Oil prices climb as US ramps up economic support measures

oil

Oil prices rose on Tuesday on hopes that the United States will reach a deal soon on a $2 trillion coronavirus aid package which could blunt the economic impact of the outbreak and in turn support oil demand

Brent crude oil LCOc1 futures for May delivery rose by 62 cents, or 2.3%, to $27.65 a barrel by 0346 GMT while West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude CLc1 futures gained 76 cents, or 3.3%, to $24.12. Both price benchmarks had risen over $1 earlier before pulling back slightly.

“Oil is clawing its way higher mainly on the back of the weaker dollar that stemmed from the Fed’s unprecedented measures,” said Edward Moya, senior market analyst at broker OANDA.

“WTI crude volatility will remain high and traders should not be surprised if this rally eventually gets faded.”

The U.S. Federal Reserve on Monday rolled out an extraordinary array of programs to backstop an economy reeling from restrictions on commerce that scientists say are needed to slow the coronavirus pandemic.

While a $2 trillion coronavirus economic stimulus package remained stalled in the U.S. Senate on Monday as lawmakers haggled over its provisions, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin voiced confidence that a deal would be reached soon.

The expected stimulus pushed the U.S. dollar lower as it will increase the cash supply. The dollar index .DXY, which measures the greenback against six major currencies, fell 0.5% on Tuesday.

A weaker greenback boosts dollar-denominated oil prices since buyers paying in other currencies will pay less for their crude.

Still, the overall crude demand outlook remains low as long as travel restrictions are in place and governments curtail commercial activities to prevent the coronavirus spread.

Prices and profit margins for motor and aviation fuels globally are under severe pressure from a plunge in demand as countries enforce lockdowns and airlines ground planes, forcing more refineries to reduce output and lower their crude oil demand.

Concerns over oil demand were also stoked by a doubling of new coronavirus cases in China, the world’s biggest oil importer, caused by a jump in infected travelers returning home from overseas. That is raising the risk of transmissions in Chinese cities and provinces that had seen no new infections in recent days.

“While the anticipated lengthy absence of air traffic presents a significant obstacle in its own right, … the expected ramp in supply, which suggests storage will fill very quickly, and then prices will plummet as physical demand continues to evaporate,” said Stephen Innes, chief global markets strategist at AxiCorp.

Our beloved Pakistan Resolution Day

Pakistan Resolution
Quaid e Azam is explaining the significance of a separate state.

The Lahore Resolution of 1940 is the result of the significant political movements in the world history. It led to the creation of a separate homeland for the Muslims of the Indian subcontinent.

The Lahore Resolution was passed by the working committee of All India Muslim League. The endorsement of the same was done by the mammoth congregation of Muslims on March 23rd, 1940 who were gathered there from all across the British India.

Founder fathers and Muslim League leaders after a dinner party 1940
Founder fathers and Muslim League leaders after a dinner party 1940

The Lahore Resolution (now Pakistan Resolution) expressed the idea of the state of Pakistan. It is only text that was discussed and agreed by the leaders of all corners of Indian sub-continent under the leadership of Muhammad Ali Jinnah. 

“Hindus and Muslims had nothing in common other than the fact that they shared a land, Their religion, their values, and their culture were all different. So that was why a new country was needed to get their rights.”

He demanded a separate homeland for the Muslims where they would be free from Hindu prejudices of caste, culture and religion. This decision got full support of the Muslims of the Sub-Continent.

The most important national monument of the country, built exactly where the historic resolution was passed in 1940.

“Muslims who are opposing Pakistan will spend rest of their lives proving loyalty to India.”

Now as the time passes since the creation of Pakistan and the condition of Muslims and other minorities continues to worsen in India today, the recent Violent Toll of Hindu Nationalism in India proved Mr Jinnah was a true genius if he actually foresaw the Indian fascists of future being given free reins in main cities and doing whatever they want to do.

Quaid-e-Azam arriving for the adoption of the Pakistan Resolution - 1940
Quaid-e-Azam arriving for the adoption of the Pakistan Resolution – 1940

This day we should help raise awareness among the new generations about the struggle of the Muslims for their right to self-determination and how important it is to safeguard Pakistan’s solidarity and integrity.

LONG LIVE PAKISTAN

The first 3D-printed ventilator prototype in Pakistan could be ready within two weeks

LAHORE: A group of volunteers from Pakistan, who call themselves Pakistan Against COVID-19 – Volunteers (PAC-V), have announced plans to use cutting edge 3D printing to produce affordable ventilators, respiratory valves and other essential equipment at a large scale. 

According to a report in The News, the group of volunteers from across Pakistan had earlier this month come together to develop affordable solutions to combat COVID-19 and manufacture medical equipment using 3D printing technology in the country. 

The volunteers are doctors, biomedical professionals, engineers, academics, diaspora, resource mobilisers and other smaller groups, who aim to make use of 3D printing to manufacture ventilators, valves and required equipment for the frontline response to the cornonavirus.

The group has announced that the first 3D ventilator prototype will be ready for testing within two weeks. The 3D printing process builds a three-dimensional object from a computer-aided design model (CAF), usually by successively adding material layer by layer, and is also called additive manufacturing.

The group has announced that it is seeking support from the nation to scale up the initiative for a larger impact on the health industry that requires resources and facilitation at different levels of the government. 

Dr Bilal Siddiqui, a PhD, is leading the initiative, and volunteers are concerned about the emerging challenge of the COVID-19 pandemic and its unprecedented stress on the healthcare system of Pakistan. 

Lack of medical equipment to cater to the needs of the patients is a major bottleneck as the country prepares to tackle the virus crisis. Medical equipment which is affordable and optimised for conditions in Pakistan is totally missing, according to health experts. 

High costs, logistical issues, manufacturing countries’ inability to fulfil export demands due to their own local demands, among other reasons, have made import of the equipment even more difficult.

Bilal led this startup and put things into motion by starting with his students, and reaching out to the academia and the industry. The aim was to develop affordable and replicable solutions for combating COVID-19 challenges.

The group is growing daily and has over 100 engineers, medical professionals, professors, entrepreneurs and resource mobilisers working tirelessly in various teams to produce solutions at a rapid pace. 

The group’s active collaboration is currently focused on developing local design and engineering solutions to make available equipment such as low-cost and massively available respiratory ventilators, portable oxygen supplies, face masks and protection screens. 

The group is also working to produce respiratory valves, viral media tubes, non-contact thermometers, and retrofitting existing vents to serve multiple patients, as well as arranging for 3D printing farms.

The group members are in touch with the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), hospitals, provincial governments and a large number of contributing organisations across the country.

Once the solutions are developed, tested and approved for medical use, they will be deployed across the nation. Arrangements at various levels are underway to make available the funds the group needs for mass manufacturing of the items, reports The News.

'We honour his sacrifice': Dr Usama's fight against COVID-19

Dr Usman Riaz will be declared national hero, says G-B information dept . PHOTO: Usman Riaz/ FACEBOOK.

GILGIT BALTISTAN: “We will again see what the issue is, and if they [quarantined pilgrims] need further treatment, they will be shifted to DHQ or city hospital, but if they can be treated here, we will provide treatment to them here.”

These were the last words of young doctor Usama Riaz, heard in a video recorded at a quarantine centre at Sakwar, Gilgit – where he ultimately ended up contracting the novel coronavirus while checking pilgrims returning from Iran and Iraq.

“Usama was continuously on duty and unfortunately was without proper protective gear necessary to handle coronavirus patient,” said a doctor referring to his video in which Riaz is seen wearing an ordinary mask. The video went viral on social media attracting sympathies for the young doctor.

According to relatives, Riaz returned home on Friday night from duty and went to bed. “But he couldn’t wake up next morning,” said the relative, adding he was rushed to combined military hospital (CMH) and then the district headquarter (DHQ) hospital where a CT scan machine was found to be out of order. The relatives appealed for airlifting him to Islamabad for treatment but that did not materialize either.

The 26-years-old Riaz, who was a resident of Chilas town, was then put on a ventilator at DHQ Gilgit, where he remained for the next three days before passing away on Sunday.

“It’s a national tragedy and we will award him the status of national hero,” Chief Minister Hafeezur Rehman told The Express Tribune.

“He was our frontline defence and we honour his sacrifice.”

Riaz’s death brings the tally of fatalities to five in Pakistan. The country has so far above 800 known cases of the virus. Sindh has reported the highest number of cases.

Mehtabur Rehman, a local journalist, who visited the quarantine centre said, “I visited the centre where Usama was deputed and found the situation deplorable”.

“As far as protective gear, there was no such thing on the ground,” said the journalist who was later put on quarantine on ‘suspicion’ of visiting the centre without following the standard operating procedures. Rehman termed the quarantine as a vendetta for exposing the government’s false claims.

The Pakistan Medical Association of Gilgit-Baltistan (PMA G-B) reacted to Riaz’s death and accused the government of showing negligence towards genuine issues of the doctors.

“Dr Riaz had contracted COVID-19 due to the negligence of government and its health department,” said President PMA G-B Dr Zulfiqar Ali while addressing a press conference in Gilgit.

US Secretary of State Pompeo visits Kabul amid multiple crises

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. PHOTO: REUTERS/File

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrived in the Afghan capital Kabul on Monday, a pool report said, amid an ongoing political crisis, a raging Taliban insurgency and rising coronavirus cases.

Pompeo was set to meet with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani along with his archrival Abdullah Abdullah, who also claims the presidency, following a contested election last year.

The visit comes just a day after the Afghan government and the Taliban held their first discussion on arranging prisoner exchanges — a key step in a broader push for peace following a withdrawal deal signed between Washington and the militants last month.

The agreement established a framework for bringing to an end America’s longest war following the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.

American envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, the lead negotiator in the Taliban talks, tweeted Sunday it was “urgent” to quickly conclude plans for the prisoner swap — as called for in the US pact with the Taliban — with the coronavirus pandemic complicating diplomatic contacts.

The deal called for the release of up to 5,000 Taliban fighters held by Kabul, and up to 1,000 members of the Afghan government forces in insurgent hands.

That was meant to take place before the start of peace talks between the government — which was not a party to the negotiations that produced the Doha deal — and the Taliban, originally set for March 10.

US sanctions Iran, seeks release of Americans amid coronavirus outbreak

Washington will maintain its maximum-pressure campaign to choke off Tehran’s ability to export its oil, says Pompeo. — AFP/File

The United States imposed fresh sanctions on Iran on Tuesday, keeping up its economic pressure campaign even as it offered to help Tehran cope with the coronavirus pandemic and called on the Islamic Republic to release detained Americans.

Iran is considering freeing some US citizens, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said at a news conference where he made clear Washington will maintain its maximum-pressure campaign to choke off Tehran’s ability to export its oil.

The campaign, instituted after President Donald Trump in 2018 unilaterally withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal Iran struck with six major powers, aims to force Iran to limit its nuclear, missile and regional activities.

Pompeo on Tuesday said the State Department is blacklisting nine entities based in South Africa, Hong Kong and China, as well as three Iranian individuals, for engaging in “significant transactions” to trade in Iranian petrochemicals.ARTICLE CONTINUES AFTER AD

While he did not name them, Pompeo said the step included blacklisting Iran’s armed forces social security investment company and its director for investing in sanctioned entities.

Separately, the Commerce Department said it will add six people – including five Iranian nuclear scientists – and 18 corporations to the US “Entity List” for aiding Iran’s nuclear program, Pakistan’s unsafeguarded nuclear and missile programs, and Russian military modernisation efforts.

Without naming them, the Commerce Department said the move covers one company in Iran, two entities in China, nine in Pakistan, and five in the United Arab Emirates and will constrict the export of certain items to them.

The Entity List names foreign parties that are barred from receiving some or all items subject to US export regulations unless the exporter secures a license, according to the department.

On Monday, sources familiar with the matter who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue said the United States was unlikely to ease sanctions on Iran despite an appeal from China that it do so because of the pandemic.

Pompeo urged Iran to free US citizens it has detained as a humanitarian gesture because of coronavirus. Iran has reported 16,169 coronavirus cases and 988 deaths in one of the worst national outbreaks outside of China, where the pandemic originated.

“We are aware that they are thinking about whether to release them or not,” Pompeo told reporters. “We are urging them … to release every American that is being wrongfully held there as a humanitarian gesture, given the risk that is posed.”

It is not clear exactly how many Americans Iran may hold, but they include father and son Baquer and Siamak Namazi; Michael White, a Navy veteran; and possibly Robert Levinson, a former FBI agent missing since 2007.

Did Idris Elba catch coronavirus from Canadian PM’s wife?

PHOTO: FILE

Idris Elba has suggested that he may have caught coronavirus from Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s wife Sophie, after the two met shortly before they both tested positive for coronavirus.

The Dark Tower actor shocked fans on Tuesday night after revealing via Twitter he was exposed to the deadly disease on March 4, the same day he posed with Sophie at a charity event in the UK, reported Daily Mail.

“It’s hard to say when I got the disease or when I contracted COVID-19, it’s hard to say when. I will say that I know I’ve been exposed to it from March 4,” Idris said in a recent video shared on social media.

“That’s when the person that came up positive, that was the time I got in contact with that person.” He continued, “So essentially, I could have been positive from March 4, but it’s hard to say when I contracted someone with corona, you can contract it at anytime but my known exposure was that day.”

The Mountain Between Us actor posed for photos with Sophie at the event, where the pair were seen in close proximity to each other as well as other celebrities and attendees.

“On Friday, last week, I was told that someone I had been in contact with had tested positive [for coronavirus],” Idris claimed in the video. “I am on location about to start filming. The news breaks that this person, who is also in the public eye, has tested positive.”

Idris also addressed the backlash he has been receiving on social media as to why he was tested for coronavirus when he claimed he had ‘no symptoms’ and ‘felt ok.’

“My job made me test immediately, I had to test anyway, as it meant I was putting a lot of people at risk if I had been exposed. We were lucky to get a test very quickly because of the shortages of the test,” the star said.

He also explained why his wife, Sabrina, has stayed by his side after fans criticised the model for putting herself at risk of exposure.

Panic buying forces British supermarkets to impose limits

coronavirus

LONDON: Panic buying by British shoppers escalated on Wednesday with shelves stripped bare by alarmed customers hoarding for the coronavirus isolation, prompting Tesco and Sainsbury’s to restrict purchases.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who has faced criticism for acting too slowly and too cautiously to tackle the coronavirus outbreak, said on Tuesday that there was no reason to stockpile and that food supplies were safe.

In supermarkets across the land, though, shoppers were spooked. Aisle after aisle were left empty with just ice cream and chocolate Easter eggs remaining at many major stores. Huge queues snaked around some supermarkets on Wednesday, Reuters reporters said.

“It’s getting worse,” said a source at one of Britain’s major supermarket groups.

Sainsbury’s is to restrict customer purchases to combat panic buying. Tesco is allowing shoppers to purchase just two packs of certain items such as dried pasta, toilet roll and long life milk.

Britain’s big grocers, including market leader Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda, and Morrisons, along with discounters Aldi and Lidl, have struggled for over a week to keep shelves stocked.

“We have enough food coming into the system, but are limiting sales so that it stays on shelves for longer and can be bought by a larger number of customers,” Sainsbury’s Chief Executive Mike Coupe said in a letter to customers.

Aldi on Monday became the first UK grocer to introduce rationing, limiting customers to buying four items of any one product during each visit.

Morrisons cautioned it was facing extraordinary times.

“We are currently facing unprecedented challenges and uncertainty dealing with COVID-19,” the company’s chairman Andrew Higginson, and its CEO David Potts said.

The supermarket industry says it is working closely with suppliers to keep food moving through the system and is making more deliveries to stores to get shelves re-stocked.

It says supplies are still coming in from Europe, despite lock-downs in Italy, Spain and France.

One executive said the government was only just starting to understand the enormity of the crisis for the industry.

“They’re in asking questions mode, they’re certainly not in telling us anything mode. They’re trying to understand what we’re seeing rather than telling us to do anything specific.”

The second source added: “Government are asking questions, listening and planning, but we’d appreciate a bit more help to get things moving.”

The source said the government could help by lifting restrictions on driver hours and relaxing Groceries Supply Code of Practice (GSCOP) regulations which slow the industry down.

Reuters reported on Monday that supermarket groups are working on plans to streamline their operations by cutting cafes, counters and other services to enable a depleted workforce to maintain basic provisions.

China to provide testing kits, ventilators to deal with coronavirus outbreak: FM Qureshi

China has decided to provide Pakistan with testing kits, protective gear and portable ventilators as the country tries to grapple with the coronavirus outbreak.

“China has decided it will provide us with a cash grant to set up a state-of-the-art isolation centre to combat the coronavirus outbreak in the country,” Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi told Geo Pakistan.

Qureshi was talking to the TV channel after coming back from Beijing. The FM was with President Arif Alvi who visited China on the invitation of President Xi Jinping.

“They are ready to help us and have even offered to share their medical expertise to combat the spread,” Qureshi said.

The foreign minister added that one of the main reasons for their visit was to show solidarity with China as the country started returning to normal after the pandemic.

“You cannot imagine the impact of our gesture,” said Qureshi. “The entire Chinese leadership appreciated our efforts, especially our move not to evacuate our students, residents from the country when every other country was.”

“They told us we were the first delegation to visit us since the virus broke out, which re-affirmed our ‘iron brother’ tag,” he said.

Speaking about the measures taken by China, especially in Wuhan, Qureshi said the measures taken by Beijing showed that the virus could be controlled. “There was only one reported cases in Wuhan, the epicentre yesterday which shows that the measures that they had taken were effective. The protocols in place worked,” the foreign minister said.

The Chinese leadership assured us that they stand with us as we stem the outbreak in Pakistan, Qureshi added.

Targeted approach

When asked about what measures the country will take to combat the outbreak, Qureshi said there was no need for a uniformed approach in the country, instead, Pakistan needs a targeted approach.

“Every province will need to be approached differently. Every province has a different need. We need to take decisions keeping in mind the province,” the foreign minister remarked.

“The measures taken in Wuhan were different than those taken in other provinces since there were more cases of the disease. We need to do the same here in Pakistan. Our main priority right now is to save lives. We have to keep in mind that the measures we take are balanced and do not destroy our economy,” Qureshi said.

“We don’t need a uniformed approach and need to monitor the situation and see what measures we need to take in areas with more pressure,” he said.

Qureshi added that public cooperation was another important factor in stopping the spread of the virus. “If the public had not cooperated [in China] the prevention would not have happened. The public needs to practice social distancing to stop the spread of the virus,” he noted.

He added that he had spoken to Pakistani students that the government had not evacuated and they were happy and had already started working on their thesis.

‘Will go go into self-isolation for five days’

The foreign minister further said he would go under five-day isolation after his trip to China.

“Before leaving for China we had a swab test done which came back negative,” Qureshi said.

“When we reached China, a blood and swab test was done which also came back negative and only after that we had our meetings. Before leaving, another blood test was conducted whose result will come out today,” Qureshi said.

The foreign minister added that as a precautionary measure, he has decided to go into self-isolation for five days. 

“After five days I will do another swab test and if that also comes back negative, I will then go out and interact with people. This is what the experts have suggested and I intend to do it to set an example for others,” he added. 

Oil crash piles pressure on virus-hit Saudi economy

Recent arrests of King Salman's brother and nephew have also triggered speculation of political instability. — AFP/File

From empty hotels to shuttered beauty salons, oil-dependent Saudi Arabia is bracing for a coronavirus-led economic slump on top of possible austerity measures as crude prices go into free fall.

Huge losses are expected after the Arab world’s biggest economy shut down cinemas, malls and restaurants, halted flights, suspended the year-round umrah pilgrimage and locked down eastern Qatif region — home to around 500,000 — in a bid to contain the deadly virus.

The top crude exporter also faces plummeting oil prices, which slipped below $30 a barrel this week for the first time in four years, on the back of sagging demand and a price war with Russia.

The shock of this liquidity sapping cocktail of events has necessitated austerity measures which are likely to imperil grandiose diversification projects.

Adding to the chain of events are the recent arrests of King Salman’s brother and nephew, which triggered speculation of political instability amid the government’s public silence on the royal purge.

“It’s crisis time,” said a Saudi government employee, explaining why he had begun converting part of his salary into US dollars and gold coins.

“Everything is unpredictable and we should be ready for the worst.”

The central bank has shrugged off fears that plunging oil prices were straining the kingdom’s currency, pegged for decades to the US dollar.

A jeweller in Riyadh told AFP he had fielded a number of enquiries to convert “substantial amounts of cash” into gold bars and coins.

  • Spending cuts –

Many government workers fear cuts to state allowances are coming despite rising living costs.

Some Saudis also worry that recruitment in the public and private sectors will freeze, just as unemployment was already high.

Meanwhile, Saudi students are worried that government scholarships for overseas education will take a hit.

The finance ministry has instructed government bodies to submit proposals to slash this year’s spending by 20 to 30 percent, the economic consultancy Nasser Saidi and Associates said in a research note.

“This will likely take the shape of postponed projects and delays in awarding contracts” among other economising measures, the note said.

The kingdom is now preparing budget scenarios in which crude prices could drop as low as $12-$20 per barrel, according to the Energy Intelligence Group.

“Public confidence depends on government spending and oil sentiment — both are down,” said a consultant advising a Saudi ministry on a major project.

“We don’t know if we will have our jobs tomorrow.”

The once free-spending OPEC kingpin has instructed Saudi ministries that they need to account for “every penny” they spend, the consultant added.

Saudi authorities did not respond to requests for comment.

Several Riyadh hotels —- many of them empty amid falling tourist numbers — have been forced to send their staff on unpaid leave.

But providing some support, the health ministry has booked multiple Riyadh hotels to quarantine people after the coronavirus scare, according to several staff and guests who were forced to empty the properties at short notice.

  • ‘Survival of fittest’ –

The oil crash follows the crude exporter’s decision to hike production from April and offer the biggest price cuts in two decades, in retaliation for Russia’s refusal to tighten supply as the virus saps demand.

Saudi Arabia has shrugged off criticism that the move could bankrupt its oil-producing rivals, indicating it was no longer willing to play the role of “swing producer” that bears the burden of stabilising the markets.

“The days of Saudi Arabia absorbing oil market shocks on behalf of the global economy and other producers are probably over,” said Saudi expert and author Ali Shihabi.

“The energy game… is now a survival of the fittest.”

The deep-pocketed kingdom, with fiscal reserves of around $500 billion, has reiterated it is an ultra low-cost producer of crude and can withstand low prices for years.