Fitch Affirms Tunisia at CCC-, Expects Growth to Fall to 0.9%

A square in the Tunisian capital (Reuters)
A square in the Tunisian capital (Reuters)
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Fitch Affirms Tunisia at CCC-, Expects Growth to Fall to 0.9%

A square in the Tunisian capital (Reuters)
A square in the Tunisian capital (Reuters)

Fitch Ratings on Saturday affirmed Tunisia's Long-Term Foreign-Currency Issuer Default Rating (IDR) at "CCC-," also expecting growth to fall to 0.9% of GDP in 2023 from 2.4% in 2022.
The agency said Tunisia's 'CCC-' rating reflects the heightened uncertainty around the government's ability to meet its large budget financing needs - revised up in the absence of progress on key subsidy reforms - and increasing debt maturities.
It added that the affirmation balances Fitch’s revised assumption that an IMF program is unlikely to be reached in 2024 with the better than expected resilience of international reserves despite the limited availability of external funding.
Also, Fitch expects GDP growth to fall to 0.9% of GDP in 2023 from 2.4% in 2022, as a result of the sharp contraction of the rain-fed wheat production, impacted by rain shortfalls.
“We project a mild recovery to 1.5% average in 2024-2025, supported by a favorable base effect,” it said.
The agency expects growth will remain constrained by the high sovereign risk impacting the business environment and investor sentiment, high inflation (expected to average 9.3% in 2023), and the increasing crowding-out impact on the private sector from the government's high financing needs.
Fitch also assumed that fiscal financing needs to be consistently at or over 16% of GDP (over $8 billion) per year in 2023-2025 compared with 14% (about $6 billion) in 2022, and well above the 2015-2019 average of 9%.
This, it said, results from persistent wide budget deficits, and increasing domestic and external debt maturities, at about 10% of GDP per year in 2024-2025.
The agency also noted that domestic maturities are pushed up by the government's increasing reliance on shorter-term domestic financing to compensate for scarce external financing. External maturities are higher, partly because of upcoming Eurobond repayments (850 million euro in February 2024, and $1 billion in January 2025).
Therefore, Fitch said it expects external financing to reach about $2 billion by year-end.
“We do not expect Tunisia to access an IMF program in 2024, constraining external financing prospects."
In its baseline assumptions, Fitch also said the Tunisian government would need to raise the equivalent of 12% of GDP in domestic financing in 2023-2024 to cover the financing gap.
“We see this as a stretch to the domestic market capacity to absorb the public sector financing needs. Exposure to the public sector already represents more than 20% of the banking system's total assets, reaching up to 40% for some public banks,” it said.
The agency then noted that the sector has limited liquidity and banks' ability to fund the government increasingly relies on central bank purchases of government debt on the secondary market.



New Murabba Signs MoU with the Tourism Development Fund

The MoU was signed by New Murabba Development Company CEO Michael Dyke and TDF chief executive Qusai bin Abdullah Al-Fakhri. - SPA
The MoU was signed by New Murabba Development Company CEO Michael Dyke and TDF chief executive Qusai bin Abdullah Al-Fakhri. - SPA
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New Murabba Signs MoU with the Tourism Development Fund

The MoU was signed by New Murabba Development Company CEO Michael Dyke and TDF chief executive Qusai bin Abdullah Al-Fakhri. - SPA
The MoU was signed by New Murabba Development Company CEO Michael Dyke and TDF chief executive Qusai bin Abdullah Al-Fakhri. - SPA

New Murabba Development Company (NMDC) signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the Tourism Development Fund (TDF) to spearhead the transformation of Riyadh. The agreement will see the two entities work closely together to create New Murabba, the world’s largest modern downtown, serving as a model for future urban development and contributing towards Riyadh city’s evolution, in line with Vision 2030, SPA reported.

The MoU was signed by New Murabba Development Company CEO Michael Dyke and TDF chief executive Qusai bin Abdullah Al-Fakhri.

As part of the agreement, TDF will provide direct financing opportunities in collaboration with its network of partners and contracted investors, solidifying NMDC’s access to TDF’s expertise, networks, and investment capabilities.
The agreement is poised to unlock New Murabba's immense potential, placing Riyadh at the forefront of global destinations and showcasing the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia's commitment to innovative, sustainable urban development, cultural richness, and unparalleled visitor experiences on the world stage.
“We are pleased to have partnered with the New Murabba Development Company to bring this bold undertaking to life: an innovative undertaking that will enhance Riyadh’s status on the global stage as one of the commercial and financial capitals of the world,” TDF’s Al-Fakhri said. “This is a future-focused partnership that extends our efforts to work in a fully aligned manner with the private sector to create a greater, more prosperous Saudi Arabia.”
“In line with Vision 2030 and the National Tourism Strategy, our agreement with New Murabba Development Company marks the beginning of an exciting new chapter for Riyadh; one that adds to the richness of the Kingdom’s inspiring story of transformation,” the TDF chief said. “Together, we aim to create a modern downtown in the Saudi capital that provides even greater access to exceptional living, working, and entertainment experiences. Representing the very best of Saudi excellence, we believe New Murabba will attract tourists, as well as investors, to the Kingdom and improve citizens’ and residents’ quality of life.”
“New Murabba will be a gateway to the future,” NMDC’s Dyke said. “We are confident that our partnership with TDF will enable us to play a transformative role in diversifying sources of income for the Saudi economy, aligning seamlessly with the objectives of Vision 2030. Together, we will create groundbreaking opportunities that will not only elevate the Saudi tourism landscape but drive New Murabba to the forefront of global innovation.”


Oil Prices Rise as Gaza Deaths Complicate Ceasefire Talks

The sun is seen behind a crude oil pump jack in the Permian Basin in Loving County, Texas, US, November 22, 2019. REUTERS/Angus Mordant
The sun is seen behind a crude oil pump jack in the Permian Basin in Loving County, Texas, US, November 22, 2019. REUTERS/Angus Mordant
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Oil Prices Rise as Gaza Deaths Complicate Ceasefire Talks

The sun is seen behind a crude oil pump jack in the Permian Basin in Loving County, Texas, US, November 22, 2019. REUTERS/Angus Mordant
The sun is seen behind a crude oil pump jack in the Permian Basin in Loving County, Texas, US, November 22, 2019. REUTERS/Angus Mordant

Oil prices rose on Friday and were set to end the week modestly higher as talks over a potential ceasefire in Gaza were further complicated by the deaths of more than 100 Palestinians waiting for an aid delivery.
Brent futures for May rose 29 cents, or 0.4%, to $82.20 a barrel by 0118 GMT, while US West Texas Intermediate (WTI) rose 22 cents, or 0.3%, to $78.48, Reuters said.
WTI is on track for a 4% increase this week, while Brent is holding near last week's settlement price. Brent has hovered comfortably above the $80 mark for three weeks, with the Middle East conflict having only a modest impact on crude flows from attacks on shipping traffic in the Red Sea.
President Joe Biden said the US was checking reports of Israeli troops firing on people waiting for food aid in Gaza, saying he believed the deadly incident would complicate talks of a ceasefire. Israel has blamed the deaths on crowds surrounding the aid trucks, saying victims were trampled or run over.
Even before Thursday's incident, Israel and Hamas had said there was a big gulf between them in the talks in Qatar to hammer out details of a 40-day truce in the Gaza war. Qatari mediators have said there has been no breakthrough and the most contentious issues remain unresolved.
In other news, China's manufacturing activity in February contracted for a fifth straight month, an official factory survey showed on Friday, raising pressure on Beijing policymakers to roll out further stimulus measures as factory owners struggle for orders.
Also, the US Federal Reserve's preferred inflation gauge, the US personal consumption expenditures (PCE) index, showed January inflation in line with economists' expectations, keeping a June interest rate cut on the table.
On the supply side, a Reuters survey showed the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) pumped 26.42 million barrels per day (bpd) this month, up 90,000 bpd from January. Libyan output rose month-on-month by 150,000 bpd.
A Reuters survey of 40 economists and analysts forecast an average price of $81.13 a barrel for the front-month contract this year.


UAE's ADNOC Closes Acquisition of 24.9% Stake in Austria's OMV

FILE PHOTO: A worker injects a car with fuel at an ADNOC petrol station in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates July 10, 2017. REUTERS/Stringer/File Photo
FILE PHOTO: A worker injects a car with fuel at an ADNOC petrol station in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates July 10, 2017. REUTERS/Stringer/File Photo
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UAE's ADNOC Closes Acquisition of 24.9% Stake in Austria's OMV

FILE PHOTO: A worker injects a car with fuel at an ADNOC petrol station in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates July 10, 2017. REUTERS/Stringer/File Photo
FILE PHOTO: A worker injects a car with fuel at an ADNOC petrol station in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates July 10, 2017. REUTERS/Stringer/File Photo

Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC) said on Thursday it formally closed the acquisition of a 24.9% stake in Austria's Austrian oil and gas group OMV from Abu Dhabi sovereign wealth fund Mubadala Investment Company.

"The transaction accelerates delivery of ADNOC's global chemicals growth strategy and reinforces its status as a responsible, long-term partner and growth-oriented investor," ADNOC said in a statement.

Following the successful completion of the transaction, ADNOC owns 24.9 percent of OMV, while Österreichische Beteiligungs AG (ÖBAG), an Austrian independent holding company, holds 31.5 percent, with the remaining share capital in free float.

“ADNOC is proud to become a shareholder in OMV, a leading international energy and chemicals company, with whom we share a long-standing strategic partnership. Together, we have created significant value through our joint venture Borouge, and today’s investment will unlock further value and future growth opportunities for both companies,” said Khaled Salmeen, Executive Director, Downstream Industry, Marketing and Trading at ADNOC.

“Building on our 25 percent shareholding in Borealis, this transaction marks the next transformative step as we accelerate our ambitious chemicals growth strategy, unlocking significant growth and value creation opportunities for ADNOC, OMV and their respective shareholders.”


Saudi Banks to Increase their Capital Following Record Profits

The loan-to-deposit ratio ended 2023 at above 100% (Reuters)
The loan-to-deposit ratio ended 2023 at above 100% (Reuters)
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Saudi Banks to Increase their Capital Following Record Profits

The loan-to-deposit ratio ended 2023 at above 100% (Reuters)
The loan-to-deposit ratio ended 2023 at above 100% (Reuters)

Many Saudi banks have recently increased their capital, and five others on the financial market: al-Inma, al-Jazira, al-Bilad, Arab National, and Saudi Investment Bank announced their plans to increase capital, which will contribute to a total increase of $4.5 billion, according to analysts.

What prompts banks to increase their capital?

The head of asset management at Arbah Capital, Mohamed al-Farraj, indicated that this measure aims to adhere to Basel standards, seeking to enhance the banking sector by ensuring capital adequacy to cover credit and operational risks.

Farraj told Asharq Al-Awsat that the remarkable recovery of the Saudi economy after the COVID-19 pandemic has encouraged banks to expand and invest.

The expert said that the huge bank profits, due to high-interest rates, have strengthened their plans to finance the capital increase from retained profits.

He said that these increases enhance investors' confidence in the stability of banks and would push towards improving the value of their shares in the financial market, contributing to an increase in shareholders' profits.

By the end of 2023, Saudi banks witnessed the highest annual profits in their history, reaching about $18.7 billion due to the rise in interest rates and the growth of operating income and investment commissions.

Farraj expected Saudi banks to continue to increase their capital during the current year, with a total increase of 16-25%, and that the capital adequacy ratio would record a noticeable increase by the end of the current year, reaching from 15-18%.

The capital adequacy ratio (CAR) indicates how well a bank can meet its obligations. It compares capital to risk-weighted assets and is watched by regulators to determine a bank's risk of failure.

The ratio protects depositors and promotes the stability and efficiency of financial systems worldwide.

The capital adequacy ratio calculates a bank's capital by its risk-weighted assets. Currently, the minimum ratio of capital to risk-weighted assets is 8% under Basel II and 10.5% under Basel III, based on the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision guidelines.

Farraj also indicated that the increase will enhance the banks' ability to finance major projects, especially those included in "Vision 2030," and said that banks could find solutions to provide liquidity in foreign currencies by issuing bonds and instruments denominated in different currencies.

He said that credit growth is expected to rise during the current year, supported by economic recovery and capital increases, as the total value of loans in the banking sector equals more than $533 billion.

The expert explained that inflation leads to the erosion of the actual value of assets, noting that the Saudi banking sector faces increasing competition from technical financial companies.

- Lending support

Economic analyst and member of the Saudi Economic Association Saad al-Thagfan believes banks undertook capital increase operations to support their capital, expand their activities, and support lending operations.

Thagfan said that Saudi banks, under the supervision of the Central Bank of Saudi Arabia (SAMA), enjoy an excellent capital adequacy ratio exceeding the required rate.

The expert indicated that no obstacles were preventing the expansion of lending and achieving growth in profits, attributing this to the strength of the Kingdom's economy.

Meanwhile, Fitch forecasts Saudi banking sector financing growth of 10% in 2024, well above the GCC average (5%) but down from an estimated 12% in 2023 and 14% in 2022.

The cost of funding will remain sensitive to changes in the US Fed rate, but Fitch expects the average net interest margin (NIM) to stay around 3%.

Fitch also forecasts deposit growth of 10% in 2024, mainly from term deposits, with the proportion of demand deposits likely to decrease to below 50% of total deposits.

For its part, Standard & Poor's expected a robust credit growth of 8%-9% in 2024. The Agency expected the Saudi government and its related entities to continue to inject deposits into the banking system to support the banks' credit growth.

- Financing challenges

In the same context, Jadwa Investment Company does not expect banks to shoulder the burden of Vision 2030 financing, but they will need to keep diversifying their funding sources to support the private sector.

"Saudi banks have historically been highly liquid, well-capitalized and profitable. This is still broadly the case, but while Vision 2030 has opened up new lending opportunities, funding challenges are becoming more pressing. "

The company noted that it was clear from the loan-deposit ratio (LDR), which measures lending to the private sector against available deposits.

In recent years, buoyant economic growth has propelled brisk credit demand, and although deposits have grown, they have not kept pace with lending.

Consequently, the LDR finished 2023 above 100, an uncomfortable metric for risk managers.

"With deposit growth now softening, pulling this ratio back to acceptable levels will mean putting the brakes on lending growth—unless other funding sources can be captured."


Saudi Tourism Development Fund Signs MoU with Spain's IE University

The agreement aims to improve employee knowledge, awareness, and competencies in the tourism field. SPA
The agreement aims to improve employee knowledge, awareness, and competencies in the tourism field. SPA
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Saudi Tourism Development Fund Signs MoU with Spain's IE University

The agreement aims to improve employee knowledge, awareness, and competencies in the tourism field. SPA
The agreement aims to improve employee knowledge, awareness, and competencies in the tourism field. SPA

The Saudi Tourism Development Fund (TDF) has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with IE University in Spain, a higher education institution focused on training influential leaders. The objective is to implement tailored educational programs and training courses for TDF employees, aligning with the National Tourism Strategy and Saudi Vision 2030.

The agreement, inked by TDF CEO Qusai bin Abdullah Al-Fakhri and IE University President Santiago Iñiguez, aims to elevate employee knowledge, awareness, and competencies in the tourism field.

Al-Fakhri stated that the MoU signifies a significant step toward fostering positive interaction between the tourism sector and educational institutions. The goal is to enhance human capabilities, equip individuals with necessary skills and knowledge, and align development with quality and excellence standards. This, in turn, contributes to professional growth, active participation in Saudi Arabia's tourism boom, and a role in driving growth and prosperity.

Furthermore, Al-Fakhri emphasized TDF's commitment to developing skills and competencies, providing professional development opportunities, and ensuring a qualified workforce to meet the demands of the growing tourism sector. The collaboration with IE University reflects the commitment to creating a supportive educational environment in crucial tourism regions.

IE University's President highlighted the importance of cooperation between higher education and tourism, emphasizing the need to develop specialized professionals in the field.

The agreement aims to achieve integration between education and tourism, working towards producing qualified individuals.

The MoU is part of the TDF's broader initiative, collaborating with top universities, training centers, and international expertise houses. The Graduate Development Program (Tourism Olou) is among the launched educational programs designed to develop Saudi talents, enhance competitiveness, and provide essential skills for the tourism sector.


Human Capability Initiative Conference in Riyadh Explores Increasing Employment Rate in New Industries

Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman speaking to the audience at the HCI conference in Riyadh (Asharq Al-Awsat)
Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman speaking to the audience at the HCI conference in Riyadh (Asharq Al-Awsat)
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Human Capability Initiative Conference in Riyadh Explores Increasing Employment Rate in New Industries

Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman speaking to the audience at the HCI conference in Riyadh (Asharq Al-Awsat)
Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman speaking to the audience at the HCI conference in Riyadh (Asharq Al-Awsat)

The Human Capability Initiative (HCI) Conference was launched in Riyadh at the King Abdulaziz International Convention Center under the patronage of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

On the sidelines of the conference, Energy Minister and Chairman of the Board of Trustees of King Abdullah Petroleum Studies and Research Center (KAPSARC), Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman, inaugurated the Kingdom's first specialized educational institution for higher studies in public policy.

- Women's Empowerment

During his speech, the Energy Minister stated that the government is committed to a localization program with 75%, highlighting the global disparity in female participation across sectors.

He pointed out that while most sectors have 39-49% female participation, the energy sector lags with only about 15% globally.

"With our current leadership, we went to self-discovery of what truly drives our economy, and you will find it in no more than the two factors that I'm going to mention: youth and women empowerment," added Prince Abdulaziz.

He added that developing human resources is the most critical measure for determining the development of any society, stressing that there is a need to fill the gaps in education and training.

- Attracting talent

He pointed out that the energy sector can't be isolated from other entities and institutions, adding that there must be cooperation with all concerned parties to develop the human resources.

The Energy Minister asserted the need for cooperation with the Ministries of Education and Labor.

He noted the attempt to involve training institutions to ensure the achievement of the strategic goal of covering the workforce, organizing its affairs, building capabilities, attracting and retaining talented people, and empowering women.

The energy minister announced the launch of the Saudi Technical Institute for Petroleum Services, rebranded as the Energy Tech Institute.

Saudi Arabia is set to create 150,000 new jobs in chemical plants and renewable energy facilities with a commitment to achieving 75% localization, said the Minister.

"We see somewhere around 150,000 jobs being created, including not only working in chemical plants and with heavy wind or renewable facilities, but also we see many jobs are coming through the localization programs," announced Prince Abdulaziz.

"We also are committed to a localization program which is 75%."

- Enhance strategies

For his part, Saudi Education Minister Yousef al-Benyan stressed during his opening speech at the conference that the Human Capability Initiative demonstrates the Kingdom's commitment to enriching the global dialogue and promoting implementable strategies and solutions.

He stated that more than 200 global leaders and experts will join the conference to share their views on unleashing the potential of human capabilities and stimulate international cooperation to achieve maximum flexibility in times of uncertainty.

Benyan highlighted that global estimates indicate a potential disruption of 40% of workers' skills within the next four to five years due to these changes, and technology adoption is set to transform approximately 75% of business practices globally.

Highlighting the critical role of human capital in navigating a dynamic labor market, he emphasized the need for comprehensive efforts to enhance human capabilities.

"The success of industrial developments in green technology, healthcare, generative technology, and artificial intelligence hinges on a future-proof workforce equipped with the necessary skills," Benyan said, stressing that HCI aligns with Vision 2030.

- Shift in the employment landscape

He added that such a global platform aims to equip individuals with the skills and knowledge needed to navigate the evolving job market, ultimately fostering empowered individuals and resilient economies for the future.

The Kingdom's Human Capability Development Program has created a dynamic strategy that extends across the stages of learning.

He described the program as a comprehensive strategy designed to empower individuals to unleash their full potential, prioritizing collaboration among government agencies, the private sector, and non-profit organizations to ensure collective success and prosperity.

"The Kingdom welcomes collaboration with all stakeholders to explore opportunities and design innovative policies and solutions that enhance human capabilities," he said.

More than 45 agreements that reflect the Kingdom's commitment to cooperating with all partners will be announced during the conference.

The agreements were reached with representatives of over 70 countries with the shared mission of unlocking human potential.

- Innovation and development

Furthermore, Minister of Industry and Mineral Resources Bandar al-Khorayef launched the Strategy for Developing Human Capability in the Industrial and Mining Sectors and the National Academy for Industry during the Human Capability Initiative (HCI) Conference, in partnership with the Public Investment Fund (PIF).

Khorayef revealed that more than 50,000 employees had been trained during the past year in coordination with the private sector, with a 40% increase in the workforce.

Saudi Arabia should become an innovative country in research, development, and innovation, and those priorities lead to achieving sustainability in many sectors.

Khorayef highlighted efforts in the industry and mining sectors to incorporate new business models and technologies to shape the future of jobs for citizens.

- Attracting talent

The Minister unveiled the Human Capital Development Strategy for mining and industries with four key objectives.

"The first is to cultivate, grow, and attract the right talent; second is to empower the talent and leadership, create and complement the culture and environment for competitive human capital; third, boost innovation, productivity, and future readiness of the human capital," Khorayef said.

It also aims to drive a collaborative ecosystem where the ministry will orchestrate and build the regulatory foundation, and the private sector will lead.

A dialogue session within the "Human Capabilities Initiative Conference" shed light on advanced industries by empowering human capabilities and the importance of technology in creating more jobs.

- Stimulate human potential

The conference included a "Going Far, Going Together – The Critical Role of Collaboration" session with the participation of Saudi Permanent Representative to the EU Haifa al-Jedea, Dean of Said Business School at Oxford University Professor Soumitra Dutta, Udacity CEO Kai Roemmelt, Regional Director – Human Development for MENA at the World Bank Fadia Saadah, and Managing Director World Economic Forum Saadia Zahidi.

Participants pointed out to the importance of the Kingdom's Human Capacity Initiative Conference sponsorship, which is closely linked to Vision 2030.

They indicated that the conference is a testimony to Saudi Arabia's firm commitment to enhancing cooperation to stimulate human potential and innovation and evidence of its dedication to building a prosperous and sustainable future for its citizens and the world.

Jedea discussed providing everyone with good job opportunities, adding that policies must include all concerned parties.

She stressed the importance of government investments and multinational companies in human resources, investment in peace and work efforts, and cooperation with various sectors in empowering human capabilities.

For her part, the World Bank official touched on the influential role of human capabilities and that they are an essential factor in development, as they contribute to achieving 80% of the wealth of any developed country.


Saudi Economy Minister, World Economic Forum President Discuss Preparations for WEF Special Meeting

The Saudi Minister of Economy and Planning and the World Economic Forum discussed the preparations for the WEF Special Meeting. SPA
The Saudi Minister of Economy and Planning and the World Economic Forum discussed the preparations for the WEF Special Meeting. SPA
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Saudi Economy Minister, World Economic Forum President Discuss Preparations for WEF Special Meeting

The Saudi Minister of Economy and Planning and the World Economic Forum discussed the preparations for the WEF Special Meeting. SPA
The Saudi Minister of Economy and Planning and the World Economic Forum discussed the preparations for the WEF Special Meeting. SPA

Saudi Minister of Economy and Planning Faisal bin Fadhil Alibrahim and World Economic Forum President Børge Brende have held a meeting to discuss the preparations for the World Economic Forum Special Meeting to be held in the Kingdom in April.

They also discussed global economic issues.

Riyadh will host the WEF Special Meeting on global cooperation, growth and energy, on April 28-29.


Oil Falls on US Demand Worries, Interest Rate Fears

The sun is seen behind a crude oil pump jack in the Permian Basin in Loving County, Texas, US, November 22, 2019. REUTERS/Angus Mordant
The sun is seen behind a crude oil pump jack in the Permian Basin in Loving County, Texas, US, November 22, 2019. REUTERS/Angus Mordant
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Oil Falls on US Demand Worries, Interest Rate Fears

The sun is seen behind a crude oil pump jack in the Permian Basin in Loving County, Texas, US, November 22, 2019. REUTERS/Angus Mordant
The sun is seen behind a crude oil pump jack in the Permian Basin in Loving County, Texas, US, November 22, 2019. REUTERS/Angus Mordant

Oil prices fell on Thursday after a larger-than-expected build in US crude stockpiles stoked worries about slow demand, while signs that US interest rates could remain elevated added to pressure.
Brent crude futures for April fell 43 cents, or 0.5%, to $83.25 a barrel by 0830 GMT, after rising 3 cents in the previous session. The April contract expires on Thursday and the more active May contract was down 33 cents at $81.82.
US West Texas Intermediate crude futures were down 26 cents, or 0.3%, to $78.28 a barrel.
Brent is set to end the month up at nearly 2%, its second monthly gain, while WTI is also set to rise for a second month, gaining about 3% in February.
US crude oil stockpiles rose while gasoline and distillate inventories fell last week as refiners ran at below seasonal lows due to planned and unplanned outages, the Energy Information Administration said on Wednesday.
Crude inventories rose for the fifth consecutive week, increasing by 4.2 million barrels to 447.2 million barrels in the week ended Feb. 23, the EIA said, compared with analysts' expectations in a Reuters poll for a 2.7 million-barrel rise.
"Large stockpiles heightened investors' worries over a slow economy and reduced oil demand in the US," said Satoru Yoshida, a commodity analyst with Rakuten Securities.
"The anticipation of delayed US rate cuts also weighed on the market sentiment as it could undermine oil demand," he said.
High borrowing costs typically reduce economic growth and oil demand.
Traders have already dialed back expectations for US interest rate cuts after a slew of strong data, including hot consumer price index and producer price index readings. They expect an easing cycle to kick off in June, compared with the start of 2024 when bets were in March.
Market participants are now waiting for the US personal consumption expenditures price index, the Federal Reserve's preferred measure of inflation, for more trading cues.
The index, to be released on Thursday, is expected to show prices ticked up 0.3% on a monthly basis in January.
The market also eyed the possible extension of voluntary oil output cuts from OPEC+, which has limited price declines for now.
"With the demand outlook remaining uncertain, we think OPEC will extend the current supply agreement to the end of the second quarter," ANZ analysts Daniel Hynes and Soni Kumari said in a client note.
The price outlook remains unchanged, the analysts added, projecting 2024 annual average prices at $86 a barrel for Brent and $81 a barrel for WTI.
The conflict in the Middle East is also expected to keep a floor under oil prices, Rakuten's Yoshida said.
Both Israel and Hamas have played down the prospects for a truce in their war in Gaza and Qatari mediators have said the most contentious issues are still unresolved.


Red Sea National Academy to Support Saudi Tourism Sector

The academy's objective is to train 10,000 participants by 2030, preparing young Saudis for diverse roles within the tourism sector. SPA
The academy's objective is to train 10,000 participants by 2030, preparing young Saudis for diverse roles within the tourism sector. SPA
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Red Sea National Academy to Support Saudi Tourism Sector

The academy's objective is to train 10,000 participants by 2030, preparing young Saudis for diverse roles within the tourism sector. SPA
The academy's objective is to train 10,000 participants by 2030, preparing young Saudis for diverse roles within the tourism sector. SPA

The establishment of "the Red Sea National Academy" (TRSNA) was announced during the Human Capability Initiative held in Riyadh to implement joint programs between the Technical and Vocational Training Corporation, Colleges of Excellence and Red Sea Global, to qualify trainees with technical specializations that align with the demands of the labor market in the region.

The announcement of the establishment was made under the patronage of Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud, Crown Prince, Prime Minister of the Kingdom.

TRSNA will be established and operated in Al-Wajh and develop joint training programs that are aligned with the needs of the labor market.

The academy's objective is to train 10,000 participants by 2030, preparing young Saudis for diverse roles within the tourism sector. The signing of the agreement was sponsored by Minister of Education Yousef Al-Benyan.

The agreement involved the Vice Governor of Planning & Business Development at the Technical and Vocational Training Corporation, Reem Al-Muqbel, CEO of Colleges of Excellence, Eng. Ayman Al-Abdullah, and Group CEO of Red Sea Global John Pagano.

Al-Muqbel underscored the Technical and Vocational Training Corporation's commitment to developing national human resources through various training programs and building strategic partnerships with the private sector to address the labor market's needs for qualified human resources.

Al-Abdullah expressed confidence in TRSNA's ability to supply the tourism sector with qualified Saudis. He emphasized that TRSNA will create a stimulating training environment to enhance creative and innovative skills among trainees, becoming a leading center for education and training in the field of tourism, thereby enhancing the Kingdom's position as a global tourist destination.

Highlighting TRSNA as part of the Strategic Partnership Institutes in the Kingdom emphasizes its commitment to providing high-quality training programs tailored to the evolving demands of the labor market.

Pagano commented that, as one of the core projects in making Vision 2030 a reality, RSG is at the forefront of the Kingdom's growing tourism industry.

It has two hotels open, with an additional four resorts scheduled to open by the end of this year and 19 hotels across The Red Sea and Amaala opening next year.


Khalid bin Salman Named Chairman of SAMI Board of Directors

Saudi Defense Minister Prince Khalid bin Salman.
Saudi Defense Minister Prince Khalid bin Salman.
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Khalid bin Salman Named Chairman of SAMI Board of Directors

Saudi Defense Minister Prince Khalid bin Salman.
Saudi Defense Minister Prince Khalid bin Salman.

The Saudi Arabian Military Industries (SAMI), a key enterprise under the Public Investment Fund (PIF), announced on Wednesday a restructuring of its Board of Directors.

Defense Minister Prince Khalid bin Salman was named as Chairman of the board.

The board includes Minister of Industry and Mineral Resources Bandar Al-Khorayef, Chairman of the General Authority for Civil Aviation Abdulaziz Al-Duailej, Assistant Minister of Defense Eng. Talal Al-Otaibi, Dr. Khalid Al-Biyari, Yasir Al-Salman, Eng. Omar Al-Madhi, and Eng. Abdulaziz Al-Suqair.

SAMI CEO Walid bin Abdulmajeed Abu Khalid hailed the efforts of the previous board which managed to lead it to become one of the world’s top 100 specialized defense companies.

SAMI was established in 2018 by the PIF to contribute to achieving the Kingdom's Vision 2030 by localizing 50% of the Kingdom's defense spending.

SAMI has been playing an essential role in developing the capabilities of its defense system and enhancing its self-sufficiency through its growing portfolio of products and services across its business sectors.