Oil mixed on tighter supply, surge in American virus cases

An employee fills up a car at a gas station in Bangkok. (AFP)
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Updated 07 July 2020

Oil mixed on tighter supply, surge in American virus cases

  • Brent found some support as investors expected a string of improving economic data

LONDON: Oil prices were mixed on Monday, with Brent crude edging higher on tighter supplies and positive economic data, while US benchmark WTI futures dropped on concern that a spike in coronavirus cases could curb fuel demand in the US.

Brent crude was up 6 cents, or 0.1 percent, at $42.86 per barrel. US West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude was down 40 cents, or 1 percent, at $40.25.

“We believe that oil market participants are focusing on the current demand trends but are still ignoring the long-term implications of the corona pandemic,” Commerzbank analyst Eugen Weinberg said.

“For now, data for several cities in affected states does not show a significant reduction in road traffic week-on-week,” analysts at ING bank said. Brent found some support as investors expected a string of improving economic data.

In China, the economy is recovering while its capital markets are attracting money, setting the scene for a healthy bull market, the official China Securities Journal said in an editorial on Monday.

Traders were also keeping an eye on US nonmanufacturing activity and retail sales for the euro zone.

German data, however, showed that the recovery from COVID-19 will be slow and painful. 

Germany’s industrial orders rebounded moderately in May and a fifth of firms in Europe’s biggest economy said in a survey published on Monday they feared insolvency.

The implied volatility for Brent crude has dropped to its lowest since prices started collapsing in March.

Production by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) has fallen to its lowest in decades.

OPEC and other producers including Russia, collectively known as OPEC+, have agreed to lower output by a record 9.7 million barrels per day (bpd) for a third month in July.


Lebanon’s $15bn blast repair bill adds to economic misery

Updated 06 August 2020

Lebanon’s $15bn blast repair bill adds to economic misery

  • Beirut port devastation brings warnings of housing crisis and billion-dollar hit to exports, imports

BEIRUT: Lebanon could face a repair bill of up to $15 billion in the aftermath of a cataclysmic chemical blast at Beirut port, according to a top government adviser.

The explosion, which was felt as far away as Cyprus, killed at least 100 people, wounded thousands and left an additional 300,000 Beirut residents homeless. 

It is thought to have been caused by nearly three tons of ammonium nitrate, a common agricultural fertilizer, that was confiscated in 2013 and improperly stored in warehouses. But after months of economic misery, the collapse of the currency and mounting civil unrest, it is being seen as the consequence of years of neglect, financial mismanagement and corruption as across the country.

Charbel Cordahi, an economist and financial adviser to the president, estimated the cost of damages from the explosion, including compensation, at around $15 billion. 

“Up to 70 percent of Lebanon’s trade channels through the port of Beirut,” he told Arab News.

“Airports and other ports in the country can facilitate only 30-40 percent of this trade, and opening the borders with Syria can facilitate another 20 percent. This means that at least $5 billion of imports will not find their way to the country, and another $2 billion of exports will stay on ground in the coming eight months. This represents a loss of around $4 billion, or 15 percent of gross domestic product,” he said.

He added that without an international aid program, “Lebanon cannot face this disaster.”

The explosion caps months of misery for the Lebanese, nearly half of whom now live below the poverty line. Popular anger directed at the government and political classes has swelled as a wider economic crisis has been made worse by the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

Efforts to assess the damage at Beirut port, the country’s main trade gateway, are already underway. The second priority will be to restore food security and ensure the country does not run out of wheat after grain silos were destroyed, while also making sure residents who have lost their homes are rehoused as quickly as possible. Maintaining medical supplies and mitigating the environmental impact will also be a priority for city chiefs.

Many residents of the city are unable to return to their homes, even if their buildings remain visibly intact, because of the potential structural damage caused by the 4.5 Richter-scale blast.

“We need other countries to help us reconstruct Beirut,” Gen. Mohammed Kheir, secretary general of the Higher Relief Council, told Arab News. “We would be grateful if each country rebuilt a street or neighborhood in Beirut, like they did following the 2006 Israeli aggression. That would be the best way.”

He also appealed for emergency prefab homes for families for whom the government may not be able to provide housing.

Beirut Gov. Marwan Abboud, who estimated the primary damage at $3-$5 billion, appealed to the international community and the Lebanese diaspora to help.

Health officials had told Arab News that the country was running low on medical equipment, especially items needed for major surgery, and hoped that aid from abroad would fill the gap.

It is still too early to assess the full environmental impact of the blast, but environmental expert Mostapha Raad said a potentially bigger catastrophe may have been averted when the wind carried away a toxic cloud filled with nitric acid away from land and toward open sea.

“We were afraid the ammonium nitrate residue would lead to cooling off the weather and causing acidic rain, but according to tests on air samples, the result was green and the cloud disappeared over the sea,” he said.