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Saudis turn their backs on Biden’s request for more oil

The crude oil markets are in retreat. The prospects of a global economic slowdown are beginning to hit oil demand The much-awaited ministerial meeting…

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The crude oil markets are in retreat. The prospects of a global economic slowdown are beginning to hit oil demand

The much-awaited ministerial meeting of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allies, including Russia, in the expanded OPEC+, opted to increase its September output by just 100,000 barrels per day (bpd).

Despite the urgings of U.S. President Joe Biden to open Saudi Arabia’s crude oil taps during his visit there, the announced output increment is sharply lower than the 648,000 bpd OPEC+ earlier announced for July and August.

The Biden administration didn’t criticize the small increase and gave the OPEC+ announcement a positive spin, saying the “OPEC+ oil output increase is a step forward.” But many observers felt the small increment – representing 0.1 per cent of the total global crude supply – was a slap in the face to the U.S.

Despite his earlier vows to make Saudi Arabia “a pariah,” Biden opted to go to the oil kingdom to encourage OPEC to produce more and help cool down the markets.

The initiative failed, and the market was swift to react.

“That (the announced OPEC+ output increase) is minuscule, almost imperceptible,” Bob McNally, president of consulting firm Rapidan Energy Group, told CNN. It represents the smallest increase in production on a percentage basis in OPEC history, emphasized McNally. “OPEC+ did the absolute minimum. The market is interpreting this as just short of a rebuff. It’s a purely symbolic gesture.”

Others go even further, describing the OPEC+ move as an insult. “It’s a slap in the face for the Biden administration. This trip and (Biden’s) meeting with MBS (Saudi crown prince Mohammad bin Salman) just didn’t work,” Matt Smith, lead oil analyst for the Americas at Kpler, told CNN.

Robert Yawger, vice-president of energy futures at Mizuho Securities, also described the decision as a slap in the face. “I must say I am surprised they only threw in 100,000 barrels per day.”

The reasons for OPEC’s decision are ample.

Despite the decision, oil markets last week posted their biggest weekly loss since April. That meant markets have shed all the gains made due to Russia’s war on Ukraine.

And the prospects of a global economic slowdown are beginning to hit oil demand.

OPEC+ sees a recession storm on the horizon. The summer driving season is on, but U.S. gasoline consumption is tanking. Americans are driving even less this summer than they were two years ago, during the 2020 pandemic lockdowns. This is stoking demand concerns.

The shift to tighter monetary policy also indicates that economic growth will slow, resulting in crude oil demand shrinking.

Bloomberg reports that China, the world’s largest crude importer, is also showing signs of economic weakness, clouding its outlook for crude consumption. Recent data shows shrinking factory activity, with China Beige Book – which helps institutional investors and corporate CEOs navigate China’s notoriously black box economy – warning that the economy is deteriorating.

In the meantime, few OPEC+ members seem able to meet their export quotas. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are the only two countries with spare capacity and they want to maintain that cushion in the event the world faces a winter supply crunch. They vow to be ready to deliver a “significant increase” if necessary, sources told Reuters.

Reuters quoted three anonymous sources as saying that Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E. can produce more crude oil but won’t tap that capacity now. That helps explain the latest OPEC+ output decision.

OPEC oil producers are also aware of Russian reluctance to increase crude output now. Russia isn’t interested in a significant increase reaching the global market. Energy Intelligence Group reported last week that Russia wants prices to stay high, allowing it to keep offering steep discounts for its exports.

The decision to increase output by just 100,000 bpd in September demonstrates that the OPEC+ de facto leaders, Saudi Arabia and Russia, remain aligned in their views on the global market and how it should be managed.

So Biden’s Saudi Arabian visit failed to yield the desired results.

By Rashid Husain Syed

Toronto-based Rashid Husain Syed is a respected energy and political analyst. The Middle East is his area of focus. As well as writing for major local and global newspapers, Rashid is also a regular speaker at major international conferences. He has provided his perspective on global energy issues to the Department of Energy in Washington and the International Energy Agency in Paris.

Courtesy of Troy Media

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Economics

Here’s Why Royal Caribbean, Carnival Stock Are Good Buys

Yes, Carnival reported a bigger-than-expected loss but in this case, unlike taking a cruise, it’s the destination not the journey for the cruise lines.

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Yes, Carnival reported a bigger-than-expected loss but in this case, unlike taking a cruise, it's the destination not the journey for the cruise lines.

For the past two years, since the covid pandemic hit in late-February 2020, the cruise industry has taken one punch after another. And, while the situation has improved from the extended period when cruises were not allowed to sail from United States ports, that does not mean that it's back to 2019 for Royal Caribbean International (RCL) - Get Royal Caribbean Group Report, Carnival Cruise Line (CCL) - Get Carnival Corporation Report, and Norwegian Cruise Line (NCLH) - Get Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd. Report.

The industry has done a remarkable job bringing operations back to near-normal. All three cruise lines not only have put all their ships back in service, they're also still moving forward with plans for new ships and other investments including improvements to private islands, and developing new ports.

That being said, Carnival just reported its second-quarter earnings and the market did not like the numbers at all. Shares of all three cruise lines were down double digits on Sept. 30, but traders clearly missed that aside from rising costs and a loss (both of which were expected) the cruise line largely delivered good news.

Image source: Shutterstock

Carnival Did Well in Areas it Controls  

Carnival reported a GAAP net loss of $770 million for the quarter. That was driven by higher costs with the company specifically citing advertising expenses and having some of its fleet unavailable to produce revenue.

While the company's year-to-date adjusted cruise costs excluding fuel per ALBD during 2022 has benefited from the sale of smaller-less efficient ships and the delivery of larger-more efficient ships, this benefit is offset by a portion of its fleet being in pause status for part of the year, restart related expenses, an increase in the number of dry dock days, the cost of maintaining enhanced health and safety protocols, inflation and supply chain disruptions. The company anticipates that many of these costs and expenses will end in 2022.

If you're investing in any cruise line you have to do so on a very long-term basis. That makes profitability less of a concern than the company building back its business and Carnival showed some very positive signs in that direction.

  • Revenue increased by nearly 80% in the third quarter of 2022 compared to second quarter 2022, reflecting continued sequential improvement.
  • Onboard and other revenue per PCD for the third quarter of 2022 increased significantly compared to a strong 2019
  • Total customer deposits were $4.8 billion as of August 31, 2022, approaching the $4.9 billion as of August 31, 2019, which was a record third quarter.

  • New bookings during the third quarter of 2022 primarily offset the historical third quarter seasonal decline in customer deposits ($0.3 billion decline in the third quarter of 2022 compared to $1.1 billion decline for the same period in 2019).

Carnival (and likely all the cruise lines) is being hurt by prices generally being depressed and some passengers paying for their trips using future cruise credits from cruises canceled during the pandemic. That's not really what matters though. Carnival has been increasing passenger loads and getting people back on its ships.

"Since announcing the relaxation of our protocols last month, we have seen a meaningful improvement in booking volumes and are now running considerably ahead of strong 2019 levels," Carnival CEO Josh Weinstein said. "We expect to further capitalize on this momentum with renewed efforts to generate demand. We are focused on delivering significant revenue growth over the long-term while taking advantage of near-term tactics to quickly capture price and bookings in the interim."

Basically, cruise prices are cheap right now because it's more important to get customers back on board than it is to maintain pricing integrity. That's a tactic that could hurt long-term pricing, but the cruise industry is less vulnerable than other vacation options because there have always been large pricing variations based on the calendar and the age of the ship being booked.

It's a Long Voyage for Cruise Lines

Carnival was trading at its 52-week low after it reported. That's a pretty major overreaction given that the cruise industry was barely operating in the fall of 2021.

Yes, the industry has a long way to go. All three major cruise lines took on billions of dollars of debt during the pandemic. Refinancing that debt in an environment with higher interest rates is a challenge, but it's one Carnival (and its rivals) have been meeting.

That has come with some shareholder dilution. Carnival sold $1.15 billion in new stock during the quarter, but the company has over $7.4 billion in liquidity. Weinstein is optimistic (he has to be, that's part of his job) about the future.

"During our third quarter, our business continued its positive trajectory, achieving over $300 million of adjusted EBITDA and reaching nearly 90% occupancy on our August sailings. We are continuing to close the gap to 2019 as we progress through the year, building occupancy on higher capacity and lower unit costs," he said.

Usually it's easy to dismiss a CEO making upbeat comments after posting a loss, but in this case, Carnival has basically followed the recovery path it laid out once it returned to sailing. Both Royal Caribbean and Norwegian have followed similar paths and while meaningful shareholder returns may take time, these are strong companies built for the long-term that made a lot of money before the pandemic and should do so again. 

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Spread & Containment

Three reasons a weak pound is bad news for the environment

Financial turmoil will make it harder to invest in climate action on a massive scale.

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Dragon Claws / shutterstock

The day before new UK chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng’s mini-budget plan for economic growth, a pound would buy you about $1.13. After financial markets rejected the plan, the pound suddenly sunk to around $1.07. Though it has since rallied thanks to major intervention from the Bank of England, the currency remains volatile and far below its value earlier this year.

A lot has been written about how this will affect people’s incomes, the housing market or overall political and economic conditions. But we want to look at why the weak pound is bad news for the UK’s natural environment and its ability to hit climate targets.

1. The low-carbon economy just became a lot more expensive

The fall in sterling’s value partly signals a loss in confidence in the value of UK assets following the unfunded tax commitments contained in the mini-budget. The government’s aim to achieve net zero by 2050 requires substantial public and private investment in energy technologies such as solar and wind as well as carbon storage, insulation and electric cars.

But the loss in investor confidence threatens to derail these investments, because firms may be unwilling to commit the substantial budgets required in an uncertain economic environment. The cost of these investments may also rise as a result of the falling pound because many of the materials and inputs needed for these technologies, such as batteries, are imported and a falling pound increases their prices.

Aerial view of wind farm with forest and fields in background
UK wind power relies on lots of imported parts. Richard Whitcombe / shutterstock

2. High interest rates may rule out large investment

To support the pound and to control inflation, interest rates are expected to rise further. The UK is already experiencing record levels of inflation, fuelled by pandemic-related spending and Russia’s war on Ukraine. Rising consumer prices developed into a full-blown cost of living crisis, with fuel and food poverty, financial hardship and the collapse of businesses looming large on this winter’s horizon.

While the anticipated increase in interest rates might ease the cost of living crisis, it also increases the cost of government borrowing at a time when we rapidly need to increase low-carbon investment for net zero by 2050. The government’s official climate change advisory committee estimates that an additional £4 billion to £6 billion of annual public spending will be needed by 2030.

Some of this money should be raised through carbon taxes. But in reality, at least for as long as the cost of living crisis is ongoing, if the government is serious about green investment it will have to borrow.

Rising interest rates will push up the cost of borrowing relentlessly and present a tough political choice that seemingly pits the environment against economic recovery. As any future incoming government will inherit these same rates, a falling pound threatens to make it much harder to take large-scale, rapid environmental action.

3. Imports will become pricier

In addition to increased supply prices for firms and rising borrowing costs, it will lead to a significant rise in import prices for consumers. Given the UK’s reliance on imports, this is likely to affect prices for food, clothing and manufactured goods.

At the consumer level, this will immediately impact marginal spending as necessary expenditures (housing, energy, basic food and so on) lower the budget available for products such as eco-friendly cleaning products, organic foods or ethically made clothes. Buying “greener” products typically cost a family of four around £2,000 a year.

Instead, people may have to rely on cheaper goods that also come with larger greenhouse gas footprints and wider impacts on the environment through pollution and increased waste. See this calculator for direct comparisons.

Of course, some spending changes will be positive for the environment, for example if people use their cars less or take fewer holidays abroad. However, high-income individuals who will benefit the most from the mini-budget tax cuts will be less affected by the falling pound and they tend to fly more, buy more things, and have multiple cars and bigger homes to heat.

This raises profound questions about inequality and injustice in UK society. Alongside increased fuel poverty and foodbank use, we will see an uptick in the purchasing power of the wealthiest.

What’s next

Interest rate rises increase the cost of servicing government debt as well as the cost of new borrowing. One estimate says that the combined cost to government of the new tax cuts and higher cost of borrowing is around £250 billion. This substantial loss in government income reduces the budget available for climate change mitigation and improvements to infrastructure.

The government’s growth plan also seems to be based on an increased use of fossil fuels through technologies such as fracking. Given the scant evidence for absolutely decoupling economic growth from resource use, the opposition’s “green growth” proposal is also unlikely to decarbonise at the rate required to get to net zero by 2050 and avert catastrophic climate change.

Therefore, rather than increasing the energy and materials going into the economy for the sake of GDP growth, we would argue the UK needs an economic reorientation that questions the need of growth for its own sake and orients it instead towards social equality and ecological sustainability.

The authors do not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and have disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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Economics

Covid-19 roundup: Swiss biotech halts in-patient PhII study; Houston-based vaccine and Chinese mRNA shot nab EUAs in Indonesia

Another Covid-19 study is hitting the breaks as a Swiss biotech is pausing its Phase II trial in patients hospitalized with Covid-19.
Kinarus Therapeutics…

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Another Covid-19 study is hitting the breaks as a Swiss biotech is pausing its Phase II trial in patients hospitalized with Covid-19.

Kinarus Therapeutics announced on Friday that the Data and Safety Monitoring Board (DSMB) has reviewed the company’s Phase II study for its candidate KIN001 and has recommended that the study be stopped.

According to Kinarus, the DSMB stated that there was a low probability to show statistically significant results as the number of Covid-19 patients that are in the hospital is lower than at other points in the pandemic.

Thierry Fumeaux

“As many of our peers have learned since the beginning of the pandemic, it has become challenging to show the impact of therapeutic intervention at the current pandemic stage, given the disease characteristics in Covid-19 patients with severe disease. Moreover, there are also now relatively smaller numbers of patients that meet enrollment criteria, since fewer patients require hospitalization, in contrast to the situation earlier in the pandemic,” said Thierry Fumeaux, Kinarus CMO, in a statement.

Fumeaux continued to state that the drug will still be investigated in ambulatory Covid-19 patients who are not hospitalized, with the goal of reducing recovery time and the severity of the virus.

The KIN001 candidate is a combination of the small molecule inhibitor pamapimod and pioglitazone, which is currently used to treat type 2 diabetes.

The news has put a dampener on the company’s stock price $KNRS.SW, which is down 22% since opening on Friday.

Houston-developed vaccine and Chinese mRNA shot win EUAs in Indonesia

While Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech’s mRNA shots to counter Covid-19 have dominated supplies worldwide, a Chinese-based mRNA developer and IndoVac, a recombinant protein-based vaccine, was created and engineered in Houston, Texas by the Texas Children’s Hospital Center for Vaccine Development  vaccine is finally ready to head to another nation.

Walvax and Suzhou Abogen’s mRNA vaccine, dubbed AWcorna, has been approved for emergency use for adults 18 and over by the Indonesian Food and Drug Authority.

Li Yunchun

“This is the first step, and we are hoping to see more families across the country and the rest of the globe protected, which is a shared goal for us all,” said Walvax Chairman Li Yunchun, in a statement.

According to Walvax, the vaccine is 83% effective against the “wild-type” of SARS-CoV-2 infection with the strength against the Omicron variants standing at around 71%. The shots are also not required to be stored in deep freeze conditions and can be put in storage at 2 to 8 degrees Celsius.

Walvax and Abogen have been making progress on their mRNA vaccine for a while. Last year, Abogen received a massive amount of funding as it was moving the candidate forward.

However, while the candidate is moving forward overseas, it’s still finding itself stuck in regulatory approval in China. According to a report from BNN Bloomberg, China has not approved any mRNA vaccines for domestic usage.

Meanwhile, PT Bio Farma, the holding company for state-owned pharma companies in Indonesia, is prepping to make 20 million doses of the IndoVac COVID-19 vaccine this year and 100 million doses by 2024.

IndoVac’s primary series vaccines include nearly 80% of locally sourced content. Indonesia is seeking Halal Certification for the vaccine since no animal cells or products were used in the production of the vaccine. IndoVac successfully completed an audit from the Indonesian Ulema Council Food and Drug Analysis Agency, and the Halal Certification Agency of the Religious Affairs Ministry is expected to grant their approval soon.

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