Lebanon’s soaring inflation led by 250 percent jump in fuel costs amid currency slump

Lebanon's economy was in crisis even before COVID-19 hit in 2020. (Reuters)
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Updated 18 September 2021

Lebanon’s soaring inflation led by 250 percent jump in fuel costs amid currency slump

  • Lebanese CPI jumped 123 percent in the year to July 2021
  • Food and non-alcoholic beverages prices rose 248 percent

DUBAI: Lebanese residents were forced to pay more than double for consumer goods in July compared with a year earlier as prices soared amid a partial lifting of fuel subsidies and a record plunge in the local currency.

The latest data from Lebanon’s Central Administration of Statistics shows the consumer price index leaped 123 percent year-on-year last month as officials struggled to contain an economic meltdown the likes of which have not been seen since the end of the country’s 1975-1990 civil war.

The biggest contributor to surging prices has been the cost of transportation, which soared by 253 percent from July 2020, reflecting the rise in fuel costs after the previous government priced gasoline at the exchange rate of 3,900 pounds to the dollar in June. Two months later, the central bank began providing fuel importers with dollars at an exchange rate of 8,000 pounds to the dollar.

The Lebanese pound has been officially pegged at 1,507.5 pounds to the dollar since 1997, but is worth a lot less on the black market. Following the resignation of former Prime Minister-Designate Saad Hariri in July, it plummeted to a record 24,000 per dollar.

This pushed prices of food and non-alcoholic beverages up by 248 percent in the year to July 2021, while health care services rose by 178 percent. Prices at restaurants and hotels grew 246 percent and clothing and footwear prices almost doubled.

The formation of Najib Mikati’s government last week, following a 13-month political vacuum, provided Lebanese with slight reprieve.

The pound stabilized at around 14,000 to the dollar on Thursday amid the new government’s pledges for reforms and a resumption of talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) which had hit a dead-end following bickering over the size of the banking sector’s losses.

Reforms demanded by the international community include a forensic audit of the central bank’s accounts and a restructuring of the banking sector.

On Thursday, a meeting took place at the Economy Ministry with the president of the syndicate of supermarket owners and the president of the syndicate of food importers to discuss lowering the prices of goods.

The meeting touched on a new pricing mechanism for goods in the wake of the Lebanese pound’s surge, with new economy minister Amine Salam saying that ” both unions have committed to start reducing the prices of commodities.”

“The ministry will not tolerate this issue and will be strict in monitoring price,” he said.


Oil remains near multiyear highs as energy crunch continues

Updated 20 October 2021

Oil remains near multiyear highs as energy crunch continues

NEW YORK: Oil edged higher on Tuesday and was near multiyear highs as an energy supply crunch continued across the globe, while falling temperatures in China revived concerns over whether the world’s biggest energy consumer can meet domestic heating needs.

The Brent crude benchmark rose 34 cents to $84.67 a barrel by 11:11 a.m. EDT (1511 GMT). US West Texas Intermediate futures rose 46 cents to $82.90 a barrel.

Prices have been climbing the last two months. Since the start of September, Brent has risen by about 18 percent, while WTI has

gained by around 21 percent. “Supply-demand balances show that the market is experiencing a supply deficit, which is spurring deep inventory draws and driving prices upward,” said Louise Dickson, senior oil markets analyst at Rystad Energy.

“This market tightness is expected to extend into most of 2022, and crude oil demand will only catch up with crude supply by the fourth quarter of next year.”

With temperatures falling as the northern hemisphere winter approaches and heating demand increasing, prices of oil, coal and natural gas are likely to remain elevated, traders and analysts said.

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Greece, Egypt, Cyprus sign energy deal with Europe in mind

Updated 19 October 2021

Greece, Egypt, Cyprus sign energy deal with Europe in mind

  • The deal concerns the "interconnection" of the neighbours and transfer of electricity to their respective networks, Greek prime minister said
  • The announcement comes as countries around the world face an energy crisis, with the prices of natural gas, oil and coal rising

ATHENS: Greece, Cyprus and Egypt on Tuesday signed an electricity agreement that could include Egyptian solar power and potentially supply power to other European countries.
The protocol was signed during a meeting between Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and the presidents of Egypt, Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, and Cyprus, Nicos Anastasiades, in Athens.
The deal concerns the “interconnection” of the neighbors and transfer of electricity to their respective networks, Mitsotakis said.
“As energy sources diversify, Egypt can become a supplier of electric power, which will be mainly produced by the sun, and Greece will become a distribution station for Europe,” Mitsotakis added.
The announcement comes as countries around the world face an energy crisis, with the prices of natural gas, oil and coal rising.
El-Sisi said the agreement aims to “reinforce energy cooperation.”
In a joint statement, the Mediterranean neighbors said: “This interconnection reinforces cooperation and energy security, not only between these three countries but also with Europe.”
“It will be a way to transfer important quantities of electricity from and to the eastern Mediterranean,” the statement said.
The three countries also expressed their intention of exploring and transferring natural gas in the region.
Energy cooperation between eastern Mediterranean countries regularly irritate Turkey, which has its eyes set on oil and natural gas deposits in the region.
“Unfortunately, Ankara does not understand the message of the times and its aspirations to the detriment of its neighbors are obviously a threat to peace in the region,” Mitsotakis said.
Tensions soared last year when Turkey sent an exploration ship and small navy flotilla to conduct research in waters that Greece considers its own under treaties.
The Turkish foreign ministry later Tuesday lambasted the joint statement as another example of the “hostile policy” toward Turkey and Turkish-held northern Cyprus.
While Ankara supported energy projects which “increased cooperation between regional countries,” the ministry stressed that Turkish and northern Cyprus’ rights and interests “should not be ignored by these projects.”
Cyprus has been divided since 1974 when Turkey seized the north in response to a coup orchestrated by an Athens-backed junta seeking to annex the island to Greece.
Despite attempts this year to normalize relations with Egypt after falling out in 2013, the Turkish ministry also criticized Cairo’s cooperation with Greece and Cyprus.
“The inclusion of Egypt indicates that the Egyptian administration has not yet grasped the real address where it can cooperate in the eastern Mediterranean,” it added in a written statement.

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Harsh reality of net-zero commitments under scrutiny

Updated 17 October 2021

Harsh reality of net-zero commitments under scrutiny

  • Call to set clear goals for cutting greenhouse gas emissions

LONDON: The current spike in oil and gas prices could not have come at a worse time. On the eve of the UN COP26 global climate conference in Scotland this month, soaring energy prices are resulting in increased investor interest in fossil fuel companies.

The S&P 500 energy sector is up around 50 percent this year and has been the wider index’s best-performing group.

Indeed, a recent report stated financial institutions in the G20 are carrying almost $22 trillion of exposure to carbon-intensive sectors despite increasing pressure for companies to disinvest in polluting industries.

The report, by Moody’s Investors Service, warned banks and asset managers need to “ramp up” climate risk assessments and “set clear goals for reaching net-zero in their financed emissions.”

Moody’s warning comes after the London Financial Times reported this week that global banks have refused to commit to the International Energy Agency’s road map for cutting greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050.

The FT said negotiators for the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero, an initiative led by UN special envoy for climate action and finance Mark Carney to encourage finance groups to stop funding fossil fuel companies, have struggled to convince banks to agree to end financing of all new oil, gas and coal exploration projects this year.

Many analysts believe the huge rises in gas and oil prices is evidence of the risks of phasing out fossil fuel production too quickly while renewable energy remains unable to pick up the slack of global demand.

Earlier this year, Saudi Arabia’s Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman criticized the IEA’s call for the energy sector to be net zero by 2050, calling it a “la-la-land” scenario.

Last week, Qatari Energy Minister Saad Al-Kaabi criticized governments for making statements about eliminating emissions without adopting clear plans to achieve net-zero.

Al-Kaabi’s comments followed an announcement by Dubai’s ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, that the country planned to become the first Middle East oil producer to achieve net zero by 2050.

The UAE’s emissions averaged almost 21 metric tons per person in 2018.

As a comparison, the figure in France, which is also committed to net zero by 2050, is 4.6.

Along with the UAE, Russia and Turkey also announced recently that they could be net-zero by 2060 and 2053 respectively although there were no details outlining they will move their economies away from fossil fuels.

The move follows EU plans to impose a carbon-border tariff that could force Russian and Turkish companies to pay for excess emissions in key industries.

However, for Russia to achieve net-zero by 2060 would require a massive overhaul of its economy.

Russia’s oil and gas sales contribute between 15 to 20 percent of the country’s GDP and fossil fuel exports account for more than 50 percent of all exports. The country’s coal industry contributes around 12 percent to GDP.

Achieving net-zero in Russia by 2060 will require a 65 percent reduction in its emissions according to research institute the World Resources Institute. Yet Russia’s most recent submission to the UN under the Paris Agreement suggested its emissions would increase 30 percent by the end of the decade compared to 1990 levels.

Meanwhile Turkey, which last week became the last G20 country to ratify the Paris accord, would have to slash its emissions by around 30 percent by the end of the decade to reach its 2053 target. The WRI had forecast Turkey was set to double its current emissions by the end of the decade.

While governments step up their commitments to sustainability to fend off new regulations and respond to growing pressure from investors the reality looks very different.

Moody’s report said G20 banks’ exposure to carbon-intensive sectors amounted to $13.8 trillion, while equities held by asset managers were worth $6.6 trillion.

Regionally, Asia and the Americans led the way with $9 trillion and $8 trillion respectively, with EMEA accounting for $5 trillion. There was no country breakdown.

By sector, manufacturing, power and other utilities, transportation, and oil and gas feature heavily among the G20 financial institutions’ top carbon-intensive exposures.

Companies and governments remain under increasing pressure from both climate-focused regulations and shareholder pressure to disinvest in polluting industries.

However, in a report published last month the WRI said G20 countries still account for 75 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.

Helen Mountford, vice president, Climate & Economics, WRI said: “Action or inaction by G20 countries will largely determine whether we can avoid the most dangerous and costly impacts of climate change.”


Work on NEOM’s green hydrogen plant likely to start in H1 2022

Updated 17 October 2021

Work on NEOM’s green hydrogen plant likely to start in H1 2022

  • What we have already said is that we will be dispatching liquid ammonia into the market in the first quarter of 2026, so that’s already there: ACWA Power CEO

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s energy company, ACWA Power, expects construction work on its green hydrogen plant in NEOM to start in the first half of 2022, according to the company’s CEO.

“This is the first project of that scale and quite a lot of work had to be done for the first time. So, we are very much in it, and we are already in even doing some work in advance purchases of long lead items for construction. So, there is quite a lot of activity that is going on,” Paddy Padmanathan told Arab News in an interview.

The CEO of ACWA expected to also see the financial closing of the project, a joint venture with NEOM Co. and American industrial gas company Air Products, taking place in the first half of the next year. The joint venture had hired financial firm Lazard to advise on the project, he told Arab News last month.   

“We are going to full construction as soon as we have achieved the financial closure. What we have already said is that we will be dispatching liquid ammonia into the market in the first quarter of 2026, so that’s already there,” he added.

ACWA Power, which debuted on Saudi Arabia’s stock market on Oct. 4, expects to finalize in the first quarter of next year billions of dollars in financing for a green hydrogen joint venture at the planned futuristic city NEOM, ACWA’s CEO told Reuters last week, adding that roughly 20 percent of the $6.5 billion project will be funded with equity and the rest will be limited-recourse project finance.

Padmanathan believes that NEOM’s project will be a game changer for the Kingdom and the company as it will help ACWA expand into that industry once it’s completed. The plant will need around 4.3 GW of clean energy to power it and ACWA plans to use solar in the day and wind in the night to eliminate the need for batteries and expensive storage solutions, he told Arab News.

In July 2020, Air Products, in conjunction with ACWA Power and NEOM, announced the signing of an agreement for a $5 billion world-scale green hydrogen-based ammonia production facility powered by renewable energy. The planning and design phases are currently underway to start construction in NEOM’s new industrial city.

This joint venture is the first step for the NEOM region to become a key player in the global hydrogen market. The business is expected to build an environmentally friendly hydrogen production facility to provide sustainable solutions for the global transport sector and to meet the challenges of climate change.

The project, which will be equally owned by the three partners, will export hydrogen in the form of liquid ammonia to the world market for use as a biofuel that feeds transportation systems.

It will produce 650 tons of carbon-free hydrogen per day and 1.2 million tons of green ammonia per year, reducing carbon dioxide emissions by the equivalent of 3 million tons per year.

ACWA Power, which operates in 13 countries, is bidding for renewable energy projects in Uzbekistan, Egypt, South Africa and Indonesia, as well as a large pipeline of projects in Saudi Arabia, the CEO said.

The company, which the Public Investment Fund is a key shareholder in, uses project finance to fund all of its projects but it will continue investing around SR2.8 billion a year of its own money into these projects to keep growing, Padamanthan told Arab News last month.

ACWA Power is planning projects this year with a total investment cost of around $16 billion, ACWA’s CFO told Arab News in July.


After Alitalia’s demise, ITA airline launches with new look

Updated 15 October 2021

After Alitalia’s demise, ITA airline launches with new look

  • ITA, or Italy Air Transport, officially launched after bankrupt flag carrier Alitalia landed its final flights Thursday night
  • Protests and strikes accompanied the runup to Alitalia's formal demise because the much smaller ITA Airways

ROME: Italy’s new national airline, ITA Airways, flew its inaugural flights Friday and unveiled its brand and logo, recycling the red, white and green of its Alitalia origins. It tries to chart a new future while competing with low-cost airlines.
ITA, or Italy Air Transport, officially launched after bankrupt flag carrier Alitalia landed its final flights Thursday night, ending a 74-year business history that a series of financial crises had marred in recent years.
Protests and strikes accompanied the run-up to Alitalia’s formal demise because the much smaller ITA Airways is only hiring around a quarter of Alitalia’s more than 10,000 employees. Negotiations with unions are ongoing.
ITA paid 90 million euros (over $104 million) for the rights to the Alitalia brand and website, but the new airline is called ITA Airways and it has its own website and a new frequent flier program, called “Volare” (“Fly”).
“Discontinuity doesn’t mean denying the past, but evolving to keep up with the times,” ITA President Alfredo Altavilla said in a statement.
During a conference launching the airline, Altavilla insisted that the greatly reduced size of ITA — its slimmer fleet, workforce and destinations — make it a viable carrier that can compete with low-cost airlines while offering better service, connections and value.
“ITA Airways is being born right-sized, in the optimal dimensions both in terms of the size of its fleet and its destinations,” he said. “We don’t carry with us the negative inheritance of being too big that conflict with the economic reality.”
He bristled when asked about reported predictions by low-cost carriers of ITA Airways’ failure.
“They might be very, absolutely right that this is gonna be difficult for us, but I am really curious to see one day their PnL (Profits and Loss) and their balance sheet without all the subsidies that they are getting from the local institutions and the small airports here in Italy,” Altavilla said.
“I want a level playing field,” he added.
The first ITA flight was the 6:20 a.m. from Milan’s Linate airport to the Italian city of Bari, on the Adriatic Sea. In all, ITA is flying to 44 destinations and aims to increase that number to 74 in four years.
Among its routes, the company plans to operate flights to New York from Milan and Rome, and to Tokyo, Boston and Miami from Rome. European destinations from Rome and Milan’s Linate airport will also include Paris, London, Amsterdam, Brussels, Geneva and Frankfurt, Germany. Routes to South America and Los Angeles are planned.
ITA planes will be royal blue with Alitalia’s trademark “tricolore” on the tail, reflecting the red, white and green of the Italian flag. The Italian national sports team colors are blue, and company officials said Friday that the color scheme chosen for the new aircraft aims to make ITA “azzurri,” — the team nickname — too.
For now, the new blue Airbus aircraft exists only in advertisements, with Alitalia’s old white fleet actually in the skies.
Officials were coy about possible partnerships with other airlines. Previously, Alitalia was a member of the SkyTeam alliance, which included Delta, Air France and KLM, among other airlines.
ITA has 52 planes that it says will grow to 105 in the same period and is pointing to next-generation aircraft that use sustainable, alternative fuel sources.
The company launched with 2,800 employees — 70 percent of them from Alitalia — and said it expects to increase the size of its workforce to 5,750 by 2025.