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A worker walks through an oil production facility owned by Parsley Energy in the Permian Basin near Midland, Texas, August 23, 2018. 

Nick Oxford | Reuters 

The International Energy Agency (IEA) expects the U.S. to challenge Saudi Arabia‘s position as the world’s leading oil exporter, after briefly overtaking the OPEC kingpin to claim the number one spot earlier this year.

“Booming shale production has allowed the U.S. to close in on, and briefly overtake, Saudi Arabia as the world’s top oil exporter,” the IEA said in its closely-watched monthly report on Thursday.

“The installation of the necessary pipelines and terminals is continuing apace, which will ensure that the trend continues.”

The U.S. momentarily surpassed Saudi Arabia as the leading oil exporter in June, after crude exports surged above 3 million barrels per day (b/d), the IEA said Thursday. That lifted total exports of crude and products to nearly 9 million b/d.

At the same time, Saudi Arabia cut back on both crude and refined product exports.

The oil-rich kingdom reclaimed the top spot in July and August, as the U.S. was affected by hurricane disruptions. The ongoing trade dispute also made it difficult for U.S. shale shipments to find markets in recent months, the IEA said.

‘Energy dominance’

The Paris-based energy agency’s monthly report comes at a time when the U.S. is actively pursuing “energy dominance,” regardless of what happens to oil prices.

Speaking to CNBC in Abu Dhabi earlier this week, the U.S. deputy energy secretary said President Donald Trump “often talks about energy dominance.”

“The world often asks: what does that mean? It just simply means that we are going to produce as much energy as we can, as cleanly as we can and as affordably as we can.”

“And whatever happens to the world price of oil, whatever happens to the world price of whatever, electricity, it doesn’t really matter, then so be it,” Dan Brouillette said.

In the last decade, the U.S. has more than doubled oil production to 12.3 million barrels a day, making it the world’s largest oil producer.

It now appears set to flood the oil market with even more crude, putting downward pressure on prices at a time when the market is already struggling to cope with too much supply.

Oil prices

International benchmark Brent crude traded at $61.05 a barrel Thursday morning, up around 0.4%, while U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) stood at $56.04, up more than 0.5%.

Brent futures have tumbled more than 18% from a peak reached in April, with WTI down over 15% over the same period.

The IEA said that, over the final three months of the year, the U.S. “is expected to see a further build out of export infrastructure that should allow for up to 4 million b/d in crude exports.”

“With production expanding strongly, the question is can sellers of U.S. crude price exports attractively enough to capture international markets?” the energy agency added.

Demand outlook unchanged

The IEA left its oil demand growth forecasts for oil demand growth unchanged at 1.1 million b/d for 2019, and 1.3 million b/d in 2020.

It based these projections on the assumption that there would be no further deterioration in the economic climate and in trade disputes.

Oil demand growth will be “significantly higher” helped by a comparatively low base in the second half of 2018, lower oil prices versus a year ago and additions to petrochemicals capacity, the IEA said.

On Wednesday, OPEC downwardly revised its forecast for oil demand growth for the second consecutive month.

The group, which consists of some of the world’s most powerful oil-producing nations, cut its forecast for global oil demand growth for the remainder of this year to 1.02 million b/d. That was down 80,000 b/d from its August estimate.

In 2020, OPEC said it sees world oil demand increasing by 1.08 million b/d. This marked a downward adjustment of 60,000 b/d from its previous month’s assessment.

OPEC attributed the downgrade to weaker-than-expected economic data in the first-half of the year and deteriorating growth projections for the remainder of 2019.

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Softbank’s Masayoshi Son in favor of ousting WeWork CEO Adam Neumann

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Adam Neumann, co-founder and chief executive officer of WeWork, in April 2018.

Jackal Pan | Visual China Group | Getty Images

SoftBank Group’s Masayoshi Son is in favor of removing WeWork’s Adam Neumann as CEO, as the company’s directors plan to meet as soon as this week to propose Neumann step down, according to a person familiar with the matter. Spokesmen for both SoftBank and WeWork declined to comment.

While the details of a board meeting haven’t been scheduled, at least some members of the WeWork board that aren’t affiliated with SoftBank are aligned with Neumann to keep him as CEO, said two people familiar with the matter who asked not to be named because the discussions are private. SoftBank and its associated Vision Fund is WeWork’s largest external shareholder.

WeWork views Son’s move against Neumann as an effort to prevent the company from going public, one of the people said. If WeWork doesn’t go public, it would prevent a writedown for SoftBank after valuing the company at $47 billion earlier this year. WeWork has had trouble getting a valuation of more than $20 billion with potential public investors, CNBC has reported.

Still, SoftBank views the writedown as both small in size and significance and believes a change in leadership would be for the long term health of the company, according to someone familiar with SoftBank’s thinking. 

The proposal follows a tumultuous week in which WeWork postponed its IPO roadshow, and an expose on Neumann in the Journal revealed he had once been forced to reschedule a private plane trip after the crew found marijuana. The CEO also expressed interest in becoming Israel’s prime minister and the president of the world, living forever, and becoming the world’s first trillionaire.

WeWork’s IPO filing revealed massive losses and an unusually complex governing structure that concentrated power in Neumann’s hands, investors balked and the proposed price of the IPO dropped to as little as $15 billion.

The company lost $1.9 billion last year and analysts expect that the company is on pace to run through its remaining cash on hand at some point next year.

There is a playbook of sorts for removing a controversial founder-CEO before going public. Benchmark Capital successfully orchestrated a shareholder revolt that ousted Travis Kalanick before Uber went public. SoftBank later bought a 15% stake in Uber which included a provision that Kalanick could not fill three board seats on his own, thus helping him maintain broader control of the company’s future.

It’s unclear if Benchmark is leading the effort to remove Neumann.

The board is expected to meet sometime next week and potentially discuss making Neumann WeWork’s nonexecutive chairman.

Removing Neumann is a difficult decision for Son, who has long believed in WeWork and Neumann’s vision to quickly expand the company.

According to the Journal, SoftBank was likely going to buy roughly $1 billion in stock in WeWork’s initial public offering, though that purchase wasn’t enough to keep the company’s listing on track.

Correction: This story has been updated to reflect that WeWork postponed its IPO this week.

—Emma Newburger contributed to this report.

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NYSE owner ICE launches deliverable bitcoin futures contracts

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Intercontinental Exchange, the owner of the New York Stock Exchange, launched its bitcoin futures contracts late Sunday, in a move aimed at enticing investors who have hesitated about trading the cryptocurrency.

The first trade in the new contracts was executed on ICE’s futures exchange at 8:02 p.m. ET at a price of $10,115, Bakkt, the firm behind the contracts, said in a Twitter post. Bakkt is an ICE-backed venture which aims to make trading and paying with cryptocurrencies viable for retail and institutional investors alike.

The futures are physically deliverable, meaning they pay out in bitcoin upon settlement. That’s different to ICE competitor CME Group, which introduced its own futures contracts for the digital currency in 2017 which paid out in cash. Physical settlement is used for other markets like bonds, oil, cattle and metals.

Cryptocurrency fans will hope ICE’s bitcoin futures, which are federally regulated, can provide some much-needed legitimacy to an asset class that has been mired in controversy following illicit activity in the still nascent industry.

Bitcoin is also known for its wild volatility — for example, a late 2017 bubble which saw prices rise close to $20,000 burst the following year. Since then, the cryptocurrency has been on the rise this year, with experts attributing the price jump to big firms like ICE and Facebook, with its planned libra cryptocurrency, getting involved in the space.

Futures contracts, legal agreements to buy or sell a commodity at a certain price and time, are a way for investors to bet on whether the underlying asset’s value will rise or fall. In the ICE’s case, investors can trade in daily or monthly futures, according to its website.

Bakkt, which partnered with ICE to launch the derivatives, also counts Microsoft venture arm M12 and Boston Consulting Group as investors. The company teamed up with coffee chain Starbucks last year to allow people and institutions to buy, sell, store and send cryptocurrencies.

Attempts at launching bitcoin futures have been faced with problems in the past. Cboe Global Markets, which launched its own contracts in late 2017, said earlier this year that it would stop adding new ones. Meanwhile, U.S. firm LedgerX was forced to backtrack from a launch of physically settled bitcoin futures after a key markets regulator said it had “not yet been approved.”

ICE’s move was met with a mostly tepid reaction in spot markets, with bitcoin’s price rising just 0.5% higher to about $9,950.

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‘Disaster’ for Hong Kong if it loses status as financial center: China Citic Capital

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If Hong Kong loses its status as one of Asia’s top financial centers, it would be disastrous for the Asian financial hub, said the founder and chief executive officer of Citic Capital.

There is “no lack of competition for financial centers,” said Zhang Yichen, who is also chairman at the investment firm — a Hong Kong-based alternative investment arm of the Chinese financial conglomerate Citic Group.

Investors can turn to other cities like Singapore, Tokyo and Shanghai to access global capital markets, he told CNBC’s Amanda Drury at the Singapore Summit on Saturday.

“I think if Hong Kong doesn’t shape up, you shouldn’t have a sense of entitlement (that) it has to be the financial center,” he said. If the territory should lose that status, it “spells disaster because that’s the only industry these days that’s competitive.”

Protests in Hong Kong erupted more than three months ago over a now-withdrawn extradition bill, which would have paved the way for suspects in Hong Kong to be sent to mainland China for trial. While the pro-democracy protests started out as relatively peaceful in June, they have since turned increasingly violent.

Hong Kong protestors on Sunday trampled on a Chinese flag, vandalized a subway station and set fire across a wide street, the Associated Press reported.

I don’t believe Shanghai and other Chinese cities can actually replace Hong Kong … If (Hong Kong) squanders that on its own, it’ll be a shame.

Zhang Yichen

Citic Capital

Formerly a British colony, Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997. It is one of China’s special administrative regions and is governed under the “one country, two systems” principle, which gives its citizens certain economic and legal freedoms not given in mainland China.

Zhang said the city has its advantages over other Chinese cities like Shanghai because of the “one country, two systems” policy.

Hong Kong’s legal system is similar to what is followed in a lot of countries around the world, which gives investors a certain level of comfort, he said. In addition to that, its proximity to the Chinese mainland is another plus point for investors, he added.

“From that perspective, I don’t believe Shanghai and other Chinese cities can actually replace Hong Kong,” he said. “If (Hong Kong) squanders that on its own, it’ll be a shame.”

However, the violence and chaos have crippled the city and disrupted daily life, and in turn, hurt businesses and dented investor sentiment.

Zhang said the protests have not affected Citic Capital’s business since it invests mostly either in China or around the world. “Hong Kong is just a base for us where a lot of our senior colleagues live and work,” he added.

Citic Capital says on its website it manages more than $26 billion of capital. Last month, the firm said it raised $2.8 billion in its fourth China buyout fund and would look at China-focused investment opportunities in sectors such as consumer, health care and technology.

Reuters and CNBC’s Grace Shao contributed to this report.

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