Saudi Tourism Forum Launches its Second Edition

The opening session of the Saudi Tourism Forum (Asharq Al-Awsat)
The opening session of the Saudi Tourism Forum (Asharq Al-Awsat)
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Saudi Tourism Forum Launches its Second Edition

The opening session of the Saudi Tourism Forum (Asharq Al-Awsat)
The opening session of the Saudi Tourism Forum (Asharq Al-Awsat)

The second edition of the Saudi Tourism Forum (STF) began Monday under the auspices of Visit Saudi at the Riyadh International Convention and Exhibition between Jan. 22 and 24.

The Saudi Tourism Ministry hosts the Forum with the Saudi Tourism Authority, Tourism Development Fund, and the Red Sea Authority. It brings together STA representatives with more than 100 other representatives of top destinations, airlines, hotels, travel and tourism companies, and tour operators.

The Forum, organized by 4M Events, aims to enrich the tourism sector, exchange experiences and ideas, and strengthen the partnership between the government and private sectors.

It seeks to provide investment opportunities for companies and investors in the sector and consolidate Saudi Arabia's position as a global tourist destination.

It also presents key projects in the field and discusses events and the industry's future.

CEO and member of STA Board of Directors Fahd Hamidaddin revealed the achievements of the tourism sector by the end of September 2023.

Hamidaddin said that by the end of September 2023, spending from domestic tourism increased to $23 billion, and about $27 billion was spent on inbound tourism.

He added that the new airline seats in 2023 reached 10 million after Wizz Air launched 21 new routes, contributing to 253,000 visits annually and spending $506 million.

Tourism products increased from 200 to 1,500 in 2023 in response to the target groups' increasing demand and diverse requirements.

The official also indicated that 17 travel agencies were added in 2023, adding approximately two million trips annually.

Regarding developing the tourist experience, Hamidaddin explained that more than 70 improvements have been made in the visitor experience through coordination with public and private partners of Visit Saudi.

The new improvements include providing information signs in the Chinese language at airports, meeting some special requirements for travelers from India and China, and ensuring that hotels are prepared for some special requirements for the winter and summer seasons.

The Authority now provides services in 12 languages through more than 18 channels, such as WeChat and applications used in China.

It also allocated 45 phone numbers to help visitors and a special contact number for partners, which has processed more than 57,000 calls since its launch.

Last summer, the service satisfaction rate reached 95 percent.

By Q2, Hamidaddin explained that a dedicated dashboard will be provided to businessmen through business intelligence to highlight visits and expected spending from major markets over the next three years.

He stated that Visit Saudi launched the loyalty Saudi Rewards program, which allows visitors to earn points. It focuses on events and experiences and ensures that partners receive information in a personalized manner.

The program includes 168 partnerships, more than 100,000 registered customers, and strategic partnerships, including Riyadh season.

Also, at the Forum's opening session, the chairman of the Organizing Committee, Hamza Nasser, indicated that the second edition is the result of the partnership with the Visit Saudi platform.

Nasser announced that the number of tourists increased in the Kingdom during 2023.

According to the World Tourism Organization (WTO), the number of tourists rose by 156 percent compared to 2019, and domestic tourism has achieved unprecedented numbers in recent years.



IMF Launches Regional Office in Saudi Capital Riyadh

A general view of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on National Day in 2021. (SPA)
A general view of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on National Day in 2021. (SPA)
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IMF Launches Regional Office in Saudi Capital Riyadh

A general view of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on National Day in 2021. (SPA)
A general view of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on National Day in 2021. (SPA)

The International Monetary Fund will open a new regional office in Saudi Arabia's capital Riyadh, it said in a statement on Wednesday, to strengthen partnerships with governments and institutions in the Middle East and further afield.

Abdoul Aziz Wane, a national of Senegal, has been appointed as the first director of the regional office, the statement said.

Saudi Arabia's cabinet approved an agreement to establish an IMF regional office in the country in March.


Saudi Finance Ministry to Ask Government Agencies to Issue Fines through National Platform

An employee of the Ministry of Commerce during a visit to monitor violations (SPA)
An employee of the Ministry of Commerce during a visit to monitor violations (SPA)
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Saudi Finance Ministry to Ask Government Agencies to Issue Fines through National Platform

An employee of the Ministry of Commerce during a visit to monitor violations (SPA)
An employee of the Ministry of Commerce during a visit to monitor violations (SPA)

The Saudi Ministry of Finance will ask all government agencies to use a unified national platform to issue fines and penalties, sources told Asharq Al-Awsat.

The Efaa Services platform enables citizens, residents, visitors and business owners to be informed of and review all their violations with government agencies, and seeks to unify, simplify and improve the relevant procedures.

The step by the Ministry of Finance was based the royal directives to compel government agencies to take fair measures when exercising their jurisdiction in accordance with regulatory texts.

The ministry has informed private sector companies of this new directive, in order to follow up on notifications regarding violations and penalties through the Efaa platform.

The vision of the Saudi government, which the Saudi Data and Artificial Intelligence Authority (SDAIA) is working to implement through the Efaa platform, seeks to enhance services and business continuity at the level of ministries, agencies and various institutions, by raising the efficiency of applications and electronic services, and improving institutional governance and its effectiveness in managing procedures and services related to issuing violations.

The platform was able to connect approximately 36 government agencies, including ministries, agencies, institutions, centers, and other affiliated entities, to unify procedures for violations and improve their process.


Egypt Expects to Achieve Primary Surplus of 5.75% of GDP in Current Fiscal Year

The Egyptian capital, Cairo (Getty)
The Egyptian capital, Cairo (Getty)
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Egypt Expects to Achieve Primary Surplus of 5.75% of GDP in Current Fiscal Year

The Egyptian capital, Cairo (Getty)
The Egyptian capital, Cairo (Getty)

Egypt’s Finance Minister Mohamed Maait said on Tuesday that the state’s general budget was likely to achieve a primary surplus of 5.75 percent of the gross domestic product in the fiscal year 2023-2024, as the treasury has collected $12 billion from the Ras al-Hekma investment partnership deal with the UAE.

Presenting the financial statement for the 2024-2025 general budget before the House of Representatives, Maait noted that the total budget deficit by the end of the current fiscal year was expected to reach EGP555 billion, or 4 percent of the GDP. As for the total deficit expected for the next fiscal year, the minister said that it would reach about EGP1.2 trillion, or 7.3 percent of the GDP.

He added that Egypt aims to achieve a primary surplus of EGP591.4 billion, or 3.5 percent of GDP, in the next fiscal year 2024-2025.

According to data published on the Ministry of Finance website, Egypt aims to achieve a primary surplus of 2.5 percent of GDP in the budget for the current fiscal year.


Saudi Investment Opportunities on US Business Radar

General view in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, June 21 2020. REUTERS/Ahmed Yosri
General view in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, June 21 2020. REUTERS/Ahmed Yosri
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Saudi Investment Opportunities on US Business Radar

General view in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, June 21 2020. REUTERS/Ahmed Yosri
General view in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, June 21 2020. REUTERS/Ahmed Yosri

Saudi Commerce Minister Dr. Majid Al-Qasabi has discussed Vision 2030 achievements and investment opportunities with US business leaders in Washington. The meeting highlighted the strong trade ties between the Kingdom and the US.

The Saudi-US Business Council recently held a virtual seminar on the future of car manufacturing in Saudi Arabia. Over 100 industry leaders from both countries attended.

During the meeting, Al-Qasabi talked about the progress of Vision 2030 and how it’s opening up new sectors and opportunities for businesses in Saudi Arabia. They also discussed improving the business environment in the Kingdom to attract more American companies.

Princess Reema bint Bandar bin Sultan, the Saudi Ambassador to the US, joined the meeting along with officials from the US Chamber of Commerce.

Additionally, Al-Qasabi and his team visited Georgetown University to discuss collaboration and review the university’s research in areas like entrepreneurship, corporate governance, trade policy, and more.

Al-Qasabi also met with executives from EcoLab, a water and energy solutions provider, and Bechtel Corporation, a major engineering and construction company.


Oil Prices Climb amid US Stocks Decline, Mideast Conflict

FILE PHOTO: A motorist fills a car with fuel at a petrol station in Sydney August 18, 2004. REUTERS
FILE PHOTO: A motorist fills a car with fuel at a petrol station in Sydney August 18, 2004. REUTERS
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Oil Prices Climb amid US Stocks Decline, Mideast Conflict

FILE PHOTO: A motorist fills a car with fuel at a petrol station in Sydney August 18, 2004. REUTERS
FILE PHOTO: A motorist fills a car with fuel at a petrol station in Sydney August 18, 2004. REUTERS

Oil prices extended gains on Wednesday after industry data showed a surprise drop in US crude stocks last week, a positive sign for demand, though markets were also keeping a close eye on hostilities in the Middle East.
Brent crude futures rose 26 cents, or 0.29%, to $88.68 a barrel and US West Texas Intermediate crude futures climbed 26 cents, or 0.31%, to $83.62 a barrel at 0634 GMT, Reuters reported.
US crude inventories fell 3.237 million barrels in the week ended April 19, according to market sources citing American Petroleum Institute figures. In contrast, six analysts polled by Reuters had expected a rise of 800,000 barrels.
Traders will be watching for the official US data on oil and product stockpiles due at 10:30 a.m. EDT (1430 GMT) for confirmation of the big drawdown.
US business activity cooled in April to a four-month low, with S&P Global saying on Tuesday that its flash Composite PMI Output Index, which tracks the manufacturing and services sectors, fell to 50.9 this month from 52.1 in March.
"This could help convince policy makers that rate cuts are required to support the economy," ANZ analysts said in a note.
US interest rate cuts could bolster economic growth and, in turn, demand for oil from the world's top consumer of the fuel.
Analysts were still bullish that any latest developments in conflicts in the Middle East will still support markets, though the impact on oil supplies remains limited for now.
"Overall, crude oil prices are well supported around current levels by on-going Middle East risk premium. On the topside, risk of possible renewed OPEC production increase from Jun will help limit any significant upside," said head of markets strategy for United Overseas Bank (UOB) in Singapore Heng Koon How.
"We maintain our forecast for Brent to consolidate at USD 90/bbl by end of this year," Heng added.
Israeli strikes intensified across Gaza on Tuesday, in some of the heaviest shelling in weeks.
"Recent reports suggest that both Iran and Israel consider the current operations concluded against one another, with no follow-up action required for now," ING analysts said in a note.
"The US and Europe are preparing for new sanctions against Iran – although these may not have a material impact on oil supply in the immediate term," they added.


Venezuela to Accelerate Cryptocurrency Shift as US Sanctions Return

Encouraged by US licenses allowing sales, oil exports reached some 900,000 barrels per day in March, the highest in four years. Reuters
Encouraged by US licenses allowing sales, oil exports reached some 900,000 barrels per day in March, the highest in four years. Reuters
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Venezuela to Accelerate Cryptocurrency Shift as US Sanctions Return

Encouraged by US licenses allowing sales, oil exports reached some 900,000 barrels per day in March, the highest in four years. Reuters
Encouraged by US licenses allowing sales, oil exports reached some 900,000 barrels per day in March, the highest in four years. Reuters

Venezuela's state-run oil company PDVSA plans to increase digital currency usage in its crude and fuel exports as the US reimposes oil sanctions on the country, three people familiar with the plan said.
The US Treasury Department last week gave PDVSA's customers and providers until May 31 to wind down transactions under a general license it did not renew due to a lack of electoral reforms, Reuters reported. The move will make it more difficult for the country to increase oil output and exports as companies will have to wait for individual US authorizations to do business with Venezuela.
PDVSA since last year had been slowly moving oil sales to USDT, a digital currency also known as Tether whose value is pegged to the US dollar and designed to maintain a stable value. The return of oil sanctions is speeding up the shift, a move to reduce the risk of sale proceeds getting frozen in foreign bank accounts due to the measures, the people said.
"We have different currencies, according to what is stated in contracts," Venezuelan oil minister Pedro Tellechea told Reuters last week, adding that in some contracts digital currencies might be the preferred payment method.
The US dollar is the preferred currency for transactions in the global oil market. Even though they are emerging in some countries, payments in cryptocurrency are not frequent.
Tether said in an email it respects the US Treasury's list of sanctioned entities and "is committed to working to ensure sanction addresses are frozen promptly."
Last year, PDVSA was rocked by a corruption scandal after the discovery of some $21 billion in unaccounted receivables for oil exports in recent years, partially related to prior transactions involving other cryptocurrencies.
The nation's oil exports have increased under Tellechea, who took over Venezuela's oil ministry following the scandal. Encouraged by US licenses allowing sales, exports reached some 900,000 barrels per day in March, the highest in four years.
SLOWLY BUT SURELY
By the end of the first quarter, PDVSA had moved many spot oil deals not involving swaps to a contract model demanding prepayment for half of each cargo's value in USDT.
PDVSA also is requiring any new customer applying to conduct oil transactions to hold cryptocurrency in a digital wallet. The requirement has been enforced even in some old contracts that do not specifically state the use of USDT, one of the people said.
In October, when Washington issued the six-month license that allowed trading houses and former PDVSA customers to resume business with Venezuela, most of them resorted to intermediaries to meet the digital transaction requirements.
"USDT transactions, as PDVSA is demanding them to be, don't pass any trader's compliance department, so the only way to make it work is working with an intermediary," one trader said, referring to how unusual it still is to pay for oil in digital currencies.
PDVSA has relied on middlemen for its own oil sales, especially to China, since the US in 2020 imposed secondary sanctions on Venezuela, disrupting its relationship with large trading partners.
LESS CASH
Increasingly relying on middlemen for transactions could help PDVSA skirt sanctions, but will mean a smaller portion of oil proceeds will end up in its pockets.
Minister Tellechea last week said the country expects to continue signing contracts and crude and gas project expansions during the 45-day wind down period set by the US, and will ask potential clients to request specific licenses after that.
Oil analysts expect that even if Washington promptly issues individual authorizations, Venezuela's oil output, exports and revenue will soon hit a ceiling.
Tellechea rejected that view, saying PDVSA has "a big strength in trading," and is prepared commercially to address the return of Washington's sanctions.


UAE, Oman Establish $35 Bln Investment Partnerships

FILE PHOTO: Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, President of the United Arab Emirates and Sultan Haitham bin Tariq of Oman attend a state visit reception at Qasr Al Watan, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates April 22, 2024. Ryan Carter/UAE Presidential Court/Handout via REUTERS
FILE PHOTO: Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, President of the United Arab Emirates and Sultan Haitham bin Tariq of Oman attend a state visit reception at Qasr Al Watan, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates April 22, 2024. Ryan Carter/UAE Presidential Court/Handout via REUTERS
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UAE, Oman Establish $35 Bln Investment Partnerships

FILE PHOTO: Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, President of the United Arab Emirates and Sultan Haitham bin Tariq of Oman attend a state visit reception at Qasr Al Watan, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates April 22, 2024. Ryan Carter/UAE Presidential Court/Handout via REUTERS
FILE PHOTO: Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, President of the United Arab Emirates and Sultan Haitham bin Tariq of Oman attend a state visit reception at Qasr Al Watan, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates April 22, 2024. Ryan Carter/UAE Presidential Court/Handout via REUTERS

UAE and Omani companies have signed deals worth 129 billion dirhams ($35.12 billion) in sectors including energy and transport during the Omani ruler's visit to the United Arab Emirates.

UAE President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan and Sultan Haitham bin Tariq of Oman witnessed the announcement of several memoranda of understanding and agreements aimed at strengthening relations between the two countries to achieve further growth and prosperity.

The announcement was made as part of the official visit of Oman’s Sultan to the UAE.

The agreements were dominated by a 117 billion dirham industrial and energy "megaproject" grouping wind, solar projects and green metals production.

Abu Dhabi National Energy Co. (TAQA), Abu Dhabi Future Energy Company (Masdar), Emirates Global Aluminium (EGA), Emirates Steel Arkan (ESA), OQ Alternative Energy and Oman Electrical Transmission Co were among the companies involved, the ministry statement said.

Abu Dhabi's sovereign wealth fund ADQ also signed an agreement to set up a 660 million dirham technology-focused fund with the Oman Investment Authority, while the UAE and Oman signed an 11 billion dirham agreement to connect the countries by rail.

“The agreements represent a major milestone in our bilateral ties, as they pave the way for us to leverage our collective strength to realize our shared vision of advancement and prosperity," UAE Minister of Investment Mohamed Hassan Alsuwaidi said.


Mawani Adds East Africa Shipping Service to King Abdul Aziz Port in Dammam

Mawani added a new shipping service to East Africa to King Abdul Aziz Port in Dammam.
Mawani added a new shipping service to East Africa to King Abdul Aziz Port in Dammam.
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Mawani Adds East Africa Shipping Service to King Abdul Aziz Port in Dammam

Mawani added a new shipping service to East Africa to King Abdul Aziz Port in Dammam.
Mawani added a new shipping service to East Africa to King Abdul Aziz Port in Dammam.

The Saudi Ports Authority (Mawani) has added a new shipping service, East Africa Express, by the Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC), to King Abdul Aziz Port in Dammam.
It will connect the Kingdom to the ports of East Africa, the Saudi Press Agency reported.
This move aligns with Mawani's efforts to boost investment and logistics services in the Kingdom, and support the National Transport and Logistics Strategy (NTLS), which aims to strengthen the Kingdom's position as a vital link connecting three continents and a global logistics hub.
The new shipping service links King Abdul Aziz Port in Dammam with Mundra Port in India, Qasim Port in Pakistan, and Abu Dhabi and Jebel Ali Ports in the UAE through regular weekly trips, offering a capacity of up to 11,000 TEUs.


World Bank Explains to Asharq Al-Awsat Saudi Growth Forecast Surge for 2025

Roberta Gatti, Chief Economist for the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region at the World Bank (Asharq Al-Awsat)
Roberta Gatti, Chief Economist for the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region at the World Bank (Asharq Al-Awsat)
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World Bank Explains to Asharq Al-Awsat Saudi Growth Forecast Surge for 2025

Roberta Gatti, Chief Economist for the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region at the World Bank (Asharq Al-Awsat)
Roberta Gatti, Chief Economist for the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region at the World Bank (Asharq Al-Awsat)

The World Bank is forecasting a 5.9% growth for Saudi Arabia’s economy in 2025, surpassing previous estimates. This surge is fueled by heightened non-oil activities and anticipated increases in oil prices, as explained by Roberta Gatti, Chief Economist for the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region at the World Bank.

The bank now expects the Kingdom’s economy to expand by 5.9% next year, a significant increase from its earlier prediction of 4.2%. It also forecasts a 4.8% growth in the non-oil private sector in Saudi Arabia this year.

Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat, Gatti explained that the higher forecast for Saudi Arabia’s economy next year relies on two main factors:

Firstly, boosting non-oil activities through loose fiscal policy, large investments (especially public ones), and strong private spending, all while keeping inflation low with generous subsidies.

Secondly, expecting a significant rise in oil production in 2025 due to current trends and extending oil production cuts until mid-2024, leading to a 5.9% GDP growth.

Economic Shocks and Debt Impact

Discussing a report about conflict and debt in the MENA region, Gatti highlighted how conflict exacerbates major weaknesses in the region, notably the surge in debt compared to GDP.

Over the past decade, most regional economies saw their debt levels rise, a trend accelerated by the pandemic.

By 2023, debt had climbed to 88% of GDP in oil-importing countries, up from 81% in 2013. Importantly, debt levels are much higher for oil-importing nations, averaging 88% of GDP in 2023 compared to 34% for oil-exporting ones.

Gatti stressed the importance of transparency in debt management, particularly for oil-importing nations. She also underscored the need to address off-budget expenditures, which are not officially recorded.

She warned that financial adjustments made to handle high interest payments might not fully tackle the increasing debt burdens resulting from off-budget spending. This is especially pertinent for oil-importing countries in the MENA region, Gatti noted.

Oil-exporting nations face the task of broadening their economic and financial sources due to shifts in global oil markets and rising demand for renewable energy.

Gatti explained that uncertainty in the MENA region, already higher than in other emerging markets and developing countries, intensified after October 7 (the start of the conflict between Israel and Hamas) and remains higher than in those regions.

While noting that the report assumes no escalation in conflict, she cautioned about its lasting effects.

As per Gatti, studies show that debt patterns after conflict differ from other disasters. Debt tends to rise after nearly any natural disaster, and GDP growth drops in the disaster year. But growth rebounds in the following years.

After armed conflict, debt spikes significantly, like in any disaster. However, economic recovery post-conflict doesn’t happen, meaning government actions after fighting may not boost economic growth. This means pre-existing debt vulnerabilities could worsen if conflict escalates in the Middle East and North Africa.


Oil Prices Stabilize, Middle East Tensions Remain in Focus

FILE PHOTO: A maze of crude oil pipes and valves is pictured during a tour by the Department of Energy at the Strategic Petroleum Reserve in Freeport, Texas, US June 9, 2016.  REUTERS/Richard Carson/File Photo
FILE PHOTO: A maze of crude oil pipes and valves is pictured during a tour by the Department of Energy at the Strategic Petroleum Reserve in Freeport, Texas, US June 9, 2016. REUTERS/Richard Carson/File Photo
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Oil Prices Stabilize, Middle East Tensions Remain in Focus

FILE PHOTO: A maze of crude oil pipes and valves is pictured during a tour by the Department of Energy at the Strategic Petroleum Reserve in Freeport, Texas, US June 9, 2016.  REUTERS/Richard Carson/File Photo
FILE PHOTO: A maze of crude oil pipes and valves is pictured during a tour by the Department of Energy at the Strategic Petroleum Reserve in Freeport, Texas, US June 9, 2016. REUTERS/Richard Carson/File Photo

Oil prices edged higher on Tuesday, after falling in the previous session, as investors continued to assess the risk from geopolitical concerns in the Middle East.
Global benchmark Brent crude oil futures traded 27 cents higher at $87.27 a barrel by 0308 GMT, and US West Texas Intermediate crude futures also gained 26 cents to $82.16 a barrel.
Both benchmarks fell 29 cents in the previous session on signs that a recent escalation of tensions between Israel and Iran had little near-term impact on oil supplies from the region, Reuters reported.
"The unwinding of geo-political risk premium has dented crude oil prices recently as supply was not disrupted meaningfully," said Sugandha Sachdeva, founder of Delhi-based research firm SS WealthStreet.
But the evolving geopolitical landscape remains critical in steering crude oil prices, she said.
"While there are no indications of an imminent full-scale war between the countries involved, any escalation in tensions could quickly reverse the current trend," Sachdeva added.
ANZ analysts echoed the sentiment and highlighted US approval of new sanctions on Iran's oil sector that broaden current sanctions to include foreign ports, vessels and refineries that knowingly process or ship Iranian crude.
Also, EU foreign ministers agreed in principle on Monday to expand sanctions on Iran following Tehran's missile and drone attack on Israel, the bloc's foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said.
"The geopolitical backdrop is still very fraught with so many risks at the moment, so clearly we're going to see a lot of volatility until there's a lot more clarity around it," the ANZ analysts said in a podcast.
Israeli troops fought their way back into an eastern section of Khan Younis in a surprise raid, residents said on Monday, sending people who had returned to abandoned homes in the ruins of the southern Gaza Strip's main city fleeing once more.
Investors are waiting for the release of the US gross domestic product figures and the March personal consumption expenditure data - the Fed's preferred inflation gauge - later this week to assess the trajectory of monetary policy.
US crude oil inventories are expected to have increased last week while refined product stockpiles likely fell, according to a preliminary Reuters poll of analysts.
"Sticky US inflation figures, hawkish statements from key Fed officials, and rising US inventories are all acting as constraints on crude oil price growth," Sachdeva said.