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Economy

The Balance We Are Looking For

Osama Rizvi

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The bulls and bears face a continuous tug-of-war as the markets yaw from one side to another. Now-a-days the markets are stable with the continuous instability triggered, sometimes, by the Hurricanes and at times by the increase in inventory levels. The world is also looking forward to 26 September when the top producers of the world meet on the side lines of International Energy Forum in Algiers to decide the future of oil. If from one side the outlook for price seem very strong the fickleness of oil markets do not let one cherish this thought for long.

The past 11 weeks have seen a surge in rig count and there has been an unprecedented increase in refined products. The Cushing Inventory level is also swelled. All this is symptomatic of a weak demand as the OPEC continues to pump oil at record levels and US shale boom doesn’t seem to settle. The same point of view was echoed by IEA’s Oil Market Report for September. The report, which says that “demand has been slowing faster than expected”, had many investors frown. Moreover, despite the fact that one of the major oil producer i.e. Kingdom of Saudi Arabia had its reserves depleted down to $500bn from $700bn and suffering from a budget deficit of $100 billion, still continues to keep their nodding donkeys busy in an effort to vie for market share.

OPEC’s production in August touched an all-time high of 33.47mbpd, 930,000bpd higher than last year. OECD inventories crossed the deadly 3.1 billion barrel mark. Such developments are enough to put kibosh on the ongoing process of market re-balancing. The demand from China and India is reducing. China few months back horded millions of barrels until there storage levels could take no more. Hence, this ebb in demand was quite blatant. Also, China has been, of-late, diversifying its energy investments. The first ever World Energy Investment Report published by IEA has some very inquisitive facts to reveal. China’s investment in renewables-based power capacity surpassed other countries “reaching more than USD 90 billion or over 60% of its total investment in generation in 2015.” This inclination to invest in a kaleidoscopic energy mix is another factor of China’s low demand.

Now to tickle the bear, consider the fact that US shale basins shed 85,000 bpd in September as per the EIA Drilling Productivity Report. Also trillions of dollars of upstream E&P projects have been slashed out putting a check on an ongoing tendency of complacency against supply. Many of the oil savants construe such portents suggesting that the current situation can turn-turtle. To further cement the bullish prognostications consider the fact that the amount of oil discovered in past year was the lowest in 70 years. Moreover, companies are incessantly filing for bankruptcy. As per Oilprice.com Intelligence report, 170 Oil and Gas companies have been declared insolvent. US production has also fallen from 8.7mbpd to 8.4mbpd. A recent news of the development of the biggest onshore oil field i.e. Kashagan, has brought nostalgia from the times when oil was at $100. This project dubbed as “cash all gone” by The Economist is now expected to start in October. ExxonMobil, Eni and Royal Dutch Shell are the joint owners of the projects funding up-to $50bn despite the industry being in doldrums. Italy’s Eni, Total, and China’s CNPC claim that the field will bring 360,000 barrels of black gold in market whereas the Kazakh Energy Minister Kanat Bozumbayev, adopting a moderate tone, considers this amount to be 100,000 b/d next year. Given the unfriendly location of this field and the very fact that it has been the victim of abeyance piling up almost $40bn (the project was started at $10bn) I still doubt its smooth execution.

On Oil Meeting

With all the news we’ve talked about it would be inappropriate to not to discuss the meeting of oil producers to which I alluded in the beginning. When the battle is for market share, the reader should be absolutely clear in his mind that the Middle-eastern oligarchy with KSA as its de-facto leader is not going to succumb at any cost. They have fought gallantly with depleting reserves, lifting subsidies, incensed public and even sacrificed an oil veteran only to take out the high-cost producers out of the game. They will continue to do so as their strategy is proving fruitful (US production has fallen from highs of 9mbpd to 8.4mpbd). Notwithstanding that US rig count is increasing it remains well low than what it was last year.

So this meeting, in which Russian President Mr. Putin , seems quite willing to pen down a deal, will be another wordplay- a ephemeral lull to appease the markets. Production cut is not at all possible for the reasons explained above. Production freeze, when the producers are wringing the earth of every drop of oil, even if happens will be of no utility.

Yes the factors, for instance; KSA’s military assault in Yemen, Iran’s affiliation in Syrian Civil War and Russia being its ally, US also funding different forces in Syria to fight against Assad, can put a pressure making the leaders stoop enough to sign on the deal but the possibility of high-cost producers opting to ‘chicken out’ will be enough to stop them to move their hand.

Given the confounding situation the oil markets is in. The balance we are looking for seems far away than we initially thought.

Independent Economic Analyst, Writer and Editor. Contributes columns to different newspapers. He is a columnist for Oilprice.com, where he analyzes Crude Oil and markets. Also a sub-editor of an online business magazine and a Guest Editor in Modern Diplomacy. His interests range from Economic history to Classical literature.

Economy

World Bank: Commodity prices to rise more than expected in 2018

MD Staff

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Oil prices are forecast to average $65 a barrel over 2018, up from an average of $53 a barrel in 2017, on strong demand from consumers and restraint by oil producers, while metals prices are expected to rise 9 percent this year, also on a pickup in demand and supply constraints, the World Bank said on Tuesday.

Prices for energy commodities – which include oil, natural gas, and coal — are forecast to jump 20 percent in 2018, a 16 percentage point upward revision from October’s outlook, the World Bank said in its April Commodity Markets Outlook. The metals index is expected to rise as an 9 percent drop in iron ore prices is offset by increases in all base metals prices, led by nickel, which is forecast to rise 30 percent.

Agricultural commodities, including food commodities and raw materials, are anticipated to see a price rise of over 2 percent this year on diminished planting prospects. Weather disruptions are expected to be minimal.

“Accelerating global growth and rising demand are important factors behind broad-based price increases for most commodities and the forecast of higher commodities prices ahead,” said Shantayanan Devarajan, World Bank Senior Director for Development Economics and acting Chief Economist. “At the same time, policy actions currently under discussion add uncertainty to the outlook.”

Oil prices are expected to average $65/bbl over 2019 as well. Although prices are projected to decline from April 2018 levels, they should be supported by continued production restraint by OPEC and non-OPEC producers and strong demand. Upside risks to the forecast include constraints to U.S. shale oil output, geopolitical risks in several producing countries, and concerns the United States may not waive sanctions against Iran.  Downside risks include weaker compliance with the oil producers’ agreement to restrain output or outright termination of the accord, rising output from Libya and Nigeria, and a quicker-than-expected rise in shale oil output.

“Oil prices have more than doubled since bottoming in early 2016, as the large overhang of inventories has been reduced significantly.” said John Baffes, Senior Economist and lead author of the Commodity Markets Outlook. “Strong oil demand and greater compliance by the OPEC and non-OPEC producers with their agreed output pledges helped tip the market into deficit.”

Upside risks to the metals price forecast include more robust global demand than expected. Supply could be held back by slow incorporation of new capacity, trade sanctions against metals exporters, and policy actions in China. Downside risks include slower-than-expected growth in major emerging markets, the restart of idle capacity, and an easing of pollution-related policies in China. Precious metals are expected to climb 3 percent this year in anticipation of U.S. interest rate increases and higher inflation expectations.

Grains and oils and meal prices are expected to rise in 2018, mostly due to lower planting intentions.  The mild La Niña cycle that extended into the early part of the year only affected banana production in Central America and soybean production in Argentina and did not impact global markets for those crops substantially. The possible introduction by China of countervailing duties in response to U.S. tariff increases could impact the soybean market.

A special focus section examines the changed landscape for oil-exporting economies after the 2014 oil price collapse. The oil price plunge eroded oil-related revenues, forcing abrupt cuts in government spending that accentuated the slowdown in private sector activity in many regions. Income inequality and political instability also weakened the ability of some oil-exporting economies to weather low oil prices.

“Oil exporters with flexible currency regimes, relatively large fiscal buffers, and more diversified economies have fared better than others since the oil price collapse,” said Ayhan Kose, director of World Bank’s Development Economics Prospects Group. “However, most oil exporters still face significant fiscal challenges in the face of revenue prospects that have weakened since 2014.”

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Economy

Financial Inclusion on the Rise, But Gaps Remain

MD Staff

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Financial inclusion is on the rise globally, accelerated by mobile phones and the internet, but gains have been uneven across countries. A new World Bank report on the use of financial services also finds that men remain more likely than women to have an account.

Globally, 69 percent of adults – 3.8 billion people – now have an account at a bank or mobile money provider, a crucial step in escaping poverty.  This is up from 62 percent in 2014 and just 51 percent in 2011. From 2014 to 2017, 515 million adults obtained an account, and 1.2 billion have done so since 2011, according to the Global Findex database. While in some economies account ownership has surged, progress has been slower elsewhere, often held back by large disparities between men and women and between the rich and poor. The gap between men and women in developing economies remains unchanged since 2011, at 9 percentage points.

The Global Findex, a wide-ranging data set on how people in 144 economies use financial services, was produced by the World Bank with funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and in collaboration with Gallup, Inc.

“In the past few years, we have seen great strides around the world in connecting people to formal financial services,” World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim said. “Financial inclusion allows people to save for family needs, borrow to support a business, or build a cushion against an emergency. Having access to financial services is a critical step towards reducing both poverty and inequality, and new data on mobile phone ownership and internet access show unprecedented opportunities to use technology to achieve universal financial inclusion.”

Download The Global Findex Database 2017: Measuring Financial Inclusion and the Fintech Revolution

There has been a significant increase in the use of mobile phones and the internet to conduct financial transactions. Between 2014 and 2017, this has contributed to a rise in the share of account owners sending or receiving payments digitally from 67 percent to 76 percent globally, and in the developing world from 57 percent to 70 percent.

 “The Global Findex shows great progress for financial access–and also great opportunities for policymakers and the private sector to increase usage and to expand inclusion among women, farmers and the poor,” H.M. Queen Máxima of the Netherlands, the United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Advocate for Inclusive Finance for Development, said. “Digital financial services were the key to our recent progress and will continue to be essential as we seek to achieve universal financial inclusion.”

Globally, 1.7 billion adults remain unbanked, yet two-thirds of them own a mobile phone that could help them access financial services. Digital technology could take advantage of existing cash transactions to bring people into the financial system, the report finds. For example, paying government wages, pensions, and social benefits directly into accounts could bring formal financial services to up to 100 million more adults globally, including 95 million in developing economies. There are other opportunities to increase account ownership and use through digital payments: more than 200 million unbanked adults who work in the private sector are paid in cash only, as are more than 200 million who receive agricultural payments.

“We already know a lot about how to make sure women have equal access to financial services that can change their lives,” Melinda Gates, Co-Chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, said. “When the government deposits social welfare payments or other subsidies directly into women’s digital bank accounts, the impact is amazing. Women gain decision-making power in their homes, and with more financial tools at their disposal they invest in their families’ prosperity and help drive broad economic growth.”

This edition of the Global Findex database includes updated indicators on access to and use of formal and informal financial services.  It adds data on the use of financial technology, including mobile phones and the internet to conduct financial transactions, and is based on over 150,000 interviews around the world. The database has been published every three years since 2011.

“The Global Findex database has become a mainstay of global efforts to promote financial inclusion,” World Bank Development Research Group Director Asli Demirgüç-Kunt said. “The data offer a wealth of information for development practitioners, policymakers and scholars, and are helping track progress toward the World Bank Group goal of Universal Financial Access by 2020 and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.”

Regional Overviews

In Sub-Saharan Africa, mobile money drove financial inclusion. While the share of adults with a financial institution account remained flat, the share with a mobile money account almost doubled, to 21 percent. Since 2014, mobile money accounts have spread from East Africa to West Africa and beyond. The region is home to all eight economies where 20 percent or more of adults use only a mobile money account: Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Gabon, Kenya, Senegal, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zimbabwe. Opportunities abound to increase account ownership: up to 95 million unbanked adults in the region receive cash payments for agricultural products, and roughly 65 million save using semiformal methods.

In East Asia and the Pacific, the use of digital financial transactions grew even as account ownership stagnated. Today, 71 percent of adults have an account, little changed from 2014. An exception is Indonesia, where the share with an account rose by 13 percentage points to 49 percent. Gender inequality is low: men and women are equally likely to have an account in Cambodia, Indonesia, Myanmar, and Vietnam. Digital financial transactions have accelerated especially in China, where the share of account owners using the internet to pay bills or buy things more than doubled—to 57 percent. Digital technology could be leveraged to further increase account use: 405 million account owners in the region pay utility bills in cash, though 95 percent of them have a mobile phone.

In Europe and Central Asia, account ownership rose from 58 percent of adults in 2014 to 65 percent in 2017. Digital government payments of wages, pensions, and social benefits helped drive that increase. Among those with an account, 17 percent opened their first one to receive government payments. The share of adults making or receiving digital payments jumped by 14 percentage points to 60 percent. Digitizing all public pension payments could reduce the number of unbanked adults by up to 20 million.

In Latin America and the Caribbean, wide access to digital technology could enable rapid growth in financial technology use: 55 percent of adults own a mobile phone and have access to the internet, 15 percentage points more than the developing world average. Since 2014, the share of adults making or receiving digital payments has risen by about 8 percentage points or more in such economies as Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Haiti, and Peru. About 20 percent adults with an account use mobile or the internet to make a transaction through an account in Argentina, Brazil, and Costa Rica. By digitizing cash wage payments, businesses could expand account ownership to up to 30 million unbanked adults—almost 90 percent of whom have a mobile phone.

In the Middle East and North Africa, opportunities to increase financial inclusion are particularly strong among women. Today 52 percent of men but only 35 percent of women have an account, the largest gender gap of any region. Relatively high mobile phone ownership offers an avenue for expanding financial inclusion: among the unbanked, 86 percent of men and 75 percent of women have a mobile phone. Up to 20 million unbanked adults in the region send or receive domestic remittances using cash or an over-the-counter service, including 7 million in the Arab Republic of Egypt.

In South Asia, the share of adults with an account rose by 23 percentage points, to 70 percent. Progress was driven by India, where a government policy to increase financial inclusion through biometric identification pushed the share with an account up to 80 percent, with big gains among women and poorer adults. Excluding India, regional account ownership still rose by 12 percentage points—but men often benefited more than women. In Bangladesh, the share with an account rose by 10 percentage points among women while nearly doubling among men. Regionwide, digitizing payments for agricultural products could reduce the number of unbanked adults by roughly 40 million.

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Economy

Record high remittances to low- and middle-income countries in 2017

MD Staff

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Remittances to low- and middle-income countries rebounded to a record level in 2017 after two consecutive years of decline, says the World Bank’s latest Migration and Development Brief.

The Bank estimates that officially recorded remittances to low- and middle-income countries reached $466 billion in 2017, an increase of 8.5 percent over $429 billion in 2016. Global remittances, which include flows to high-income countries, grew 7 percent to $613 billion in 2017, from $573 billion in 2016.

The stronger than expected recovery in remittances is driven by growth in Europe, the Russian Federation, and the United States. The rebound in remittances, when valued in U.S. dollars, was helped by higher oil prices and a strengthening of the euro and ruble.

Remittance inflows improved in all regions and the top remittance recipients were India with $69 billion, followed by China ($64 billion), the Philippines ($33 billion), Mexico ($31 billion), Nigeria ($22 billion), and Egypt ($20 billion).

Remittances are expected to continue to increase in 2018, by 4.1 percent to reach $485 billion. Global remittances are expected to grow 4.6 percent to $642 billion in 2018.

Longer-term risks to growth of remittances include stricter immigration policies in many remittance-source countries. Also, de-risking by banks and increased regulation of money transfer operators, both aimed at reducing financial crime, continue to constrain the growth of formal remittances.

The global average cost of sending $200 was 7.1 percent in the first quarter of 2018, more than twice as high as the Sustainable Development Goal target of 3 percent. Sub-Saharan Africa remains the most expensive place to send money to, where the average cost is 9.4 percent. Major barriers to reducing remittance costs are de-risking by banks and exclusive partnerships between national post office systems and money transfer operators. These factors constrain the introduction of more efficient technologies—such as internet and smartphone apps and the use of cryptocurrency and blockchain—in remittance services.

“While remittances are growing, countries, institutions, and development agencies must continue to chip away at high costs of remitting so that families receive more of the money. Eliminating exclusivity contracts to improve market competition and introducing more efficient technology are high-priority issues,” said Dilip Ratha, lead author of the Brief and head of KNOMAD.

In a special feature, the Brief notes that transit migrants—who only stay temporarily in a transit country—are usually not able to send money home. Migration may help them escape poverty or persecution, but many also become vulnerable to exploitation by human smugglers during the transit. Host communities in the transit countries may find their own poor population competing with the new-comers for low-skill jobs.

“The World Bank Group is mobilizing financial resources and knowledge on migration to support migrants and countries with the aim of reducing poverty and sharing prosperity. Our focus is on addressing the fundamental drivers of migration and supporting the migration-related Sustainable Development Goals and the Global Compact on Migration,” said Michal Rutkowski, Senior Director of the Social Protection and Jobs Global Practice at the World Bank.

Multilateral agencies can help by providing data and technical assistance to address adverse drivers of transit migration, while development institutions can provide financing solutions to transit countries. Origin countries need to empower embassies in transit countries to assist transit migrants.

The Global Compact on Migration, prepared under the auspices of the United Nations, sets out objectives for safe, orderly and regular migration. Currently under negotiation for final adoption in December 2018, the global compact proposes three International Migration Review Forums in 2022, 2026 and 2030. The World Bank Group and KNOMAD stand ready to contribute to the implementation of the global compact.

Regional Remittance Trends

Remittances to the East Asia and Pacific region rebounded 5.8 percent to $130 billion in 2017, reversing a decline of 2.6 percent in 2016. Remittance to the Philippines grew 5.3 percent in 2017 to $32.6 billion. Flows to Indonesia are expected to grow 1.2 percent to $9 billion in 2017, reversing the previous year’s sharp decline. Stronger growth in transfers from countries in Southeast Asia helped offset lower remittance flows from other regions, particularly the Middle East and the United States. Remittances to the region are expected to grow 3.8 percent to $135 billion in 2018.

Remittances to countries in Europe and Central Asia grew a rapid 21 percent to $48 billion in 2017, after three consecutive years of decline. Main reasons for the growth are stronger growth and employment prospects in the euro area, Russia, and Kazakhstan; the appreciation of the euro and ruble against the U.S. dollar; and the low comparison base after a nearly 22 percent decline in 2015. Remittances in 2018 will moderate as the region’s growth stabilizes, with remittances expected to grow 6 percent to $51 billion.

Remittances flows into Latin America and the Caribbean grew 8.7 percent in 2017, reaching another record high of nearly $80 billion. Main factors for the growth are stronger growth in the United States and tighter enforcement of U.S. immigration rules which may have impacted remittances as migrants remitted savings in anticipation of shorter stays in the United States. Remittance growth was robust in Mexico (6.6 percent), El Salvador (9.7 percent), Colombia (15 percent), Guatemala (14.3), Honduras (12 percent), and Nicaragua (10 percent). In 2018, remittances to the region are expected to grow 4.3 percent to $83 billion, backed by improvement in the U.S. labor market and higher growth prospects for Italy and Spain.

Remittances to the Middle East and North Africa grew 9.3 percent to $53 billion in 2017, driven by strong flows to Egypt, in response to more stable exchange rate expectations. However, the growth outlook is dampened by tighter foreign-worker policies in Saudi Arabia in 2018. Cuts in subsidies, increase in various fees and the introduction of a value added tax in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have increased the cost of living for expatriate workers. In 2018, growth in remittances to the region is expected to moderate to 4.4 percent to $56 billion.

Remittances to South Asia grew a moderate 5.8 percent to $117 billion in 2017. Remittances to many countries appear to be picking up after the slowdown in 2016. Remittances to India picked up sharply by 9.9 percent to $69 billion in 2017, reversing the previous year’s sharp decline. Flows to Pakistan and Bangladesh were both largely flat in 2017, while Sri Lanka saw a small decline (-0.9 percent). In 2018, remittances to the region will likely grow modestly by 2.5 percent to $120 billion.

Remittances to Sub-Saharan Africa accelerated 11.4 percent to $38 billion in 2017, supported by improving economic growth in advanced economies and higher oil prices benefiting regional economies. The largest remittance recipients were Nigeria ($21.9 billion), Senegal ($2.2 billion), and Ghana ($2.2 billion). The region is host to several countries where remittances are a significant share of gross domestic product, including Liberia (27 percent), The Gambia (21 percent), and Comoros (21 percent). In 2018, remittances to the region are expected to grow 7 percent to $41 billion.

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