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  • Asian refiner profits hammered by free-fall in fuel oil margins

    Fri, 2019-08-23 21:37

    SINGAPORE: Asian refining margins have tumbled more than 50% since mid-July on anticipation of plummeting demand for high sulfur fuel oil (HSFO) ahead of a shift to cleaner marine fuels next year.
    Complex refining margins for a typical Singapore refinery, an Asian benchmark, had dropped to $4.31 a barrel by the close of markets on Thursday, down from $7.39 at the start of August and a near two-year high of $9.37 on July 11.
    “Refining margins have been weighed down by bearish HSFO cracks over the past two weeks, with rampant sell-off and de-stocking of HSFO ahead of IMO 2020,” said Serena Huang, senior market analyst at oil analytics firm Vortexa.
    Margins for HSFO, an industrial fuel primarily used in ship engines and power generators, have collapsed this month as the global shipping industry prepares for new International Maritime Organization (IMO) rules that start from January 2020.
    The new regulations limit the sulfur content of fuels burned in ships to 0.5%, from 3.5% currently.
    The slump in the overall Singapore refining margins marks a sharp reversal from the near two-year highs that were scaled in mid-July amid tightening fuel supplies brought on by widespread seasonal refinery maintenance.
    But now output of gasoline, diesel and other fuels is surging as the maintenance turnaround season wraps up and new refineries in China, India and Malaysia crank up, hurting the processing margins, analysts said.
    “Sluggish demand, alongside rampant refining capacity additions, have fueled rampant exports by (Chinese) refiners, and in turn dragged down prices and margins,” said Peter Lee, senior oil & gas analyst at Fitch Solutions.
    On the demand side, a protracted trade war between the world’s two largest economies, the United States and China, is denting global economic growth and the outlook for the consumption of transport fuels.
    “The overall very negative macro context of slowing growth across Europe and Asia, and even some disturbing signs in the US … are a major factor,” said Tilak Doshi, managing consultant for Muse, Stancil & Co. in Asia.
    Looking ahead, refining margins are expected to receive a boost eventually from the new IMO rules, which will force a switch from dirty fuels to cleaner, more expensive ones like low-sulfur fuel oil (LSFO) or marine gasoil.
    “An expected increase in marine gasoil and LSFO bunker fuel demand for IMO 2020 should … support refining margins,” said Vortexa’s Huang.
    Ship operators are expected to begin burning the cleaner fuels in the last quarter of 2019, boosting demand for the more expensive fuels ahead of the IMO’s Jan. 1, 2020, deadline.
    Simple refiners processing heavy crudes will face headwinds as a result of the collapse of HSFO margins, while complex refiners capable of producing lighter, low-sulfur fuels will see a boost in margins as the fourth quarter approaches, said Sri Paravaikkarasu, director at Singapore-based consultancy FGE.
    Still, continued increases in refined fuel output from markets such as China and India might limit overall upside potential for the margins, analysts said.

    Main category: 

    Aramco US refining unit moves into Texas chemicals businessAsia’s refining profits slump as Mideast exports surge

    Posted: by Arab News

  • Climate change turns Arctic into strategic, economic hotspot

    Fri, 2019-08-23 21:16

    TASIILAQ, Greenland: From a helicopter, Greenland’s brilliant white ice and dark mountains make the desolation seem to go on forever. And the few people who live here — its whole population wouldn’t fill a football stadium — are poor, with a high rate of substance abuse and suicide.
    One scientist called it the “end of the planet.”
    When US President Donald Trump floated the idea of buying Greenland, it was met with derision, seen as an awkward and inappropriate approach of an erstwhile ally.
    But it might also be an Aladdin’s Cave of oil, natural gas and rare earth minerals just waiting to be tapped as the ice recedes.
    The northern island and the rest of the Arctic aren’t just hotter due to global warming. As melting ice opens shipping lanes and reveals incredible riches, the region is seen as a new geopolitical and economic asset, with the US, Russia, China and others wanting in.
    “An independent Greenland could, for example, offer basing rights to either Russia or China or both,” said Fen Hampson, the former head of the international security program at the Center for International Governance Innovation think tank in Waterloo, Ontario, who is now a professor at Carleton University.
    He noted the desire by some there to secede as a semi-autonomous territory of Denmark.
    “I am not saying this would happen, but it is a scenario that would have major geostrategic implications, especially if the Northwest Passage becomes a transit route for shipping, which is what is happening in the Russian Arctic.”
    In April, Russian President Vladimir Putin put forward an ambitious program to reaffirm his country’s presence in the Arctic, including efforts to build ports and other infrastructure and expand its icebreaker fleet. Russia wants to stake its claim in the region that is believed to hold up to one-fourth of the Earth’s undiscovered oil and gas.
    China sees Greenland as a possible source of rare earths and other minerals and a port for shipping through the Arctic to the eastern US It called last year for joint development of a “Polar Silk Road” as part of Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative to build railways, ports and other facilities in dozens of countries.
    But while global warming pushes the cold and ice farther north each year, experts caution that the race to the Arctic is an incredibly challenging marathon, not a sprint.
    The melting of the Greenland ice sheet creates uncertainty and danger for offshore oil and gas developers, threatening rigs and ships.
    “All that ice doesn’t suddenly melt; it creates icebergs that you have to navigate around,” said Victoria Herrmann, managing director of the Arctic Institute, a nonprofit focused on Arctic security.
    On the other hand, while mining in Greenland has been expensive due to the environment, development costs have fallen as the ice has melted, making it more attractive to potential buyers, she said.
    Strategically, Greenland forms part of what the US views as a key corridor for naval operations between the Arctic and the North Atlantic. It is also part of the broader Arctic region, considered strategically important because of its proximity to the US and economically vital for its natural resources.
    Hampson noted it was an American protectorate during World War II, when Nazi Germany occupied Denmark, and the US was allowed to build radar stations and rent-free bases on its territory after the war. That includes today’s Thule Air Force Base, 1,200 kilometers (745 miles) south of the North Pole.
    After the war, the US proposed buying Greenland for $100 million after flirting with the idea of swapping land in Alaska for parts of the Arctic island. The US also thought about buying Greenland 80 years earlier.
    Trump “may not be as crazy as he sounds despite his ham-fisted offer, which clearly upset the Danes, and rightly so,” Hampson said.
    Greenland is part of the Danish realm along with the Faeroe Islands, another semi-autonomous territory, and has its own government and parliament. Greenland’s 56,000 residents got extensive home rule in 1979 but Denmark still handles foreign and defense policies, with an annual subsidy of $670 million.
    Its indigenous people are not wealthy, and vehicles, restaurants, stores and basic services are few.
    Trump said Sunday he’s interested in Greenland “strategically,” but its purchase is “not No. 1 on the burner.”
    Although Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen called Trump’s idea to purchase Greenland an “absurd discussion,” prompting him to call her “nasty” and cancel an upcoming visit to Copenhagen, she also acknowledged its importance to both nations.
    “The developments in the Arctic region calls for further cooperation between the US and Greenland, the Faeroe Islands and Denmark,” she said. “Therefore I would like to underline our invitation for a stronger cooperation on Arctic affairs still stands.”
    Greenland is thought to have the largest deposits outside China of rare earth minerals used to make batteries and cellphones.
    Such minerals were deemed critical to economic and national security by the US Interior Department last year, and as demand rises “deposits outside of China will be sought to serve as a counterbalance to any market control that could be exerted by a single large producer,” said Kenneth Medlock, senior director at the Center for Energy Studies at Rice University.
    Off Greenland’s shores, the US Geological Survey estimates there could be 17.5 billion undiscovered barrels of oil and 148 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, though the remote location and harsh weather have limited exploration. Around the Arctic Circle, there’s potential for 90 billion barrels of oil.
    Only 14 offshore wells were drilled in the past 40 years, according to S&P Global Analytics. So far, no oil in exploitable quantities has been found.
    “It’s very speculative, but in theory they could have a lot of oil,” said Michael Lynch, president of Strategic Energy & Economic Research Inc. “It’s perceived as being the new Alaska, where the old Alaska was thought to be worthless and turned out to have huge reserves. And it’s one of the few places on Earth that’s lightly populated, and it’s close to the US“
    Michael Byers, an Arctic expert at the University of British Columbia, suggests there are better approaches for Washington than the politically awkward suggestion of purchasing Greenland.
    “There’s no security concern that would be dealt with better if Greenland became a part of the United States. It’s part of the NATO alliance,” he said. “As for resources, Greenland is open to foreign investment. Arctic resources are expensive and that is why there is not more activity taking place. That’s the barrier. It’s not about Greenland restricting access.”
    That’s been the approach taken by China, which has had mixed success. Greenland officials have visited China to look for investors but Beijing’s interest also has provoked political unease.
    In 2016, Denmark reversed plans to sell Groennedal, a former US naval base that the Danish military had used as its command center for Greenland after a Hong Kong company, General Nice Group, emerged as a bidder, according to, a Danish news outlet.
    Last year, then-US Defense Secretary James Mattis successfully pressured Denmark not to let China bankroll three commercial airports on Greenland, over fears they could give Beijing a military foothold near Canada, The Wall Street Journal reported.
    Beijing’s biggest Greenland-related investment to date is an ownership stake by a Chinese company in Australia-based Greenland Minerals Ltd., which plans to mine rare earths and uranium.
    “People talk about China, but China can access Arctic resources through foreign investment,” Byers said. “And foreign investment is a lot cheaper than trying to conquer something.”

    Main category: 

    Greenland isn’t for sale, but it is increasingly valuableTrump wants US to buy Greenland

    Posted: by Arab News

  • Egypt’s creative solutions to the plastic menace

    Sat, 2019-08-24 00:26

    CAIRO: Global plastics production reached 348 million tons in 2017, rising from 335 million tons in 2016, according to Plastics Europe. 

    Critically, most plastic waste is not properly managed: Around 55 percent of it was landfilled or discarded in 2015. These numbers are extremely concerning because plastic products take anything from 450 to 1,000 years to decompose, and the effects on the environment, especially on marine and human life, are catastrophic.

    While initiatives around the world are taking action to combat this problem, some Egyptian projects are doing it more creatively.

    “We’re the first website in the Middle East and North Africa that trades waste,” said Alaa Afifi, founder and CEO of Bekia. “People can get rid of any waste at their disposal — plastic, paper and cooking oil — and exchange it for over 65 products on our website.”

    Products for trading include rice, tea, pasta, cooking oil, subway tickets and school supplies.

    Bekia was launched in Cairo in 2017. Initially, the business model did not prove successful.

    “We used to rent a car and go to certain locations every 40 days to collect waste from people,” Afifi, 26, explained. “We then created a website and started encouraging people to use it.”

    After the website was launched, people could wait at home for someone to collect the waste. “Instead of 40 days, we now could visit people within a week.”

    To use Bekia’s services, people need to log onto the website and specify what they want to discard. They are assigned points based on the waste they are offering, and these points can be used in one of three ways: Donated to people in need, saved for later, or exchanged for products. As for the collected waste, it is given to specialized recycling companies for processing.

    “We want to have 50,000 customers over the next two years who regularly use our service to get rid of their waste,” Afifi said.  

    Trying to spread environmental awareness has not been easy. “We had a lot of trouble with initial investment at first, and we got through with an investment that was far from enough. The second problem we faced was spreading this culture among people — in the first couple of months, we received no orders,” Afifi said.

    The team soldiered on and slowly built a client base, currently serving 7,000 customers. In terms of what lies ahead for Bekia, he said: “We’re expanding from 22 to 30 areas in Cairo this year. We’re launching an app very soon and a new website with better features.”

    Go Clean, another Egyptian recycling startup dedicated to raising environmental awareness, works under the patronage of the Ministry of Environment. “We started in 2017 by recycling waste from factories, and then by February 2019 we started expanding,” said founder and CEO Mohammed Hamdy, 30.

    The Cairo-based company collects recyclables from virtually all places, including households, schools, universities, restaurants, cafes, companies and embassies. The customers separate the items into categories and then fill out a registration form. Alternatively, they can make contact through WhatsApp or Facebook. A driver is then dispatched to collect the waste, carrying a scale to weigh it. 

    “The client can be paid in cash for the weight of their recyclables, or they can make a donation to a special needs school in Cairo,” Hamdy explained. There is also the option of trading the waste for dishwashing soap, with more household products to be added in the future.

    Trying to cover a country with 100 million people was never going to be easy, and Go Clean faced some logistical problems. It overcame them by hiring more drivers and getting more trucks. There was another challenge along the way: “We had to figure out a way to train the drivers, from showing them how to use GPS and deal with clients,” said Hamdy.

    “We want to spread awareness about the environment everywhere. We go to schools, universities, companies and even factories to give sessions about the importance of recycling and how dangerous plastic is. We’re currently covering 20 locations across Cairo and all of Alexandria. We want to cover all of Egypt in the future,” he added.

    With a new app on the way, Hamdy said things are looking positive for the social startup, and people are becoming invested in the initiative. “We started out with seven orders per day, and now we get over 100.”

    Main category: 

    Canada to announce ban on single-use plasticsEgyptian Red Sea province to ban single use plastics

    Posted: by Arab News

  • Japanese utilities start selling uranium fuel into depressed market

    Fri, 2019-08-23 21:18

    TOKYO: Japan’s nuclear operators are starting to sell some of their huge holdings of uranium fuel, as chances fade of restarting many more reactors eight years after the Fukushima nuclear disaster.
    The sales so far have been small, but were made at values well below their purchase price and are likely to further depress the already beaten-down uranium market, say two senior market specialists.
    They could also focus attention on the balance sheets of the country’s utilities, bolstered by holdings of nuclear fuel valued at 2.5 trillion yen ($24 billion), a figure that market experts say is highly unrealistic.
    “Given the extended shutdown of our reactors, we are selling uranium as well as canceling long-term contracts where necessary,” Japan Atomic told Reuters in a statement.
    The company, which is yet to receive all the regulatory approvals needed to restart reactors at either of its two nuclear stations, declined to provide further details.
    Before the meltdowns at Tokyo Electric Power’s Fukushima plant in March 2011 after an earthquake and tsunami, Japan was the world’s third-biggest user of nuclear power behind the United States and France, operating 54 nuclear reactors.
    It is permanently shutting 40% of its facilities and just nine of the 33 remaining have restarted. With reactors also being closed in the United States, Germany, Belgium and other countries, traders and specialists say the market is likely to remain depressed for years.
    Unlike other commodities such as crude oil, most of the nuclear fuel market is privately traded, generally on long-term contracts, although CME Group’s NYMEX has a futures contract for uranium oxide (U308).
    The contract is settled on prices supplied by US-based UxC LLC and is currently trading at about a third of where it was before Fukushima. US based UxC, LLC also calculates prices for converted and enriched uranium.
    Sales by Japanese utilities “are definitely showing up more in the market,” said one US-based market specialist, who requested anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the industry.
    “Some are selling uranium, some are selling more upstream products or services,” such as enriched uranium, he said. “Japanese inventory is a big overhang in the market.”
    A senior fuel trader told Reuters his company had purchased nuclear fuel from a Japanese utility but declined to give details.
    Japan Atomic was responding to a Reuters survey of 10 Japanese utilities that have operated nuclear plants. All the other utilities declined to comment on whether they had sold any nuclear fuel.
    One said it adjusts supplies for optimal inventory levels and three said they have delayed deliveries of fuel.
    Tepco in 2017 canceled a supply contract with Canadian uranium fuel producer Cameco, which was awarded $40.3 million in damages last month by an arbitration panel.
    “Tepco has made efforts to reduce its holdings of nuclear fuel, such as by partly reducing uranium purchase contracts,” the company told Reuters, without giving further details.
    Unlike in Europe and the United States, Japanese utilities are not required to mark to market their fuel holdings. They are booked on Japanese operators’ balance sheets as fixed assets at the purchase price, the utilities told Reuters.
    “If the utilities are not going to use the fuel, and it is unlikely they will get many more reactors going, then at some point they will have to take losses on their holdings,” said Tom O’Sullivan, the founder of energy consultancy Mathyos Japan.
    Company accounts for the financial year ended in March showed that nuclear fuel valuations ranged from nearly two times market capitalization in the case of Hokkaido Electric Power to 16 percent for Chubu Electric Power.
    Sector-wide the nuclear fuel valuation is nearly 50 percent of the market value of the nine publicly traded utilities, calculations by Reuters showed.
    Japanese utilities also count spent fuel that is being reprocessed into highly toxic plutonium for future use in reactors as an asset on their balance sheets.
    The country has the world’s biggest inventory of plutonium held by a state without nuclear weapons, but experts say it may be more of a liability than an asset.
    “That is not something they can sell and get paid for,” said Tomas Kaberger, energy and environment professor at Chalmers University of Technology and a board member of Swedish nuclear operator Vattenfall.
    “It is something they will have to spend a lot of money on to build a repository for that can last a few hundred thousand years,” Kaberger said.

    Main category: 

    Advanced nuclear reactors hold promise of clean energy for Gulf countriesHow Saudi Arabia’s nuclear power will play a role against climate change

    Posted: by Arab News

  • Powell: No clear hint on rates but says Fed will aid economy

    Fri, 2019-08-23 21:45

    WASHINGTON: Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell sent no clear signal Friday that the Fed will further cut interest rates this year but said it would “act as appropriate” to sustain the expansion — phrasing that analysts see as suggesting rate cuts.
    Powell said President Donald Trump’s trade wars have complicated the Fed’s ability to set interest rates and have contributed to a global economic slowdown.
    Speaking to a gathering of central bankers in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, Powell didn’t give financial markets explicit guidance on whether or how many rate cuts might be coming the rest of the year. The Fed cut rates last month for the first time in a decade, and financial markets have baked in the likelihood of more rate cuts this year.
    The outlook for the US economy, Powell said, remains favorable but continues to face risks. He pointed to increasing evidence of a global economic slowdown and suggested that uncertainty from Trump’s trade wars has contributed to it.
    Reacting to the speech Friday, Trump, who has relentlessly attacked Powell and the Fed over its rate policies, kept up his verbal assaults on Twitter:
    “As usual, the Fed did NOTHING!” Trump tweeted. “It is incredible that they can ‘speak’without knowing or asking what I am doing, which will be announced shortly. We have a very strong dollar and a very weak Fed. I will work “brilliantly” with both, and the US will do great.”
    Trump added:
    “My only question is, who is our bigger enemy, Jay Powel (sic) or Chairman Xi?“
    Powell’s speech comes against the backdrop of a vulnerable economy, with the financial world seeking clarity on whether last month’s rate decision likely marked the start of a period of easier credit.
    The confusion only heightened in the days leading to the Jackson Hole conference, at which Powell gave the keynote address. Minutes of the Fed’s July meeting released Wednesday showed that although officials voted 8-2 to cut their benchmark rate by a quarter-point, there was a wider divergence of opinion on the committee than the two dissenting votes against the rate cut had indicated.
    The minutes showed that two Fed officials favored a more aggressive half-point rate cut, while some others adopted the polar opposite view: They felt the Fed shouldn’t cut rates at all.
    The minutes depicted the rate cut as a “mid-cycle adjustment,” the phrase Powell had used at his news conference after the rate cut. That wording upset traders who interpreted the remark as suggesting that the Fed might not be preparing for a series of rate cuts to support an economy that’s struggling with a global slowdown and escalating uncertainty from President Donald Trump’s trade war with China.
    There was even a difference of opinion among the Fed members who favored a rate cut, the minutes showed, with some concerned most about subpar inflation and others worried more about the threats to economic growth.
    Comments Thursday from Fed officials gathering in Jackson Hole reflected the committee’s sharp divisions, including some reluctance to cut rates at least until the economic picture changes.
    “I think we should stay here for a while and see how things play out,” said Patrick Harker, the president of the Fed’s Philadelphia regional bank.
    Esther George, president of the Fed’s Kansas City regional bank and one of the dissenting votes in July, said, “While I see downside risk, I wasn’t ready to act on that relative to the performance of the economy.”
    George said she saw some areas of strength, including very low unemployment and inflation now closer to the Fed’s target level. She said her decision on a possible future rate cut would depend on forthcoming data releases.
    Robert Kaplan, president of the Fed’s Dallas branch indicated that he might be prepared to support further rate cuts.
    If “we are seeing some weakness in manufacturing and global growth, then it may be good to take some action,” Kaplan said.
    George was interviewed on Fox Business Network; Harker and Kaplan spoke on CNBC.
    The CME Group, which tracks investor bets on central bank policy, is projecting the likelihood that the Fed will cut rates at least twice more before year’s end.
    Adding to the pressures on the Fed, Trump has kept up his attacks on the central bank and on Powell personally, arguing that Fed officials have kept rates too high and should be cutting them aggressively.
    Trump has argued that a full percentage-point rate reduction in coming months would be appropriate — a suggestion that most economists consider extravagantly excessive as well as an improper intrusion on the Fed’s political independence.
    The president contends that lower rates in other countries have caused the dollar to rise in value and thereby hurt US export sales.
    “Our Federal Reserve does not allow us to do what we must do,” Trump tweeted Thursday. “They put us at a disadvantage against our competition.”
    Earlier in the week, he had told reporters, “If the Fed would do its job, you would see a burst of growth like you have never seen before.”
    Powell has insisted that the White House criticism has had no effect on the Fed’s deliberations over interest rate policy.

    Main category: 

    Wall Street slips after Jerome Powell sees strengthening economy, rising inflationWhy global markets are so focused on the Fed

    Posted: by Arab News

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