China oil demand helps Saudi Arabia challenge Russia’s export crown

Fresh demand from new Chinese refineries could boost the country’s Saudi oil imports, nudging the OPEC giant back to the top spot as China’s biggest supplier. (AFP)
Updated 30 November 2018

China oil demand helps Saudi Arabia challenge Russia’s export crown

  • Demand stirred up by new Chinese refiners pushing the Kingdom back into contention with Russia as top supplier to the world’s largest oil buyer
  • Saudi Aramco to sign five crude supply agreements that will take its 2019 contract totals with Chinese buyers to 1.67 million bpd.

SINGAPORE: Saudi Arabia is set to expand its market share in China this year for the first time since 2012, with demand stirred up by new Chinese refiners pushing the Kingdom back into contention with Russia as top supplier to the world’s largest oil buyer.
Saudi Arabia, the biggest global oil exporter, has been surpassed by Russia as top crude supplier to China in the past two years as private “teapot” refiners and a new pipeline drove up demand for Russian oil.
Now fresh demand from new refineries starting up in 2019 could increase China’s Saudi oil imports by between 300,000 barrels per day (bpd) and 700,000 bpd, nudging the OPEC kingpin back toward the top, analysts say.
Saudi Aramco said last week it will sign five crude supply agreements that will take its 2019 contract totals with Chinese buyers to 1.67 million bpd.
“With the recent crude oil supply agreements and potential increase of refinery capacity, the Saudis could overtake the Russians and reclaim (the) crown as the biggest crude exporter to China,” Rystad Energy analyst Paola Rodriguez-Masiu said.
Saudi Arabia has already gained ground this year. China imported 1.04 million bpd of Saudi crude in the first 10 months of 2018, China customs data showed. This is equivalent to 11.5 percent of total Chinese imports, up from 11 percent in 2017, Reuters calculations showed.
Saudi Arabia’s market share in China could jump to nearly 17 percent next year, if buyers requested full contractual volumes, analysts from Rystad Energy and Refinitiv said, while growth in Russian supply to China could slow.
China imported 1.39 million bpd of Russian crude in January-October this year, about 15 percent of total Chinese imports, customs data showed. Russia had a 14 percent share at 1.2 million bpd in 2017.
“We expect Chinese imports of Russian crude to remain at a similar rate in 2019 as a large share of these Russian barrels are imported via pipeline,” Refinitiv analyst Mark Tay said.
The biggest boost to Saudi exports to China comes from contracts inked with new refineries starting up this year and next, owned by companies other than state oil giants Sinopec or PetroChina.
The contracts include 130,000 bpd to Dalian Hengli Petrochemical and up to 170,000 bpd to Zhejiang Petrochemical Corp, each of which has a 400,000-bpd refinery.
Saudi Aramco has also agreed to increase Sinochem Corp’s supplies, which will be processed at its Quanzhou and Hongrun refineries. Sinopec, PetroChina and China National Offshore Oil Corp. have all kept their term Saudi volumes for next year unchanged.
Beijing-based consultancy SIA Energy expects Saudi crude imports to rise by 300,000 bpd in 2019, raising its market share
to 13.7 percent, but leaving it behind Russia.
“We expect lower Saudi crude demand from Hengli and Rongsheng as it is unlikely for them to run their refineries at full rate in 2019,” analyst Seng Yick Tee said.
A source familiar with Aramco’s export plans said there is tremendous appetite from China’s independents, and that it needed to be more aggressive in its marketing strategy.
The state oil company did move more swiftly to seal the most recent deals than it used to in the past, industry sources said.
Aramco’s first deal with Hengli was to supply 20 million barrels of crude, about 55,000 bpd, in 2018, said a senior source. “Hengli executed the 2018 deal nicely, which helped build trust,” he said.
Hengli is designed to process 90 percent Saudi crude, a mix of Arab Medium and Arab Heavy, while the remaining 10 percent is Brazilian Marlim crude. Rongsheng’s plant is identical to Hengli, the industry sources said.
The sources spoke on condition of anonymity.
Aramco is also supplying PetroChina’s refinery in China’s southwestern Yunnan province with about 4 million barrels a month of crude via a pipeline from Myanmar between July and November, Eikon data showed, although sources said talks for Saudi Arabia to acquire a stake in the refinery have stalled.
Saudi Aramco CEO Amin Nasser said on Monday the company will push to expand its market share in China and is still looking for new refining deals there despite OPEC’s likely limits on output next year.
Saudi Aramco will supply up to 70 percent of the oil required at its 300,000-bpd joint venture refinery in Malaysia with Petronas. Between China and Malaysia alone, Saudi Arabia will have to increase exports to
Asia by more than 500,000 bpd next year.
This comes as OPEC is discussing production cuts of as much as
1.4 million bpd for next year to prop up oil prices.
Between balancing global supplies and increasing market in Asia, Aramco may decide to “forgo market share in other markets like the US, where the surge in domestic production will make it difficult for the Saudis to retain market share anyway,” Rystad’s Rodriguez-Masiu said.
Saudi’s oil shipments to the US have risen recently to above
1 million bpd, but US output is also increasing, said the source familiar with Saudi Aramco’s export plans.


Tencent ordered to end exclusive music contracts

Updated 48 min 32 sec ago

Tencent ordered to end exclusive music contracts

  • Chinese regulators step up enforcement of anti-monopoly laws

BEIJING: Internet giant Tencent was ordered by regulators to end exclusive contracts with music copyright holders, adding to increased enforcement of anti-monopoly and other rules as Beijing tightens control over online industries.

Tencent controls more than 80 percent of “exclusive music library resources” following its 2016 acquisition of China Music Group, the State Administration for Market Regulation said on Saturday. It said that gives Tencent the ability to get better terms than competitors receive or to limit the ability of rivals to enter the market.

Tencent Holdings Ltd., best known abroad for its WeChat messaging service, has a sprawling business empire that includes games, music and video. It is among the world’s 10 most valuable publicly traded companies, with a stock market value of $680 billion.

In order to “restore market competition,” Tencent must end exclusive music copyright contracts within 30 days, the market regulator said in a statement. The company is barred from requiring providers to give better terms than competitors receive.

Tencent promised on its social media account to “conscientiously abide by the decision.”

Regulators are stepping up enforcement of anti-monopoly, data security, financial and other rules against Tencent, e-commerce giant Alibaba Group and other companies that dominate entertainment, retail and other industries.

The enforcement has hurt the stock market value of some companies. Shares in ride-hailing service Didi Global Inc., which made its US stock market debut last month, are down 21 percent after regulators announced a probe of its “network security” and ordered the company to overhaul handling of customer data.

Regulators have publicly warned major companies not to use their market dominance to keep out new competitors.

Tencent was blocked by regulators on July 10 from combining its game platforms Douyu and Huya on the grounds that might reduce competition.

On Wednesday, the Chinese internet regulator reprimanded Tencent, Alibaba, microblog platform Sina Weibo and e-commerce service Xiaohongshu for allowing sexually suggestive stickers or short videos of children to be distributed on their services.


Stronger, faster recovery forecast for global insurance sector

Updated 52 min 47 sec ago

Stronger, faster recovery forecast for global insurance sector

  • Global commercial insurance prices rose 18 percent in the first quarter of 2021 from a year earlier

NEW YORK: The global insurance industry is poised to recover more quickly and forcefully from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic than it did after the 2008 financial crisis, despite such obstacles as low interest rates and inflation risk, insurer Swiss Re AG’s chief Americas economist said on Friday.

Unlike the prior crisis, the pandemic did not weaken insurers' overall capitalization or financial strength, which allows companies to write new coverage and increase revenue, economist Thomas Holzheu told Reuters.

Writing new policies was more difficult in 2009 and 2010 when insurers were reeling from capital losses, slow economic growth and depleted incomes of companies and individuals.

In contrast, businesses and individuals now have more money from government stimulus and support programs, and are more conscious of the need to buy protection against risks, he added.

“We see a much stronger, more resilient demand for insurance — last year, this year, and we expect for the next few years — compared with the financial crisis, when the industry was a part of the financial markets issues,” he said.

Swiss Re’s view aligns with other bullish signs. Global commercial insurance prices, for example, rose 18 percent in the first quarter of 2021 from a year earlier, on average, insurance broker Marsh McLennan Cos Inc. said in May. Rates have risen since late 2017.

Swiss Re said it expects annual growth for all premiums, not just commercial, to reach 3.3 percent this year and 3.9 percent in 2022, after falling just 1.3 percent last year. That compares with a 3.7 percent decline in 2008, during the financial crisis, and a slower rebound of 0.5 percent and 2.1 percent in 2009 and 2010, respectively.

Sector bellwether Travelers Companies Inc. on Tuesday beat second-quarter Wall Street estimates by more than $1 a share.

Other large US insurers are due to report results over the next two weeks.


G20 split on climate goals as China, India push back on coal phaseout

Updated 24 July 2021

G20 split on climate goals as China, India push back on coal phaseout

  • Coal phaseout 2025 deadline too soon for some nations
  • Some wanted more aggressive global warming target than Paris 2015

NAPLES: Energy and environment ministers from the Group of 20 rich nations have failed to agree on the wording of key climate change commitments in their final communique after China and India refused to give way on two key points.

One of these was phasing out coal power, which most countries wanted to achieve by 2025 but some said would be impossible for them.

The other concerned the wording surrounding a 1.5-2 degree Celsius limit on global temperature increases that was set by the 2015 Paris Agreement.

Average global temperatures have already risen by more than 1 degree compared to the pre-industrial baseline used by scientists and are on track to exceed the 1.5-2 degree ceiling.

“Some countries wanted to go faster than what was agreed in Paris and to aim to cap temperatures at 1.5 degrees within a decade, but others, with more carbon-based economies, said let’s just stick to what was agreed in Paris,” said Italy’s Ecological Transition Minister Roberto Cingolani.

The G20 meeting was seen as a decisive step ahead of United Nations climate talks, known as COP 26, which take place in 100 days’ time in Glasgow in November.

Italy holds the rotating presidency of the G20, and Cingolani, as chairman of the two-day gathering, said negotiations with China, Russia and India had proved especially tough.

The G20 nations, which includes Saudi Arabia, collectively account for some 80 percent of the world’s gross domestic product and some 60 percent of the planet’s population.

At the Naples talks, the United States, the European Union, Japan and Canada made clear they “firmly intend to go faster than the Paris agreement by the (end of) the decade, and below 1.5 degrees,” Cingolani said.

Cingolani said the G20 had made no new financial commitments, but added that Italy would increase its own climate financing for underdeveloped countries.

The urgency of climate action has been brought home this month by deadly floods in Europe, fires in the United States and sweltering temperatures in Siberia, but countries remain at odds over how to pay for costly policies to reduce global warming.

Despite the two points of disagreement, Cingolani said the G20 had put together a 58-point communique and that all the countries agreed that decarbonization was a necessary goal.

All G20 members agreed to at least meet the Paris goals.

US President Joe Biden’s climate envoy, John Kerry, participated in the Naples talks. Earlier in the week, Kerry called on China to join the United States in urgently cutting greenhouse gases.

The majority of the countries at the conference also backed a goal of moving faster to reduce the use of coal, the Italian minister said, without naming all of the nations.

But during the talks, China, as well as Russia and India, were “more prudent” in embracing more ambitious goals, Cingolani said.

“For those countries, it means putting into question an economic model,” he said.

Exactly what commitment nations, including those which heavily pollute, are willing to make toward fighting climate change will be also on display at UN climate conference taking place in Scotland in November.

The national leaders of the G20 countries will have the opportunity to thrash out the sticking points that emerged in Naples when they meet in Rome at the end of October.


Food commodities in Egypt ‘will not be affected by increase in fuel prices’

Updated 24 July 2021

Food commodities in Egypt ‘will not be affected by increase in fuel prices’

  • Head of Consumer Protection Authority warns that its inspectors would deal with those who raised any prices

CAIRO: The president of the Cairo Chamber of Commerce, Ibrahim Al-Arabi, said on Saturday that the increase in fuel prices will not affect the price of bread and other food commodities, nor the flow of goods.
Al-Arabi said the decision of the Fuel Automatic Pricing Committee, which is concerned with following up and implementing the mechanisms of applying automatic pricing for petroleum products every quarter, recommended adjusting the selling price of the three types of gasoline products, starting Friday morning, raising prices by 25 piasters ($0.016), with the price of a liter of 80 octane gasoline rising to 6.75 Egyptian pounds ($0.43). The price of 92 octane gasoline is now 8 pounds per liter and high-quality 95 octane gasoline is 9 pounds.
The committee’s decision was based on the extreme fluctuation in global prices, mainly because of the economic effects of the coronavirus disease pandemic and production cuts.
Ayman Hossam El-Din, head of the Consumer Protection Authority, warned that its inspectors would deal with those who raised any prices, whether for foodstuffs or transportation costs.


Lebanon signs deal to sell Iraqi fuel in move to ease crisis

Updated 24 July 2021

Lebanon signs deal to sell Iraqi fuel in move to ease crisis

  • The swap is valued at between $300-400 million
  • Lebanon to offer Iraq unspecified services in exchange

BEIRUT: Lebanon signed a deal Saturday to broker Iraqi fuel sales in hopes of alleviating a crippling financial and energy crisis in the small Mediterranean country, Lebanese and Iraqi media reported.
The deal allows Beirut to resell 1 million tons of heavy fuel oil from Iraq — fuel that Lebanon cannot use in its own power plants — to companies who would then provide useable fuel to Lebanon over the next year.
Lebanon would offer Iraq services in exchange, Energy Minister Raymond GHajjar said, without offering details. Local media said Iraq would benefit from Lebanese health services and agriculture consultancy.
The swap, which GHajjar estimates is valued at between $300-400 million, could offer a brief respite to Lebanon’s worsening power cuts and bring funds to its cash-strapped government. But a structural power solution, in a sector steeped in corruption and political interference, is far from sight.
Blackouts have been a fixture in Lebanon since the end of its 15-year civil war in 1990, and the small country relies on imported fuel. But the problem has intensified as the government grapples with unprecedented financial problems, and considers lifting fuel subsidies.
“The Iraqi state agreed to open an account in Lebanon’s Central Bank in exchange for this fuel. This account is managed by the Iraqi Finance Ministry through which it buys services inside Lebanon... in Lebanese pounds,” GHajjar said. Then Lebanon resells the fuel in exchange for fuel it can use in its plants.
“We hope other Arab countries follow suit and give us this opportunity because it is really a golden opportunity for us,” GHajjar said at Beirut International Airport upon his return from Baghdad.
A statement from Iraq’s Prime Minister’s office said the 1 million barrels of fuel oil would be offered to Lebanon in exchange for services and products, although neither side immediately mentioned what these were.
Lebanon’s state electricity company has most recently been providing no more than four hours of power a day, leaving private generator operators as the main providers. Diesel supplies have dwindled, and long queues stretch outside gas stations each day.
Government officials have also complained of widespread smuggling to neighboring Syria, which is also facing an economic crisis following a decade of war.
Lebanon defaulted on its foreign debt last year and struggled to pay suppliers. The Central Bank has been limiting credit to purchases of basic supplies, including fuel and medicine.
The energy crisis has reached unprecedented levels in Lebanon. Generator operators warned Friday they would have to turn off their engines as diesel shortages have worsened and prices on the black market have reached exorbitant levels.
Hospitals are rationing their consumption, shutting off air conditioning in waiting areas, while bakeries in some parts of Lebanon have stopped their ovens altogether. Supermarkets have warned that the power shortages threaten their merchandise and endanger food safety.
The UN children’s agency, UNICEF, has warned that most water pumping will gradually cease across the country in the next four to six weeks, putting more than four million people, including one million refugees, in immediate risk of losing access to safe water.