Oil prices soared more than four percent Friday following news that the US had killed a top Iranian general, fanning fresh fears of a conflict in the crude-rich region, with Tehran warning of retaliation.
The head of Iran’s Quds Force, Qasem Soleimani, was hit in an attack on Baghdad’s international airport early Friday, according to Hashed al-Shaabi, a powerful Iraqi paramilitary force linked to Tehran.
Later, Donald Trump tweeted a picture of the American flag, and the Pentagon said he had ordered Soleimani’s killing.
Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warned of “severe revenge” for “the criminals who bloodied their foul hands with his blood”, while the country’s foreign minister called the move a “dangerous escalation”.
Brent surged 4.4 percent to $69.16 and WTI jumped 4.3 percent to $63.84 as investors grow increasingly worried about the effects of a possible flare-up in the tinderbox Middle East on supplies of the commodity. Both oil contracts later pared the gains but remained well up.
“This is more than just bloodying Iran’s nose,” said AxiTrader’s Stephen Innes. “This is an aggressive show of force and an outright provocation that could trigger another Middle East war.”
The killing of Soleimani is a dramatic escalation of tensions between the United States and Iran and comes after a pro-Iran mob this week laid siege to the US embassy in Iraq following deadly American air strikes on the hardline Hashed faction.
The attack on the embassy highlighted new strains in the US-Iraqi relationship, which officials from both countries have described to AFP as the “coldest” in years.
Oil prices saw a record surge in September after attacks on two Saudi Arabian facilities briefly slashed output in the world’s top exporter by half, with Trump blaming Iran for the attack and previous other blasts on tankers in the Gulf last year.
‘A less safe world’
The crisis also comes as tensions between the US and North Korea worsen, with Kim Jong Un declaring a self-imposed moratorium on nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missile tests had ended, with US talks going nowhere.
“We are waking up to a less safe world than it was only hours ago, especially if we combine this with simmering tension in the Korean peninsula,” Innes added.
The drama sent investors rushing for the hills and safe-haven units rallied with the yen up 0.6 percent against the dollar and gold climbing 1.4 percent towards $1,600 and a near seven-year high.
High-risk currencies retreated against the greenback, with South Korea’s won down 0.8 percent, Australia’s dollar off 0.6 percent and the South African rand down 1.7 percent.
Equities were mixed, having been rallying for the second day of the year on China-US trade optimism.
Hong Kong fell 0.3 percent, Shanghai ended down 0.1 percent and Singapore retreated 0.7 percent, while Mumbai eased 0.5 percent.
But there were gains in Sydney, Seoul, Wellington, Manila and Taipei.
Regional energy firms were the big winners, with Santos surging more than two percent in Sydney and while Hong Kong-listed PetroChina climbed 2.8 percent.
Markets had all been well up before news of the strike, thanks to ongoing optimism fuelled by the China-US trade agreement, looser central bank monetary policies and easing Brexit worries.
“Investors are worried that the situation in Iran will worsen, since there could be some retaliation,” said Steven Leung at Mizuho Bank. “People will want to cut risk ahead of the weekend. Stocks have rallied a lot in the past month or so, so any bad news flow is a reason to take profit.”
In early European trade London fell 0.5 percent, Paris lost 0.6 percent and Frankfurt retreated 0.8 percent.
Key figures around 0820 GMT
West Texas Intermediate: UP $1.85 at $63.03 per barrel
Brent Crude: UP $2.19 at $68.44 per barrel
Hong Kong – Hang Seng: DOWN 0.3 percent at 28,451.50 (close)
Shanghai – Composite: DOWN 0.1 percent at 3,083.79 (close)
Tokyo – Nikkei 225: Closed for a public holiday
London – FTSE 100: DOWN 0.5 percent at 7,565.45
Pound/dollar: DOWN at $1.3120 from $1.3139 at 2200 GMT
Euro/pound: UP at 85.14 pence from 85.02 pence
Euro/dollar: DOWN at $1.1170 from $1.1172
Dollar/yen: DOWN at 108.12 from 108.54 yen
New York – Dow: UP 1.2 percent at 28,868.80 (close)
Nigeria and Russia Thursday in Sochi, Russia, signed an important Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), which will enable both countries’ oil giants, Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and Russia’s Lukeoil to elevate commercial relationship to a government-to-government backed partnership.
With the signing of the MoU, NNPC and Lukeoil will work together in upstream operations and revamp Nigeria’s refineries.
Group Managing Director of NNPC, Mele Kyari and Vagit Alekperov, President of leading Russian oil company, Lukeoil, signed the MoU, which entails cooperation in deep offshore exploration of oil in Nigeria, production, trading and refining.
The signing ceremony, which took place on the sidelines of the Russia-Africa Summit, was witnessed by the Minister of State for Petroleum, Timipre Sylva.
Earlier in his remarks at a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Lenin, President Muhammadu Buhari said Nigeria was prepared and willing to work with Russian businesses “to improve the efficiency of our oil and gas sector which provides us with the much-needed capital to invest in our security, infrastructure and economic diversification programmes”.
While taking note of the agreement between NNPC and Lukeoil, President Buhari gave an assurance that his administration will “ensure this initiative is implemented within the shortest possible time.”
The Group Managing Director of the @NNPCgroup, Mallam @MKKyari and the President of PJSC LUKOIL, Vagit Alekperov, yesterday, signed a Memorandum of Understanding between the two companies at the Russia-Africa Economic Forum held in Sochi, Russia. pic.twitter.com/xFT3zKGjZb
The lawmaker noted that about 22 million barrels of crude oil, amounting to about N1.3 trillion of crude oil were stolen in the Niger Delta in 2019 alone.
According to him, “Oil theft is not only an economic loss but also causes environmental damage due to breaches on oil pipelines and the incidents are on the upsurge.”
Asides ascertaining how much oil theft goes on in the country daily, the committee is also mandated to determine the volume of oil extracted in the country on a daily basis, as well as to determine the quantity of oil sold at the internal markets and the quantity consumed locally.
The United States announced Thursday the deployment of 200 troops as well as Patriot missiles to Saudi Arabia to help the country’s defense in the wake of last month’s attacks on oil installations blamed on Iran.
The Defense Department said the deployment would involve one battery of the surface-to-air missiles, along with four Sentinel radars used for air and missile defense systems.
In addition, two more Patriot batteries and one THAAD ballistic missile interception system are being readied in case a decision is made to also supply them to the Saudis, Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said.
“This deployment will augment the kingdom’s air and missile defense of critical military and civilian infrastructure,” he said.
It comes “in light of recent attacks on the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” he said.
“It is important to note these steps are a demonstration of our commitment to regional partners, and the security and stability in the Middle East,” he added.
“Other countries have called out Iranian misadventures in the region, and we look for them to contribute assets in an international effort to reinforce Saudi Arabia’s defense.”
The US has pointed to Iran being behind the combination drone and cruise missile attacks on September 14 which heavily damaged two Saudi oil installations, forcing the key oil supplier to slash output.
Iran has denied responsibility, and President Hassan Rouhani on Thursday challenged the US and others to provide evidence to back up their accusations
President Muhammadu Buhari says the Federal Republic of Nigeria stands in solidarity with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, following drone attacks yesterday on the refinery plants at Khurais and Abqaiq.
In a statement by his special media aide, Mr Garba Shehu, the President said similar attacks on oil facilities have been recorded in Nigeria but that the perpetrators did not succeed in their plot to undermine the government of the day.
He said those who carried out the attack in Saudi Arabia will also not be able to undermine the government, adding that they will be brought to justice.
“We in Nigeria once experienced attacks on our own oil facilities. Those who sought, by doing so, to undermine governments of the day did not succeed then – nor at any time.
“The identities of those who sent the drones to attack the Saudi refineries, and from where, may not yet be known. Still, these attacks similarly represent economic warfare aimed at damaging a government, but, in reality, always and only damaging innocent citizens’ livelihoods: those with no place, nor cause, to be harmed,” the President said.
“The attackers of Saudi Arabia will win no friends in the international community for their actions – whoever they may be, and however certain they be in their cause,” the Nigerian leader added.
Saudi Arabia’s King Salman named his son as energy minister after veteran official Khalid al-Falih was sacked, state media said Sunday, in a major shakeup as the OPEC kingpin reels from low oil prices.
The appointment of Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman, half brother to de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, comes as Saudi Arabia prepares for a much-anticipated stock listing of state-owned oil giant Aramco.
“Khalid al-Falih has been removed from his position,” the official Saudi Press Agency said, citing a royal decree.
“His royal highness Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman is appointed minister of energy.”
The kingdom also replaced the deputy energy minister, SPA added.
Since his appointment as oil minister in 2016, Falih has been the face of Saudi energy policy but the veteran technocrat had seen his portfolio shrink in recent weeks.
His ouster comes just days after he was removed as chairman of Aramco as the company prepares for a much-touted initial public offering (IPO).
He was replaced in that post by Yasir al-Rumayyan, governor of the kingdom’s vast Public Investment Fund.
Falih’s powers were diminished last month when the world’s top oil exporter announced the creation of a new ministry of industry and mineral resources, separating it from his energy ministry.
It was widely speculated there was dissatisfaction with Falih within the top levels of government over the low price of oil ahead of the Aramco IPO — even as the kingdom has continued to cut output to balance global demand.
‘Wealth of experience’
OPEC and its allies are scheduled to meet in Abu Dhabi on September 12 to review their strategy on limiting production to tackle a global supply glut and shore up prices.
It was unclear whether there would be a change in Saudi policy under Prince Abdulaziz, who joined the oil ministry in the 1980s and has served in a variety of senior positions.
“Prince Abdulaziz has been in the oil ministry for decades… He joined the oil ministry in the late 1980s and worked closely with the three previous oil ministers,” said Ali Shihabi, founder of the now-shuttered pro-Saudi think-tank Arabia Foundation.
“(He) has attended virtually every OPEC meeting since then so brings a wealth of institutional experience.”
His appointment further concentrates power within the family of King Salman. His other son Prince Mohammed controls all the major levers of power and is heir to the Arab world’s most powerful throne.
And his younger son, Prince Khalid bin Salman, serves as deputy defence minister.
Aramco is stepping up efforts to float around five percent of the company, in what could potentially be the world’s biggest stock sale.
It aims to raise up to $100 billion based on a $2 trillion valuation of the company, but amid low oil prices investors have debated whether Aramco is really worth that much.
Failure to reach a $2 trillion valuation as desired by Saudi rulers is widely considered the reason the IPO, earlier scheduled for 2018, has been delayed.
The planned IPO forms the cornerstone of a reform programme envisaged by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to wean the Saudi economy off its reliance on oil.
Saudi Aramco has not announced where the listing will be held, but London, New York and Hong Kong have all vied for a slice of the much-touted IPO.
The oil giant is considering a two-stage IPO, with a domestic debut and a subsequent international listing possibly in Tokyo, the Wall Street Journal reported last month.
A ministerial nominee, Uchechukwu Ogah, says the nation does not need to depend on oil in creating job opportunities for the teeming population.
Ogah said this on Wednesday, while he was being screened by the Senate, a day after he and 42 others were announced as ministerial nominees.
“We don’t need to depend on only oil. Yes, oil is a cash-cow. But I believe that if we develop our agricultural sector, we can equally develop, create jobs for our teeming youths.
“For instance, if you build a farmland, when you can create over 150 youths by providing accommodation for them and you give them all the necessary amenities, I can tell you that these youths can turn over the entire piece of land to something that can create revenue for the entire country,” he said.
According to him, Nigeria has the potential of becoming a food-independent nation and even export food to other countries of the world.
“We have the capacity, we have the population, we have all the resources that is required – the human capital (which is the best that is required). So I believe that if we can do that, we can actually improve in this nation,” he said.
Speaking on industrialisation, the Abia State-ministerial nominee called for the citing of industries in rural areas rather than cities.
Explainng how agriculture can be developed, he shared from the eastern region under the leadership of then-Premier Michael Okpara.
“By 1966, the eastern region was the fastest growing economy in the whole world. What did Doctor Okpara do? He went to the University of Nigeria and picked the best and created endless orchards in all the eastern region.
“And then we started exporting agricultural products. By 1966, the eastern region had the best balance in their account.
“I believe that if we develop our agricultural sector, we can also create jobs for our teeming youths,” he said.
When asked for his contribution to developing the Petroleum sector should he be assigned Petroleum Minister, Ogah explained that once the Petroleum Industry Bill is passed, it will attract investors that will, in turn, boost the nation’s fortunes.
Iran’s Revolutionary Guards announced Friday they had confiscated a British tanker in the strategic Strait of Hormuz for breaking “international maritime rules”.
The Stena Impero tanker “was confiscated by the Revolutionary Guards at the request of Hormozgan Ports and Maritime Organisation when passing through the strait of Hormuz, for failing to respect international maritime rules,” the Guards’ official website Sepahnews announced.
The tanker “was led to the shore and handed over to the organisation to go through the legal procedure and required investigations,” it said.
The Swedish owners of the Stena Impero said the vessel had come under “attack” in the Strait of Hormuz.
Stena Bulk and Northern Marine Management said in a statement that it “can confirm that… our managed vessel Stena Impero was attacked by unidentified small crafts and a helicopter while transiting the Strait of Hormuz while the vessel was in international waters”.
“We are presently unable to contact the vessel which is now tracking as heading north towards Iran,” it said.
And the United States, which has blamed Tehran for a series of tanker attacks in the Gulf in recent months despite Iranian denials, denounced what it called “escalatory violence” by Iran in the strategic waterway.
“The US will continue to work with our allies and partners to defend our security and interests against Iran’s malign behaviour,” National Security Council spokesman Garrett Marquis said in a statement.
Tanker tracking service Marine Traffic showed that the UK-flagged, Swedish-owned Stena Impero last signalled its location near the Island of Larak in the highly sensitive waterway at 9:00 PM local time (1630 GMT).
The UK is “urgently seeking further information and assessing the situation following reports of an incident in the Gulf,” a British government spokesperson said.
The announcement came just hours after Gibraltar’s Supreme Court announced it would extend by 30 days the detention of an Iranian tanker seized two weeks ago on allegations that it was headed to Syria in violation of sanctions.
British authorities’ detention of the Grace 1 supertanker sparked outrage in Tehran, which accused London of doing the bidding of the Washington in action that is “tantamount to maritime banditry”.
On Tuesday, Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, accused the “vicious British” of “piracy” and vowed retaliation.
The Guards also seized another “foreign tanker” on Thursday, believed to be the Panamanian-flagged vessel Riah and its crew, and accused the ship of smuggling Iranian fuel.
A series of such incidents have sent tensions soaring between Iran on one side and the US and its allies on the other, raising fears of a regional war in the Gulf.
President Donald Trump insisted Friday that the American military had downed an Iranian drone that was threatening a US naval vessel in the strategic Strait of Hormuz, which Tehran denied.
On Thursday, Trump said the USS Boxer had downed an Iranian drone that threatened the amphibious assault ship as it was entering the Strait.
The alleged incident came after Iran shot down a US drone last month, nearly sparking retaliatory strikes.
The Strait of Hormuz is the conduit for nearly a third of the world’s crude oil.