Oil prices touch fresh 11-month highs after fall in US crude stockpiles

The drop in US crude stocks is a typical year-end occurrence as energy companies take oil out of storage to avoid tax bills. (AFP file photo)
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Updated 08 January 2021

Oil prices touch fresh 11-month highs after fall in US crude stockpiles

  • Oil prices have been supported this week by a pledge by Saudi Arabia to cut output

LONDON: Oil prices were steady on Thursday after hitting fresh 11-month highs on a fall in US stockpiles and in the wake of a pledge by Saudi Arabia to cut output by more than expected.

Brent crude was up 5 cents to $54.35 a barrel at London afternoon trade after touching $54.90, a fresh high not seen since before the first COVID-19 lockdowns in the West.

US West Texas Intermediate (WTI) was up 26 cents, or 0.5 percent to $50.89 after touching $51.28.

Wednesday’s storming of the US Capitol by supporters of US President Donald Trump appeared to have little impact, while a slight rise in global equities suggested investors believed President-elect Joe Biden would be empowered to spend more freely.

Oil prices have been supported this week by a pledge by Saudi Arabia to cut output by an additional 1 million barrels per day (bpd) in February and March.

“Saudi Arabia ... intimately knows the relationship between the oil price and the global inventory levels. Lower inventories equal higher prices,” SEB chief commodity analyst Bjarne Schieldrop said.

BACKGROUND

$63 - UBS expects Brent to trade at $63 per barrel in the second half of 2021 and WTI to trade at a $3 per barrel discount to Brent prices.

“The strategy of course only works if the OPEC+ (group of oil producers) stays disciplined,” he added. UBS analysts raised their forecast for Brent to $60 per barrel by mid-year, citing the Saudi output decision.

“The Kingdom’s preemptive move suggests to us a desire to defend prices and support the oil market amid demand concerns due to extended mobility restrictions in Europe,” they said.

US crude stocks fell and fuel inventories rose, the Energy Information Administration said on Wednesday.

Crude inventories were down by 8 million barrels in the week to Jan. 1 to 485.5 million barrels, against a Reuters poll showing analysts expected a 2.1 million barrel fall.

The drop in crude stocks is a typical year-end occurrence as energy companies take oil out of storage to avoid tax bills.

UBS raised its Brent forecast amid expectations of a sharp recovery in demand in the second quarter on vaccine rollouts and increased travel.

With Saudi Arabia’s move, OPEC’s production increase of 0.5 million barrels per day (bpd) for January is reversed in full, which will result in a tighter oil market in the first half of the year, analysts at the Swiss bank wrote in a note.

The bank expects Brent to trade at $63 per barrel in the second half of 2021 and WTI to trade at a $3 per barrel discount to Brent prices.


Diverse Eid celebrations return to Saudi Arabia

Updated 13 May 2021

Diverse Eid celebrations return to Saudi Arabia

  • After a month of fasting and performing religious rituals, many gearing up for breakfast feasts with close family

KHAFJI, JEDDAH, MAKKAH: Last year’s Eid was limited to small celebrations at home due to the 24-hour curfew imposed across the Kingdom during the five-day holiday to tackle the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

However, the situation has transformed this year, as people are more reassured and eager to celebrate the occasion with their families.

After a month of fasting and performing religious rituals, many are gearing up for Eid with morning prayers with their neighbors and breakfast feasts with close family.

The Hijazi feast, for example, is always full of traditional sweet and savory dishes such as the ta’ateemah, dibyaza, harees, ma’asoup, and fatoot bread.

All of these dishes are well known in the Hijaz region, where they are commonly prepared and served by grandmothers, to ensure that the whole family gathers on the first day.

Haneen Fahad, a mother in her 40s, said that Eid prayers are dear to many Saudis as it is the occasion’s first social gathering, where they meet and greet those living around them.

“One of the things I really admire is preparing some giveaway gifts for my kids to distribute to other kids at the mosque after Eid prayers,” she told Arab News.

She added that nothing can be compared to the spiritual, thrilling feeling of the first day. “There is so much fun. Once the whole family is gathered, a lot of activities start, where elder relatives start to distribute Eidiya money to kids and adults, families start to exchange gifts, and everyone looks neat, fresh and happy.”

After a morning full of food, money, gifts, new clothes, and fancy chocolates, Jeddawies tend to revive before the evening with what is colloquially referred to as the “Eid sleeping coma.” 

Although the pandemic disrupted many celebrations, the Eid rituals remain unforgettable in the hearts of the people. They long for the smallest details of Eid, with its social legacies and many customs that have been passed down for generations and remain in their memories. (Supplied)

HIGHLIGHTS

• The Hijazi feast is always full of traditional sweet and savory dishes such as the ta’ateemah, dibyaza, harees, ma’asoup, and fatoot bread. All of these dishes are well known in the Hijaz region, where they are commonly prepared and served by grandmothers, to ensure that the whole family gathers on the first day.

• In the southern part of the Kingdom, specifically in the Jazan region, people start to prepare for Eid two weeks earlier. The region is famous for its popular traditional dishes that are nutritionally rich, such as stews, fish, ghee, honey, pickles and others.

• Although the pandemic disrupted many celebrations in Makkah and Taif, the Eid rituals remain unforgettable in the hearts of the people. They long for the smallest details of Eid, with its social legacies and many customs that have been passed down for generations and remain in their memories.

Shatha Bukhari, a student at Dar Al-Hekmah, told Arab News: “After everyone has been up all morning until noon, the city gets quieter in the afternoon as everyone enjoys their Eid ‘sleeping coma’ to recharge for the night.”

Jeddawis usually have a second round of feasting in the evening, enjoying a barbecue dinner at home. On the second day, however, they prefer to dine in a fine restaurant, said Bukhari.

From west to south

In the southern part of the Kingdom, specifically in the Jazan region, people start to prepare for Eid two weeks earlier.

Nahla Zameem, a Jazani mother of four who has a family house located in Jazan city, gave Arab News some insight into the region’s traditions. She said that Jazani Eid is more of a big wedding to its people.

The ladies like to celebrate Eid the traditional way, using jasmine flowers, henna dye, and wearing traditional jalabiya as a way to express happiness, beauty and elegance.

The jasmine flowers are made into crowns and wrapped around the hair, and some choose to wear big jasmine necklaces up to 1-meter long. 

Although the pandemic disrupted many celebrations, the Eid rituals remain unforgettable in the hearts of the people. They long for the smallest details of Eid, with its social legacies and many customs that have been passed down for generations and remain in their memories. (Supplied)

The region’s ladies also book appointments with henna artists to decorate their arms and legs with temporary tattoos of different patterns. Henna is well-known in the Muslim world and is a reddish-brown dye made from the powdered leaves of a tropical shrub, used to color the hair and decorate the body.

The region is famous for its popular traditional dishes that are nutritionally rich, such as stews, fish, ghee, honey, pickles and others.

“Around 8 a.m. every Eid, all of the men in the neighborhood start to gather at my father’s house, where a huge breakfast is held, consisting of rows of popular food that may reach a length of a few meters, all of which is served in clay pots to give a wonderful authentic vibe,” Zameem added.

One of the things I really admire is preparing some giveaway gifts for my kids to distribute to other kids at the mosque after Eid prayers.

Haneen Fahad

One of the most essential traditional Jazani dishes for Eid breakfast is the salt fish, also common among Egyptians and Palestinians during the religious festival. 

“We prepare salt fish almost a month earlier, where we clean the fish and stuff it with salt and preserve it by hanging it to dry under the sunlight. During Eid, we deep fry it for breakfast.”

Fireworks and folklore dances are also a big part of Eid celebrations in Jazan. Some of the famous dances are Jazani Ardha, or as Jazani people call it “Zlaf.”

Eastern Province corniche

In the Eastern Province, the corniche is a popular destination during Eid, with many having complete family visits and gatherings.

Mohammad Meshal, a young Saudi from Khafji, loves to spend the Eid among his family and relatives in his home, a small border town near Kuwait.

Before the COVID-19 situation, Meshal used to travel to Kuwait to go for walks and visit relatives, but precautions taken by the government put an end to his trips. But he is optimistic that despite the restrictions, “ traveling is not completely restricted, as I may travel again after May 17.”

Abdullah Al-Ayaf, a government employee, told Arab News that his family is used to corniche visits after the round of family gatherings are done. “I spend the first day of Eid somewhat officially, but on the second and third days, my family goes to the corniche, or we rent a small resort.”

DECODER

• Eidiya: Money that is usually given to children by elderly relatives, family, and friends as part of the celebration. The amount of money mostly varies from SR1 to SR500.

• Dibyaza: A dish made of melted dried apricots, roasted nuts, figs, peaches and sugary dates to create a marmalade-like dish that can be enjoyed with or without bread.

• Ta’ateemah: The name of the breakfast feast that Hijazis enjoy on the first day of Eid Al-Fitr. It is derived from the Arabic word ‘itmah,’ meaning darkness, because the dishes served are light, just like midnight snacks.

• Harees: Mashed wheat mixed with chunks of meat.

Saudi child Abdul Malik Al-Mofadhali said that his Eid starts off with his mother calling him to wake up for breakfast with the family. She is keen to dress him in white, especially if the holiday coincides with spring or summer.

Al-Mofadhali said that eating sweets and nuts of all kinds is his favorite part about Eid, shortly followed by the corniche. “We shop from the grocery store for water, juice, ice cream and baked goods prior to going to the corniche. I love this day.”

Eid in Makkah and Taif

Although the pandemic disrupted many celebrations in Makkah and Taif, the Eid rituals remain unforgettable in the hearts of the people. They long for the smallest details of Eid, with its social legacies and many customs that have been passed down for generations and remain in their memories. 

Although the pandemic disrupted many celebrations, the Eid rituals remain unforgettable in the hearts of the people. They long for the smallest details of Eid, with its social legacies and many customs that have been passed down for generations and remain in their memories. (Supplied)

Fahad Al-Harbi, mayor of Ray Zakhir in Makkah, said that Meccans get dressed up to the nines, reminiscing over their favorite memories about Eid celebrations in the city.

“They distribute lawziyeh (almond shortbread cookies), laymouniyeh and mushabbak. They would also exchange gifts and give chocolate to children,” he said, adding: “Families get artistic in their celebrations to preserve the remaining heritage, customs and traditions.”

He said that Makkah consists of a mixture of peoples and tribes that have blended together, where cultures have harmonized, highlighting the city’s beautiful unity. “Families under the same roof would find a variety of dishes, which underlines the beautiful tapestry that is Makkah.”

In Taif, not far away, markets are usually overcrowded before the arrival of Eid, especially the popular ones such as Souk Al-Balad.

Abdul Hadi Al-Mansouri, a resident of Taif, said that the best moments of Eid occur when the celebration coincides with the rainy and the blooming season, when the aroma of roses adorns clothes.

He added that activities usually take place at the famous Al-Rudaf Park and Al-Faisaliah garden, bringing joy to the hearts of the people, creating cheerful Eid celebrations.

Decoder

Eid celebrations

Eidiya: Money that is usually given to children by elderly relatives, family, and friends as part of the celebration. The amount of money mostly varies from SR1 to SR500.

Related


Who’s Who: Dr. Mohammed Saud Al-Tamimi, governor of Saudi Arabia’s Communications and Information Technology Commission

Updated 13 May 2021

Who’s Who: Dr. Mohammed Saud Al-Tamimi, governor of Saudi Arabia’s Communications and Information Technology Commission

Dr. Mohammed Saud Al-Tamimi has been governor of the Communications and Information Technology Commission (CITC) since October 2019.

Al-Tamimi, who was recently awarded the King Abdulaziz Medal of the First Class following a royal order, has also been a deputy chair of a research group at the International Telecommunication Union since 2016.

He has also been a member of the Arbitration Committee at the European Telecommunication Networks Innovation Forum.

Al-Tamimi received his bachelor’s degree in telecommunication engineering in 2003 from the King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals, Dhahran.

He also received a master’s degree in communication technologies and policy in 2005 from the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow.

In 2014, he obtained a doctorate in telecommunication regulation economics from the University of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He also attended a one-year leadership development program at Harvard University in 2018.

Al-Tamimi joined CITC in 2003 as a regulation specialist and from 2006 until August 2009 worked as a licensing specialist.

For 15 months, beginning in August 2018, he served as the acting deputy governor for consumer protection and partnership at CITC. Prior to that, he worked as a deputy governor for regulation and competition until his appointment as governor.

During the last annual Information and Communications Technology Indicators Forum, held in March, Al-Tamimi described the telecommunications market in the Kingdom as the most developed in the Middle East and North Africa region.


Duterte calls on officials to help stop violence in Maguindanao

Updated 13 May 2021

Duterte calls on officials to help stop violence in Maguindanao

  • Filipino president warns of ‘an all-out offensive’ if situation does not improve

MANILA: Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte on Tuesday called on local leaders in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) to help the national government bring peace to the center of the region. 

During a visit to the 6th Infantry Division’s headquarters in Maguindanao, Duterte urged the officials to do more to prevent atrocities committed by the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) and other militant groups in their area. 

The president’s message follows a recent attack by BIFF — a breakaway group of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) — in the Datu Paglas town of Maguindanao. 

Senior leaders of the MILF now head the Bangsamoro Transition Authority, which is the interim regional government of the BARMM. 

“The violence is very much present,” Duterte said, adding: “I am begging you to help me because otherwise, if I give the order for an all-out offensive, it will be bloody, and it will be sad. I do not want that.”

He added that militant groups should not continue to commit atrocities because if he orders the military to strike back, he will “not withdraw it, and this could mean loss of more lives.”

The president said: “Please do not give them the sanctuary ... Do not wait for me to call you to Malacañang if there are intelligence reports,” adding that he had done “everything to ensure the creation of the BARMM” and was willing to expand “what is necessary for an effective governance of the region.”

He said: “But the monkey wrench of the whole situation now is the BIFF, and they continue to inflict not only small harm. They continue to burn, ambush, detonate bombs. It’s really full-blown terrorism.”

He also asked that anyone who could approach and engage with the BIFF to do so. 

“If there is still a chance for you to cross the line and talk to them ... do not commit atrocities that could no longer be stomached by the government.”

Duterte’s visit to Maguindanao comes three days after BIFF members led by Ustadz Sulaiman Tundo attacked Datu Paglas and briefly occupied the town’s public market on Saturday. 

The group, which belonged to the BIFF faction under Mohiden Animbang (also known as Commander Kagi Karialan), was eventually repelled by government forces. 

Karialan’s group has been the target of a military crackdown after receiving reports of the group planning to conduct attacks in nearby towns in Maguindanao. 

Following Saturday’s strike, BARMM Chief Minister Murad Ebrahim issued a statement condemning the group’s atrocities. 

“We will not tolerate any act that threatens peace and order,” he said. 

“As a region that is just beginning a chapter of healing and justice, attacks like the one today are nothing but a mere attempt to distract everyone from the gains of the peace process. We will not let violence prevail and make sure that we protect our people who have gone through so much over the past decades,” he added. 

Drawing attention to the holy month of Ramadan, Ebrahim said: “We must be reminded of its teachings that form part of who we are as Muslims and as Bangsamoro.”

He added: “The Bangsamoro government will closely monitor the situation. The MILF forces on the ground are directed to uphold the primacy of the peace process and work closely with their counterparts from the military and the police to protect the gains of the peace process.”

In January, Ebrahim told Arab News that hundreds of local militants from Daesh-inspired groups in the southern Philippines were considering giving up their weapons and returning to normal lives, as the government’s anti-terror programs in BARMM continue to thrive.

Since its inception two years ago, the BARMM government has overseen the decommissioning of thousands of fighters from the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF). 

The BIAF is the military wing of the MILF, once the largest Muslim insurgent group in the Philippines. 

On Wednesday, the Western Mindanao Command said sustained military operations had resulted in the killing of four BIFF gunmen under the Karialan faction during an early morning clash in the outskirts of Datu Paglas.

Brig. Gen. Roy Galido, commander of the 601st Infantry Brigade, said troops had recovered the bodies of the slain militants.


Indonesians go extra mile for Eid festivities despite travel ban

Updated 13 May 2021

Indonesians go extra mile for Eid festivities despite travel ban

  • Some defy safety rules to celebrate end of Ramadan with families despite spike in virus cases

JAKARTA: Indonesians are preparing for a second successive year of muted Eid celebrations after the government rolled out new travel restrictions aimed at combating a spike in coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases in the country.

The Southeast Asian nation has witnessed a steady rise in virus infection rates over the Ramadan holiday season and on May 6 imposed a 12-day nationwide travel ban in a bid to slow the spread of COVID-19.

However, Jakarta police said on Tuesday that an estimated 1.5 million people had still left the capital city by car to travel to their hometowns throughout Indonesia’s main island of Java, although the exodus was in stark contrast to the usual 8 million in pre-pandemic years.

The country’s transport ministry said almost 138,000 vehicles had driven out of Jakarta each day since the start of the travel ban.

Those staying in the capital were on Tuesday rocked when regional governments in Jakarta and its satellite cities made a joint last-minute announcement restricting people from traveling within the urban areas during the Eid holidays starting Wednesday.

Jakarta Gov. Anies Baswedan ordered shopping centers, restaurants, public places, entertainment venues, and even cemeteries, to close down until Sunday to prevent public gatherings during the holidays.

Indonesians also celebrate Eid by paying respects to deceased family members by praying at their graves.

Police set up checkpoints to monitor people traveling in and out of Jakarta to its suburban areas, which administratively are under neighboring West Java and Banten provinces.

The move has left Jakarta residents faced with the prospect of being unable to celebrate Eid with family members often only a 30 to 60-minute drive away.

“The government realizes that the Eid travel ban is not perfect in its implementation, but we still carry out the policy in accordance with the regulations,” national COVID-19 task force spokesman Wiku Adisasmito told a press briefing on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, there were reports of some travelers going the extra mile to meet relatives in defiance of the ban.

On the first day of the travel restrictions, police discovered a group of people hiding under vegetables in a truck during an inspection at Cikampek toll road, which connects Jakarta to cities across Java.

Others took the less-traveled routes, known as the rat road, to get to their destination despite the journey taking more time.

By the third day of the ban, police said at least 70,000 vehicles had been turned back from 318 checkpoints throughout the islands of Sumatra, Java, and Bali.

Aang Surmana, who works as a garbage collector in South Jakarta, told Arab News that he managed to reach his hometown in Tegal, Central Java, on Wednesday afternoon, after traveling on a motorcycle with his son for eight hours, as opposed to the regular travel time of six hours.

“I dodged the checkpoints by taking detours on village roads, and I tried to blend in like locals by traveling light, with just a small bag, so we didn’t look like we were traveling long distance with big bags,” he said.

Java, Indonesia’s most populated island where about half of its 270 million people live, has been contributing about 60 to 70 percent to the national COVID-19 caseload, with authorities saying people traveling out of the island to less-infected regions could lead to a surge in local infections.

Adisasmito said: “COVID-19 is not just Java’s problem. There could be a surge in cases in regions out of Java, even in less crowded and populated areas. If we don’t anticipate it, you could bring COVID-19 to your hometowns even though there were no cases there previously.”

On Wednesday, Indonesia reported 4,608 new infections, registering an average of 5,000 cases daily in recent weeks.

On Monday, Health Minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin said that three new variants of COVID-19 – from the UK, South Africa, and India – had been detected and were a cause for concern.

Nadia Yovani, a sociologist at the University of Indonesia, told Arab News that the rationale of COVID-19 prevention measures of avoiding mass gatherings defied the norms that Indonesians ascribed to festivities with their extended family members during the Eid holiday.

“Despite the hassles in the travel, people still travel to celebrate Eid, pandemic or not. It is part of their struggles to fulfill their spiritual needs to conclude Ramadan by celebrating it with their families,” she said.

“In pandemic times, authorities and spiritual leaders should introduce a new perspective on how to celebrate Eid with a different format than the usual one,” she added.


What We Are Reading Today: Empire of the Summer Moon by S. C. Gwynne

Updated 13 May 2021

What We Are Reading Today: Empire of the Summer Moon by S. C. Gwynne

S. C. Gwynne’s Empire of the Summer Moon spans two astonishing stories. 

The first traces the rise and fall of the Comanches, the most powerful Indian tribe in American history. 

The second entails one of the most remarkable narratives ever to come out of the Old West: The epic saga of the pioneer woman Cynthia Ann Parker and her mixed-blood son Quanah, who became the last and greatest chief of the Comanches.

Although readers may be more familiar with the tribal names Apache and Sioux, it was in fact the legendary fighting ability of the Comanches that determined just how and when the American West opened up.

The book delivers a sweeping narrative that encompasses Spanish colonialism, the Civil War, the destruction of the buffalo herds, and the arrival of the railroads — a historical feast for anyone interested in how the US came into being.

S. C. Gwynne’s account of these events is meticulously researched, intellectually provocative, and, above all, thrillingly told.