.

Furthermore, wholesale and retail trade activities reached their highest quarterly value since 2014, amounting to 16.7 billion dirhams.

These activities contributed 5.8 percent to the GDP in the second quarter of 2023.

Ahmed Jasim Al-Zaabi, chairman of the Abu Dhabi Department of Economic Development, emphasized: “The continued strong performance of Abu Dhabi’s economy despite mounting challenges in the global economic landscape reaffirms the success of the emirate’s diversification strategy and adaptability to market shifts.”

Last month, S&P Global Ratings anticipated that the UAE would achieve 3 percent economic growth in 2023, primarily driven by the non-oil sector.

The analysis from the rating agency forecasts a further expansion rate of 4 percent next year.

Trevor Cullinan, a sovereign ratings analyst at the agency, pointed to the impressive expansion of the UAE’s non-oil sector, citing significant strides in services and industrial domains, reported the Emirates News Agency.

Identifying key sectors that are steering the UAE’s economic growth, Cullinan mentioned oil and gas, wholesale trade and industry, real estate, construction and financial services.

The rating agency also reported that the employment growth in the UAE last month was at its highest since October 2016, even as the Purchasing Managers’ Index hit 56.6, up from 56.1 in September.


Saudi economy to grow by 3.9% in 2024 as inflation stabilizes: OECD

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Affirming Saudi Arabia’s strong growth prospects in the near term, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development revealed that the Kingdom’s gross domestic product is expected to rise by 3.9 percent in 2024.

The OECD revealed that Saudi Arabia’s inflation rate is expected to average 2.1 in 2024, a sign that the Kingdom is successfully combating price pressures.

Earlier this month, the International Monetary Fund echoed similar views and noted that Saudi Arabia has succeeded in maintaining its average consumer price index despite inflationary pressures faced by several countries across the globe.

The report noted that Saudi Arabia will be among the few countries with economic growth above 3 percent in 2024.

The OECD projected that the US and the UK could grow by 0.8 percent and 1.3 percent in 2024.

On the other hand, the Australian economy could witness an economic growth of 1.3 percent and Brazil 1.7 percent.

The OECD projected Japan’s economic growth at 1.8 percent in 2023 and 1 percent in 2024.

China and India are some of the countries that are expected to surpass Saudi economic growth, expanding by 4.6 percent and 6 percent, respectively.

The report added that the Saudi economy will grow by 1.9 percent in 2023 while the inflation rate will remain stable at 2.5 percent.

In its report, the OECD revealed that the world economy is expected to grow by 3 percent and 2.7 percent in 2023 and 2024, respectively, while the inflation rate is expected to moderate.

“Inflation is projected to moderate gradually over 2023 and 2024 but to remain above central bank objectives in most economies,” the OECD said in its report.

“Headline inflation is declining, but core inflation remains persistent in many economies, held up by cost pressures and high margins in some sectors,” the report added.

The European Central Bank had raised a key interest rate to a record high last week but hinted this might be its last hike. On the other hand, the US Federal Reserve is expected to pause its tightening campaign on Wednesday.


Saudi Arabia revises budget estimates for 2023 on ‘expansionary spending’ policies

Lowering its growth forecast for 2023, Saudi Arabia expects to post a budget deficit this year rather than an earlier projected surplus, mainly due to “expansionary” spending policies and “conservative revenue estimates.”

Saudi Arabia will continue its fiscal and structural reforms as the Kingdom is steadily embarking on its economic diversification journey in line with the goals outlined in Vision 2030, said Finance Minister Mohammed Al-Jadaan.

He said that continuous implementation of the ambitious plan is necessary for the Kingdom to catalyze its economic growth and maintain fiscal sustainability.

A preliminary budget statement issued on Saturday showed that the largest Arab economy expects real gross domestic product to grow by 0.03 percent this year compared with a previous forecast for growth of 3.1 percent.

The document also projected the government would post a budget deficit of 1.9 percent of the gross domestic project in 2024, 1.6 percent of GDP in 2025, and 2.3 percent of GDP in 2026. It said “limited budget deficits” would continue in the medium term.

Meanwhile, total expenditure is seen rising to SR1.262 billion in 2023, from an earlier estimate of SR1.114 billion, before slowing down marginally to SR1.251 billion in 2024.

However, the Kingdom’s debt-to-GDP ratio is expected to remain below 27 percent due to a gradual decrease in the deficit over the coming years, Mazen Al-Sudairi, head of research at Al Rajhi Capital told Arab News.

“The (budget) deficit is expected to decrease gradually over the coming years, keeping the debt-to-GDP ratio below 27 percent, well below the government’s target of 30 percent,” the analyst said.

Borrowing plan

Al-Sudairi said most of the deficit would be funded through borrowing, demonstrating prudent fiscal management.

According to the ministry, the government is now expecting an SR82 billion ($21.8 billion) deficit for 2023 instead of an SR16 billion surplus projected earlier.

For 2024, the government expects total revenues at SR1.172 trillion and total spending of SR1.251 trillion.

Commenting on the budget statement, Al-Jadaan said the government program will help Saudi Arabia develop promising economic sectors, enhance investment attractions, stimulate industrial growth, raise the percentage of local content, and promote non-oil exports.

The ministry currently expects budget deficits to last through 2026, the statement said.

Saudi Arabia is working to prepare an annual borrowing plan in accordance with a medium-term debt strategy and “access global debt markets to enhance the Kingdom’s position in international markets,” the Finance Ministry said.

Non-oil GDP

The budget statement touted growth in non-oil sectors, whose revenue jumped by 11 percent in the first half of the year.

Commenting on the non-oil sector, Al-Sudairi stressed the importance of focusing on the non-oil GDP, which is expected to grow by 5.9 percent in 2023 and over 4 percent in the following year.

“This growth above 4 percent is very healthy and will help diversify the non-oil economy, creating new sectors and segments inside the economy.”

The expert also highlighted the significance of cities and service-based industries in the Saudi economy.

He stated: “The Vision 2030 concentrates on cities. With the global economy becoming more service-based, cities become much more important as service industries thrive.”


Iraqi central bank chief meets with Jordanian PM, counterpart


Ali Mohsen Al-Alaq, governor of the Central Bank of Iraq, met with Jordan’s Prime Minister Bishr Khasawneh on Sunday, Jordan News Agency reported.

Khasawneh stressed his commitment to expanding collaboration, notably in the economic and banking sectors.

Speaking about his visit to Baghdad in July, Khasawneh said the two countries had agreed to strengthen cooperation in several fields, whether through bilateral efforts or as part of the tripartite cooperation mechanism between Jordan, Iraq, and Egypt.

Earlier, Al-Alaq also met with his Jordanian counterpart Adel Sharkas to discuss ways to boost banking and financial ties.

The two addressed banking issues of mutual interest, developments in central bank work, and trends in global monetary policies. They also examined inflationary pressures that have led many central banks around the world to maintain tight monetary policies.

Sharkas and Al-Alaq signed an agreement that provides for cooperation and knowledge exchange in electronic payment systems and services, financial technology, cybersecurity, staff training, and combating money laundering and terrorist financing.

Sharkas emphasized the significance of the agreement at a time when economic relations between the two countries are advancing steadily.

He noted that Jordanian banks are looking to create a foothold in the Iraqi market, pointing to four Jordanian branches that have secured licenses to operate in Iraq, with two branches already active.

Al-Alaq praised the historical Jordanian-Iraqi ties, emphasizing the CBI’s desire to benefit from Jordanian experience in digitalization, financial innovations, and payment systems.


Egypt celebrates success of house, road-building programs

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Egypt has spent millions of dollars on new urban communities over the past nine years, its housing minister said on Sunday.

Speaking at the “Story of a Homeland” conference in the New Administrative Capital, Housing and Urban Communities Minister Assem El-Gazzar said: “In the past nine years we have built 1.5 million housing units.

“We have worked to eliminate 357 unsafe areas by building more than 300,000 housing units at a construction cost exceeding 300 billion (Egyptian) pounds.”

El-Gazzar said 24 new cities that could accommodate 32 million people had been developed in the period.

The country’s Decent Life Initiative had been a major contributor to the increased urbanization, which in turn had had a significant impact on economic development, he added.

The three-day conference was attended by President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi and representatives from across Egyptian society.

It comprised several discussion sessions, at which the participants highlighted the government’s achievements and addressed the challenges that lie ahead.

The conference also provided a platform for political leaders to respond to citizens’ queries about political, social and economic issues.

Transport Minister Kamel Al-Wazir said that under the Decent Life Initiative 7,000 km of new roads had been built over the past nine years.

The national road network now spanned 30,000 km and served agricultural and industrial areas across the country, he said.

He added that on completion of the development plan, Egypt’s ports would have capacity for 400 million tons of goods and 40 million containers, and be able to handle 30,000 giant ships a year.

El-Sisi thanked the ministers for their efforts and said the success of the development program was testimony to their efforts and the will of the state to serve the people.


No tourist exodus from Lebanon despite Gulf nations’ warnings about violence, industry experts say

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Lebanon’s interior minister, Bassam Mawlawi, said on Monday that the recent deadly violence at a Palestinian refugee camp had abated, as officials attempted to ease concerns after Gulf states warned their citizens against traveling to the country.

“The situation in Ain Al-Helweh camp has now calmed down,” he said, referring to the restive camp in southern Lebanon, the largest of its kind in the country, where armed clashes broke out between members of Fatah and extremist organizations on July 29.

“We maintain the security of Arab nationals and communicate with Arab embassies to confirm that.”

The minister’s reassurance came as Fadi Al-Hassan, the director general of Lebanon’s Civil Aviation Authority denied suggestions spreading on social media that large numbers of people are fleeing the country on flights from Rafic Hariri International Airport in Beirut. Arrivals and departures are operating as usual and passenger levels are normal for the time of year, he said.

“Things are still the same,” Al-Hassan added, noting that the airport is extremely busy with people arriving in the country for summer vacations.

Officials from organizations related to the tourism, travel and hotel sectors similarly reported no sign of a tourist exodus from Lebanon.

The reassurances came after Arab and other countries advised their nationals in Lebanon to take precautions by avoiding the areas around Ain Al-Hilweh refugee camp, or to leave the country.

An observer at the airport in Beirut said the number of arrivals last month increased by 12 percent to 924,000, compared with July 2022. The observer said that most of those who arrived were Lebanese expatriates who plan to spend between one and two months in the country and will begin to leave around mid-August for work or to enroll their children in schools overseas.

The airport has recorded the arrival of about 16,000 passengers and the departure of 15,000 since the start of August.

Sources said a number of music festivals have taken place in Lebanon this year, which has helped to boost reservations at hotels and guest houses, with knock-on effects for restaurants and nightclubs.

Official statistics for air travel, travel agencies and hotel bookings suggest that about a million tourists have arrived in Lebanon so far during the summer season.

Jean Abboud, head of the Association of Travel and Tourist Agents in the country, said the tourism sector does not appear to have experienced any repercussions following the warnings about the recent violence from nations in the Gulf and Europe. There have been no reports of canceled reservations, he added, and expatriates continue to arrive.

The number of arrivals at Rafic Hariri International Airport currently averages between 20,000 and 21,000 a day, Abboud said, and the number of daily flights exceeds 100. This pace is expected to continue until the end of August, he added.

The arrivals include growing numbers visitors from countries that are not traditionally big sources of tourism for Lebanon, he said, which shows the success of efforts by tourism businesses and agencies in the private sector to market Lebanon internationally and put it back on the global tourism map, particularly in Europe, which is helping to support the beleaguered national economy.

Meanwhile, Interior Minister Mawlawi said that Lebanese authorities will not tolerate any criminal activities and security operations are continuing to identify and detain those responsible for the violence in Ain Al-Hilweh camp. There was no indication that the situation had escalated or spread to other camps, he added.

“Lebanon is not a mailbox and we will not allow it to be a theater for sending messages,” he said.

The minister was speaking after presiding over a meeting of the country’s Central Security Council that included representatives of the security, military and judicial services. It was called after the warnings from all GCC embassies to their nationals.

“We appreciate the measures taken by the army to prevent the situation in Ain Al-Hilweh from breaking loose,” Mawlawi added.

He said the atmosphere had been calmed and “what is required is the absence of any armed men on Lebanese soil, and we do not implement anyone’s agendas.”

He added: “There are armed groups in the camps. The matter is in the hands of the army, which acted with precision and wisdom, and the army leadership is prudent and knows how to deal with the circumstances.”


In Lebanon, manufacturers mull stark choices to stay in business

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On a recent afternoon at the Oriental Paper Products factory just outside of Beirut, more than a dozen workers were busy on the factory floor, grateful for their jobs producing notebooks, papers, and office supplies.

But one level up, in CEO Ziad Bekdache’s office, the mood was far grimmer. Not for the first time, the industrialist found himself adjusting his employees’ salaries to compensate for yet another fall in the Lebanese pound.

The numbers shuffling pushed him more step closer to a reckoning he’s managed to put off since the country first plunged into economic crisis more than two years ago.

“We have a problem,” Bekdache told Al Jazeera. “We industrialists are rooted here in Lebanon, but when you have a noose around your neck, you can either try to struggle or decide to leave.”

Oriental Paper Products opened its factory in 1955. During the decades, it has exported products to countries across Europe, the Middle East and North Africa. But maintaining its foothold in Lebanon has become increasingly untenable.

The Lebanese pound has lost more than 90 percent of its value since October 2019. The country’s eye-watering inflation is currently among the highest in the world, even topping Venezuela and Zimbabwe’s in the latter half of this year . Three-quarters of the population live in poverty, and hundreds of thousands of families are in desperate need of aid just to keep food on the table.

Bekdache, who is also the vice president of the Association of Lebanese Industrialists, says Lebanon’s current crisis did not happen overnight but was the product of decades of poor economic planning that saw successive governments prioritise tourism and banking over manufacturers.

“This is what bankrupted the country, the government wasted public resources and neglected productive sectors,” he said. “After they bankrupted the country, they’re all of a sudden talking about promoting the productive sectors. Well, they’re 25 years late.”

Last month, Bakdache and his fellow manufacturers were dealt yet another devastating blow when a diplomatic dispute led Saudi Arabia to declare an all-out ban on products imported from Lebanon.

“Many industrialists are now looking for a plan B,” said Bekdache “They have a few options, like closing here and moving elsewhere, opening a second factory abroad to be their hub for exports, or downsizing to cut costs.”

Bekdache is especially loath to let staff go. “I have about 70 workers and employees here, most who have worked for over 20 years,” he said. “We work closely, we know about our ups and downs – can I just walk up to them and say, ‘Thank you, goodbye, and good luck?’”

Shrinking lines of credit
Prices of raw materials have spiked around the world this year thanks to supply chain snarls and shortages stemming from pandemic disruptions. But in Lebanon, the sharp depreciation of the pound and a growing scarcity of foreign exchange has only exacerbated those price pressures.

Bekdache and some of his fellow manufacturers have managed to weather that storm thanks to a 2020 financing scheme spearheaded by Lebanese expatriates called the Cedar Oxygen Fund – a private initiative that has also garnered support from Lebanon’s central bank.

But Bekdache said a longer-term solution is needed. “The Central Bank put $550m into the initiative and we’re thankful, but this is not an alternative for the future.”

With the country’s financial sector over a barrel, lines of credit firms normally depend on to fund day-to-day operations and invest in new equipment have also dried up.

“We’re now working in a cash-based economy that has both its pros and cons. We’re able to secure our primary materials, but we don’t have that extra money to invest in machinery,” Bekdache explained as he inspected the factory. “And you know, in industry, if you don’t upgrade your machinery, you might as well close for good.”

Compounding the problem – revenue from domestic customers has evaporated during the crisis.

“When local consumption shrunk, we turned to exports to generate revenue,” Bekdache said.

But most of his new business abroad centred on Saudi Arabia and Gulf countries, with the kingdom accounting for roughly half of Oriental Paper Products’ exports.

Bekdache said several shipments that were en route to Saudi Arabia are now stuck in transit and he fears his clients in the kingdom will simply turn to another supplier if trade ties are not restored soon.

He and other industrialists have estimated that exports to Saudi Arabia were to double in 2022 before the ban.

‘Dark tunnel’
There is no sign of relief on the horizon for Lebanon’s manufacturers. The diplomatic argument with Gulf states led by Saudi Arabia remains unresolved. Meanwhile, the Lebanese government under billionaire Prime Minister Najib Mikati has not met in more than two months, thanks to partisan political squabbling about the lead investigator of the Beirut Port blast.

Lebanon has yet to mount a credible financial reform blueprint that it needs to secure a bailout from the International Monetary Fund and put the economy on the road to recovery.

The recently appointed government hopes to reach a preliminary agreement with the fund by the new year. But Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh said on Tuesday that discussions about financial losses and other numbers are still ongoing and that Lebanon has not presented an economic recovery plan to the international organisation yet.

With more than two years of policy inaction, Bekdache said that Lebanon is stuck in a “dark tunnel”.

“We don’t know where this tunnel ends, and there is no light,” he said.

And in that void, he said, is a failed economy that is rife with smuggling, tax evasion, and endemic corruption, and in which manufacturers like him are now targeted by opportunists trying to profit from a broken system.

Bekdache recalled the tale of a colleague who received a call from someone at the port of Beirut offering to let him bypass $20,000 in customs and fees on the goods he had imported if he were willing to pay the person $5,000 under the table – a slippery deal Bekdache said his fellow manufacturer rejected.

“The man at the port then said, ‘You’re jackasses, and will always be jackasses,’ and simply hung up,” Bekdache said.

The episode, he said, demonstrated that persistence can only keep Lebanon’s industrialists viable for so long.