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Venezuela malls scale back hours as govt cuts energy

Wed, 02/10/2016 - 22:31

CARACAS, Venezuela—Shops in malls across Venezuela closed their doors yesterday afternoon to comply with a government electricity rationing order. Venezuela’s socialist government is asking more than 100 malls to close or generate their own power four hours each day, from 1 pm to 3 pm and from 7 pm to 9 pm

Dozens of mall workers and would-be shoppers waited out the closure at a shopping centre in upscale Caracas yesterday. They complained about the new policy, which comes amid a general economic breakdown that has led to chronic shortages and triple-digit inflation.

“I need my salary,” fast food restaurant manager Yorgenis Tovar said. “I can’t let myself become unemployed at this point, with everything getting so expensive.”

Officials say the measure will help the economically embattled country cope with problems at hydroelectric plants due to a severe drought caused by the El Nino weather phenomenon

Malls have become a haven for Venezuelans as the country has become one of the most violent in the world. In many areas, they are also the only places to see movies. Venezuela has grappled with blackouts for years, including one that took President Nicolas Maduro by surprise as he delivered a national address on live television. 

Caracas occasionally shuts down because of citywide loss of power and rural areas see regular rolling blackouts. Electricity here is virtually free, giving Venezuelans little incentive to conserve.

The government tried a similar policy in 2010, but rolled it back after patrons put up stiff resistance. This time, many shoppers seem resigned.

“Nothing about this surprises me,” teacher Rosa Velasquez said. “Every day now something happens to make life here worse.”


GraceKennedy jumps $0.28

Wed, 02/10/2016 - 22:30

Overall market activity resulted from trading in 5 securities of which 4 advanced, 1 declined and 0 traded firm.

Trading activity on the first tier market registered a volume of 89,702 shares crossing the floor of the Exchange valued at $319,136.52. JMMB Group was the volume leader with 50,000 shares changing hands for a value of $28,500, followed by GraceKennedy Ltd with a volume of 25,500 shares being traded for $114,750.

TTNGL LIMITED contributed 8,470 shares with a value of $160,930.00, while National Commercial Bank Jamaica added 5,707 shares valued at $13,468.52.

GraceKennedy Ltd enjoyed the day’s largest gain, increasing $0.28 to end the day at $4.50. Conversely, Massy Holdings suffered the day’s sole decline, falling $0.08 to end the day at $59.52.

First Citizens profits inch up

Wed, 02/10/2016 - 22:24

The First Citizens yesterday reported profit after tax of $179.9 million for the three months ending December 31, 2015, which represents an increase of 1.2 per cent compared with the previous year, according to the bank’s chairman Anthony Smart.

First Citizens’ non-interest income increased by 33.7 per cent, compared with its first quarter in 2014, which was “in keeping with our income diversification strategy, due to increased contributions from fee-based business lines.”

The bank said that the impact of lower oil prices on the domestic economy makes proactive asset management critical, and it is continuing to redeploy asset to achieve higher yields.

According to the bank, the impact of that strategy was evident in the reduction of its loan notes and increases in loans to customers. The bank reduced its loan notes by 60 per cent, while its loans to customers increased by 12.7 per cent to $13.48 billion. Loans to customers comprised just under one-third of the bank’s total asset in its first quarter.

Chairman Smart said the board of the majority state-owned bank continued to be proud of the strength of the banking group, stating: “Our balance sheet is well capitalised and shows strong liquidity buffers and a diversified funding base.” 

In an Initial Public Offering in 2013, the State sold 20 per cent of its 96 per cent stake in the holding company for the bank.

Agostini’s Ltd sees lower sales, profits

Wed, 02/10/2016 - 22:24

Agostini’s Limited yesterday reported first quarter profits attributable to shareholders that declined by 5 per cent to $25.6 million, even as the distribution group of companies warned that the contracting economy was “expected to have a negative impact on consumer spending.”

In reflecting on the outlook for the group, Agostini’s said: “The worsening economic situation in Trinidad and Tobago is expected to have a negative impact on consumer spending, and as such a reduction in sales and profits are anticipated for 2016. However, a positive contribution from Eastern Caribbean business is expected.” 

The group reported sales for the quarter ended December 31, 2015 of $698 million, which were 71 per cent than for the comparable period in 2014. Agostini’s said the sharp increase in sales was mainly due to consolidation of the sales of their joint venture, Caribbean Distribution Partners (CDP) companies where they accounted for 50 per cent of the profits. CDP is a 50/50 joint venture between Agostini’s Ltd and Goddard Enterprises Ltd that was established in July 2015.

The company also reported that an arbitrator had ruled in its favour in a matter involving the Housing Development Company. Agostini’s was awarded $13.1 million and recovery of legal fees and interest on the principal amount is currently being negotiated between Agostini’s and the HDC, according to the chairman’s report by Joseph Esau. 

In its 2015 annual report, the company stated: “On September 14, 2012, Agostini’s Limited commenced arbitration proceedings against the Trinidad and Tobago Housing Development Corporation (HDC) to recover outstanding sums due inclusive of variation cost amounting to approximately $26.7 million. In response to this action, on August 5, 2014, the HDC issued a counterclaim against Agostini’s Limited. Based on advice received, the Directors are of the view that this counterclaim is without basis, and no provision was made in these financial statements for such counterclaim.”

IEA: Oil demand growth set to ‘ease back considerably’

Wed, 02/10/2016 - 00:08

Crude-oil prices could fall even further as the world’s vast oversupply of petroleum only got worse in January with a surge in production from OPEC, a top global energy monitor International Energy Agency (IEA) said yesterday. 

Dr Fatih Birol, executive director of the Paris-based IEA, warned that low oil prices could pose a threat to energy security as investment sinks in the sector, putting the world increasingly at the mercy of the geopolitically less stable Middle East for supplies.

Crude oil prices spiralled lower in January with what the IEA called “brimming stockpiles” pushing global benchmarks below US$30 a barrel. Yesterday, Brent crude for April delivery was trading at US$32.80 a barrel and US crude was at US$29.93, showing little let-up for prices.

The IEA cast doubt over a recovery for oil markets in its latest monthly report on Tuesday, saying that global oil demand growth, which now stands at 1.17 million barrels per day (bpd) following a five-year high of 1.6 million in 2015, is likely to decline this year. 

Worryingly for market watchers fearing a global slowdown, oil demand growth was to be “pulled down by notable slowdowns in Europe, China and the US. 

Early elements of the projected slowdown surfaced in the fourth quarter of 2015,” the IEA said.

On the supply side, the IEA has forecast a decline in non-OPEC producers. These producers, such as those in the US, have higher production costs and have tended to respond to the lower oil price by cutting production, closing rigs and cancelling exploration projects. Oil majors have seen profits plunge on the back of lower oil prices too.

The IEA said that global oil supply dropped by 200,000 barrels a day to 96.5 mb/d in January “as higher OPEC output only partly offset lower non-OPEC production.” 

Showing the decline is not set to reverse any time soon, non-OPEC supplies are projected to decline by 600,000 barrels a day to 57.1 mb/d in 2016.

On the contrary, OPEC crude oil output rose by 280,000 barrels a day in January to 32.63 million barrels a day as output from Iran. 

Freed from international sanctions that restricted its oil production, Iran came back online and Saudi Arabia and Iraq “all turned up the taps,” the IEA said. In fact, oil supplies from the group during January were nearly 1.7 mb/d higher year-on year.

With oil prices continuing to defy gravity, speculation has mounted over how low oil can actually go. The IEA said that while some commentators were too bearish, optimists had to look at the cold hard facts affecting prices.

“Perhaps some of the more fevered forecasts of oil prices falling to as low as $10 a barrel are extreme and better days do lie ahead for oil prices. However, before victory over the bearish forces is declared we should look at the main factors driving this optimism.”

There had been hopes that OPEC and non-OPEC producers could come to a deal to cut output but the IEA noted that this was just pure “speculation” at this moment. “It is OPEC’s business whether or not it makes output cuts either alone or in concert with other producers but the likelihood of coordinated cuts is very low. This removes one driver of bullishness.”

Another widely held view is that OPEC production, other than Iran, will not grow as strongly in 2016 as it did in 2015 but the IEA said that “although it is still early in the year, Iraqi output in January reached a new record and it is possible that more increases could follow.”

“Iran has ramped up production in preparation for its emergence from nuclear sanctions and preliminary data suggests that Saudi Arabia’s shipments have increased. Thus, another driver might be removed.”

Lastly, it said that hopes that demand growth would receive a boost from the collapse in oil prices were also misplaced, particularly given concerns over a slowdown in emerging economies in Brazil, Russia and China.

“If these numbers prove to be accurate, and with the market already awash in oil, it is very hard to see how oil prices can rise significantly in the short term. In these conditions the short term risk to the downside has increased,” the IEA said.

The IEA said the world will store unwanted oil for most of 2016 as declines in US output take time and OPEC is unlikely to cut a deal with other producers to reduce ballooning output, said the energy watchdog.

The IEA said investment in oil supply had dropped by 20 per cent last year, with a further drop of at least 16 per cent expected this year, making the first consecutive two years of declining investment in the industry’s history.

Sustained low prices around current levels would also cause higher cost projects to be cancelled or delayed, with the result that the share of world production from the only major low-cost region, the Middle East, would see its share of the market rise from about half at present to 75 per cent, he said.

“The geopolitical developments in the Middle East today may mean that low oil prices may not necessarily help to improve oil security,” Dr Birol said in an interview during a visit to Canberra at the invitation of federal resources and energy minister Josh Frydenberg.

Dr Birol said it was a “grave mistake” to overlook the risks that depressed oil prices posed for energy security, and suggested governments may need to do more to relieve pressure on the sector, through cutting taxes or royalties, for example, should oil prices stay low beyond this year.

He does not rule out further testing of last month’s lows in oil prices of around US$27 a barrel through this year, saying the market was “awash” with oil while demand is “weak” compared with last year.

“I would be surprised if we see a strong push this year upwards,” he said, assuming no significant change in economic and geopolitical conditions.

“We may well see throughout this year—2016—we continue to have downward pressure on prices: the markets are awash with oil and demand is not very strong in order to provide upward pressure,” Dr Birol said.

Oil prices fall two per cent

Tue, 02/09/2016 - 00:09

Crude oil prices fell two per cent yesteray as supply overhang concerns grew after a Saudi-Venezuela meeting on Sunday showed few signs of coordination to boost prices.

Brent futures fell 68 cents to US$33.38 a barrel, a two per cent loss, by 10:36 a.m. EST (1536 GMT), paring a fall of as much as 3.3 per cent earlier in the session. US crude fell 78 cents, or 2.5 per cent to US$30.11 per barrel, also trimming losses of as much as 4.3 per cent earlier in the day.

“With the possibility of a production cutting deal quickly fading into the sunset, market participants are once again left to focus on the reality of the oversupplied global market,” Energy Management Institute analyst Dominick Chirichella wrote in a note.

Weekly US crude and gasoline inventories hit record highs, data from the Energy Information Administration (EIA) showed last week. The latest weekly stock data is expected to be released tomorrow.

In a sign Tehran is determined to claw back lost market share after the lifting of sanctions, Iranian Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh was quoted by the ministry’s news agency SHANA on Saturday as saying that France’s Total had agreed to buy 160,000 barrels per day (bpd) of Iranian crude for delivery in Europe.

The flurry of diplomacy over the last two weeks about a possible production cut has somewhat buoyed oil markets.

However, no tangible signs emerged from a meeting on Sunday between Saudi Arabia’s oil minister Ali al-Naimi and his Venezuelan counterpart that OPEC and non-OPEC suppliers were ready to meet to discuss the price slump.

“It was a successful meeting and (conducted) in a positive atmosphere,” Saudi news agency SPA cited Naimi as saying.

Venezuela’s oil minister Eulogio Del Pino, who is on a tour of oil producers to lobby for action to prop up prices, said his meeting with Naimi was “productive”.

“But does productive mean less production? The market thinks not, at least right now,” said Phil Flynn, an analyst at Price Futures Group in Chicago.

“The chances of a deal are slim now but will increase if prices stay around US$30 a barrel, which they will if Iran and Iraq come through on their intended volumes,” PVM Oil Associates analyst David Hufton said in a note yesterday.

In a sign Tehran is determined to claw back lost market share after the lifting of sanctions, Iranian Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh was quoted by the ministry’s news agency SHANA on Saturday as saying that France’s Total had agreed to buy 160,000 barrels per day (bpd) of Iranian crude for delivery in Europe.

Morgan Stanley warned yesterday that a global supply overhang was unlikely to start clearing before 2017.

“We see limited upside for Brent (and range-bound) pricing over the next 12 months as the supply overhang is worked off,” the bank said.

However, investors in Brent crude now hold more futures and options contracts that bet on the price rising than at any time since the InterContinental Exchange’s records began in 2011, data from the exchange showed yesterday.

Money managers raised their net long position in Brent crude futures and options by 31,346 contracts to 292,300 lots in the week to February 2.

India outpaces China in 2015 economic growth

Tue, 02/09/2016 - 00:08

India’s economy grew at an average rate of 7.5 per cent in 2015, faster than the 6.9 per cent growth in China, official figures show.

India’s government said GDP growth in October to December was 7.3 per cent, a slight drop on previous quarters which were revised sharply higher.

Even though the economy lost steam in the last quarter, its pace of expansion was faster than the growth posted by China in the same quarter.

India measures the economy over a fiscal rather than a calendar year.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government said growth for the fiscal year ending March 2016 is forecast to accelerate to 7.6 per cent.


However, some economists say the latest growth figures are at odds with other data for Asia’s third largest economy, including weak exports, railway freight, cement production and investment and flat order books.

Ritika Mankar, an economist at Ambit Capital, said: “The new GDP series and the information it is conveying, not just in terms of level but also in terms of the direction, seems counterintuitive.”

Shubhada Rao, chief economist at Yes Bank in Mumbai, said the figures were “difficult to correlate” with other data, including a contraction in agriculture.

A year ago India’s statistics ministry revised GDP growth rates higher—closer to that of China—by updating the base year used for price comparisons.

Yogita Limaye, a BBC Mumbai Correspondent said: “It’s fair to say there’s been a lot of scepticism about India’s GDP data since the government revised the way it calculates those numbers in January last year.

“All of the economists I’ve spoken to recently have said that they don’t see this rapid pace of growth reflected on the ground.

“But all of them also say that there’s no dispute India’s economy is expanding, making it a rare bright spot among emerging nations.

“Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been travelling the globe and telling companies to come make in India.

“But India is still a difficult place to do business in, and while the government has been working to try to reduce bureaucracy—some laws that could help ease problems are still stuck in parliament.

“Perhaps when that changes we’ll really begin to see the impact of faster growth. (BBC)

Guyana defends decision to close down sugar factory

Sun, 02/07/2016 - 23:43

GEORGETOWN—The Guyana government Friday dismissed suggestions that all the workers at two financially strapped sugar estates would be made redundant accusing the Guyana Agriculture Workers Union (GAWU) of deliberately misleading the workers on the issue.

The Ministry of Agriculture in a statement said the union ever since the announcement was made to shut down the loss-making factories had “been misrepresenting the situation stating that all workers will be severed”.

But it said that the Wales Factory will only be closed at the end of the second crop 2016 after both farmers and the estate canes have been harvested and processed by the factory and that “a significant number of workers from Wales will be absorbed at the Uitvlugt estate”.

It said that the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GUYSUCO) owned cultivation at Wales will be prepared for a diversification programme as the canes are harvested in 2016 and that the actions of the union are “aimed at misrepresenting the situation to create doubts in the minds of the workers about information which does not exist.

“The parlous state of the sugar industry is common knowledge and the Wales estate is projected to make a further loss of $1.9 billion (One Guyana dollar =US$0.004 cents) in 2016,” the Ministry of Agriculture said, adding “the Guyana Sugar Corporation is making every effort possible to ensure that workers remain in employment.

“In this regard, meetings have been held and will continue over the next two months to try to persuade those workers who have opted for severance to remain on the job.”

It said that so far, 13 people who may become redundant are tillage tractor operators and that GUYSUCO is exploring the possibility of procuring six additional tillage tractors and if successful, these operators can be gainfully employed at Uitvlugt in tillage operations and would therefore assist in accelerating the rehabilitation of that estate’s cultivation.

“There will be several categories of workers remaining at Wales at the end of 2016. Amongst those categories, there will be cane harvesters who will be offered employment at Uitvlugt.

“Those who are approaching pensionable age will be offered early retirement. If possible, others will be absorbed at Uitvlugt where suitable vacancies exists, whist the remainder will be required for new economic ventures in the Wales cultivation,” the ministry said, adding that all clerical staff will remain at Wales for 2016.

Butch Stewart makes second visit to Tobago

Sun, 02/07/2016 - 23:40

Less than two weeks after an initial visit, chairman of Sandals Resorts International Gordon “Butch” Stewart was in Tobago again on Saturday to undertake an extensive aerial tour of the western peninsula of Tobago looking at prime real estate properties for possible investment. 

At his last visit Butch Stewart toured several beach and hotel properties.

Minister of Tourism Shamfa Cudjoe joined a high-level team from the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) led by the Deputy Chief Secretary and Secretary of Tourism and Transport, Tracy Davidson-Celestine, on the aerial tour of Tobago. 

In welcoming Butch Stewart again to Tobago, Cudjoe pointed to “the uniqueness of Trinidad and Tobago as a tourist destination given its cultural plurality, high level of education labour force and beautiful landscape; especially Tobago’s pristine beaches.” These precursory investment discussions from a world renowned hotel brand are quite encouraging for the viability of Tobago as an investment option and signal a shift in a positive direction.

Minister Cudjoe also outlined the Ministry’s plan to review, in short measure, the Tourism Development Act, which is the overriding authority for all tourism investments in Trinidad and Tobago, to ensure its competitiveness vis a vis other Caribbean destinations.

Both Trinidad and the sister isle of Tobago requires an injection of capital into the tourism sector so as to upgrade quality standards, generate sustainable jobs, revenue and much needed foreign exchange. 

Hotel tycoon Butch Stewart appeared quite intrigued by all that he saw and thanked the delegation for the excellent hospitality provided to his team. After the aerial tour; more extensive discussions continued at the Coco Reef Resort and Spa with the Chief Secretary of the Tobago House of Assembly, Orville London. 

Gordon “Butch” Stewart was accompanied by a high level Sandals executive comprising his son Adam Stewart, who is the Chief Executive Officer and Deputy Chairman of Sandals Resorts International, as well as other top ranking officials namely:

• Danville Walker—Managing Director of the ATL Group
• Alan Clarke—Group Chief Financial Officer Sandals
• Shawn De Costa—Director of Operators Sandals

BG Group profit up ahead of takeover

Fri, 02/05/2016 - 23:18

LONDON—Oil and gas firm BG Group, whose takeover by Royal Dutch Shell is almost complete, has reported a rise in its final full-year earnings.

Britain's BG Group, in its last results update before its takeover by Shell, reported a 22 per cent fall in fourth quarter core earnings to US$1.43 billion on Friday as low energy prices ate into profits.

BG, which is a shareholder in Atlantic LNG, said pre-tax profits for the full year were $2.97bn (£2bn), compared with a loss of $2.3bn in 2014.

On a quarterly basis, BG's losses improved from $8.3bn in the final quarter of 2014 to a loss of $1.17bn for the same period in 2015. The large gas producer, set to become part of Shell on Feb. 15, took a hit in its oil and gas production and liquefied natural gas (LNG) segments from another roughly 20 percent fall in oil prices in the quarter.

A surge in production in Australia and Brazil, key growth areas that Shell has singled out to justify its takeover, helped BG beat its own yearly output target to 704,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day.

BG's prized LNG unit also delivered 63 per cent more volumes in 2015 mainly thanks to the smooth ramp-up of its Queensland Curtis LNG export project. The additional volumes were mostly absorbed by buyers in Asia, with the number of cargoes to the region rising 72 per cent year-on-year to 208.

In a sign that BG has increased opportunistic trading, the company said it had purchased 13 more cargoes on the spot market in the fourth quarter. Weaker demand and a steady ramp-up in fresh supplies meant low LNG prices provided more spot trading opportunities, complementing deals under long-term contracts.

BG's successful LNG business will turn Shell into the world's largest LNG trader, betting on continued growth driven by governments' ambitions to make their economies less carbon-intensive.

"We believe BG's quality portfolio in both Brazil and LNG will contribute positively to the Shell-BG combined entity," said analysts at Bernstein.

BG Group's chief executive, Helge Lund, said: "We are pleased to have delivered an excellent operational performance in 2015 with results in line with, or ahead of, our guidance for the year.

"This strong operational performance is the result of the capability and commitment of our teams across the organisation and we will deliver a high-performing business into the combination with Shell."

BG's results come in the same week as those from other energy giants, BP and Shell. Both maintained their dividend payout to shareholders. BG said its shareholders would receive Shell's 2015 fourth-quarter dividend and would not receive a further BG Group dividend for 2015.

Shell's fourth-quarter dividend is 47 cents per Shell share, which is equivalent to 20.93 cents per BG Group share.

Petrotrin drills exploratory well at Fyzabad

Fri, 02/05/2016 - 23:18

Energy Minister Nicole Olivierre yesterday commended state-owned Petrotrin for drilling an exploratory well in one of its fields at Sudama Trace in Fyzabad.

The well is meant to ascertain the extent of the crude formation in this area and comes as the company grapples with depressed energy prices.

Olivierre, accompanied by Petrotrin’s president Fitzroy Harewood made an inspection and site visit of well #Fyzabad 1050, yesterday.

She said the well, which spudded on January 22, and is expected to be on site for one month, is a demonstration of Petrotrin’s continued efforts in increasing its land production. The total depth is going to be 7541 feet.

She said the exploratory well is the first being drilled in this particular area for several decades based on the results of a 3D seismic survey that was done five years ago.

“So the geologists and geophysicists would have studied the seismic interpretation and identified this particular location as the best candidate for exploration.”

She expressed optimism the exercise will be successful and additional wells will be drilled to develop any hydrocarbons in the reservoir.

Harewood said: “This well is one that we think is critical for us to understand what exactly is happening in this area. 

“The minister has identified that we have not done work in this area for a number of years, well over a decade if not more. But clearly based on the data we have seen on the 3D seismic survey we did, this is one of those we have identified for appraisal drilling and that work is going on now.”

He said this will give the company enough information to plan their next steps, “in terms of what we do in this area, in terms of further drilling. But it represents our continued efforts to identify additional resources that we can gain production from and increase our oil production going forward, notwithstanding the fact that we are going through some very challenging times.” Harewood said inspite of the low energy prices, “we think it’s important to lay a foundation for the future going forward and this well represents that.”

He admitted: “We are going through a difficult time, like all other companies, we are not immune. I keep saying that we are an oil company but we are an integrated oil company and that is something people need to remember.

“We have a refinery that is operating at almost maximum throughput for the last two months and that has helped us in terms of being able to sell our gasoline products to the external markets and generate some revenue. But we are hurting as everyone else and we are making the best of what we can to manage our costs and keep our production going, keep our refinery throughput up and keep our field production from declining and going forward as much as we can.”

He said those are the fundamentals to keep the business going as they make every efforts to make operations as efficient as possible.

“We are an integrated oil company so we keep our production going through our oil refinery. We also deal with keeping our land and marine production up and as efficient as we can and that is what we going to see to riding out this difficult period, if we can get the production maintained and increased if we can.”

Guardian Holdings Ltd adds $0.05

Wed, 02/03/2016 - 23:53

Overall market activity resulted from trading in 11 securities of which four advanced, three declined and four traded firm.

JMMB was the volume leader with 301,724 shares changing hands for a value of $165,948.20. Guardian Holdings Ltd enjoyed the day's largest gain, increasing $0.05 to end the day at $14.25. 

Conversely, Massy Holdings suffered the day's greatest loss, falling $0.20 to close at $59.60.

Clico Investment Fund was the only active security on the Mutual Fund Market, posting a volume of 1,140 shares valued at $25,650.

Hart elected to international EITI board

Wed, 02/03/2016 - 23:52

Victor Hart, Chair of the Trinidad and Tobago Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (TTEITI), has been elected to the EITI International board of directors for the Americas and Europe. 

Hart’s election was by a wide margin over candidates from Colombia, Peru, Honduras and Albania for a place on the 2016-19 EITI Board. Newly elected members will be announced at the 7th EITI Global Conference in Peru later this month, attended by a Trinidad and Tobago delegation.

Commenting on the result, Hart said, “I intend to use my position on the board to promote the TTEITI brand as well as the innovations we have introduced to EITI implementation. If our pioneering ideas are adopted, they could change for the better how the EITI is implemented worldwide.”

Since 2010, under Hart’s leadership, Trinidad and Tobago has been at the forefront of several progressive EITI implementation strategies. Hart pledged his continued advocacy for Trinidad and Tobago to be the EITI Champion for the Caricom region. 

 Hart said: “The EITI Is about protecting the people’s patrimony. Therefore, I will advance ideas to assist small countries rich in natural resources, like our CARICOM partners, in benefitting from EITI implementation.”

In the last two months TTEITI, in partnership with UWI and the British High Commission, has held workshops in Jamaica, Suriname and Guyana to promote the EITI aims of transparency, accountability and improved revenue management in those countries’ extractive sectors. These sectors are mainly oil, gas and mining for minerals, but can also include forestry and fishing industries. The series of regional workshops will end with a Regional Symposium in Guyana on 4 March.

In this country, the TTEITI engages in continual community outreach events to promote its annual EITI Reports, the most recent of which can be found at

A quantity surveyor and project manager by profession (now retired), Hart served on the Commission of Enquiry into alleged corruption in the Piarco Airport project. This led to his commitment to devote his remaining years to reducing the opportunities for corruption in the Nation’s public and private sectors. 

He was a director of the Trinidad and Tobago Transparency Institute (Transparency) for five years, during which he served as director, treasurer and chair for three years. Transparency’s 14 years of advocacy with other civil society groups for public sector procurement reform bore fruit in January 2015 when the Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Property Act 2015 was passed in Parliament. Hart served on the Cabinet-appointed Oversight Committee for Public Procurement that guided the implementation of the Act, which should become fully operational in 2016.

Victor Hart was awarded the Hummingbird Medal, Silver, at Trinidad and Tobago’s Independence anniversary celebrations on 31 August 2015. This national award is bestowed on persons in the private or public sector who have rendered loyal and devoted service in their respective fields for the benefit or prestige of the community and the Nation. 

The EITI is a global standard for ensuring transparency of payments from natural resources providing transparency and accountability in the extractive sectors (oil, gas and mining) through the annual publication of payments made by companies to governments, independently audited and reconciled with government’s declared receipts. Established in 2003, the EITI is currently being implemented by a coalition of governments, companies and civil society organisations in 49 countries around the world rich in natural resources. 

Inglefield to chair IOM

Wed, 02/03/2016 - 23:44

Former ANSA McAL executive David Inglefield has been appointed as the chairman of Inglefield/Ogilvy & Mather (IOM) Caribbean, the local full-service communications company.

In a statement yesterday, IOM said that Inglefield brings to the company “a wealth of local and regional experience gained over his ten years in leadership roles in one of the largest and most dynamic business conglomerates in the region.”

He served as a consultant to the Trinidad & Tobago Olympic Committee, the Caribbean Council of Advertising Agencies, the Bureau of Standards, the Ministry of National Security, the Central Bank of Trinidad & Tobago, the Environmental Management Authority and several private sector organisations.

In recognition of his contributions to local and regional advertising, he was inducted into the Advertising Agencies Association of Trinidad & Tobago’s Hall of Fame in 2015.

IOM said that Inglefield has “built a reputation for himself as a revolutionary, a strategic mind and an industry innovator. His career can be traced back to the late 1960s and his future forward style was responsible for propelling many of our favourite brands into the market leading positions they occupy today.”

Oil price jumps 8%

Wed, 02/03/2016 - 23:41

Oil prices jumped eight per cent higher on yesterday, snapping a two-day rout, after investors took advantage of a weaker U.S. dollar and shrugged off data showing an unexpected large surge in US crude inventories to record highs.

Comments by Russia’s foreign minister reiterating the major producer’s willingness to meet if there was consensus among the OPEC and non-OPEC members, also reignited hopes of a deal to trim output and helped to boost prices.

The dollar index tumbled to an over seven-week low, making commodities priced in the greenback cheaper for holders of other currencies, amid growing skepticism that the Federal Reserve would be able to hike U.S. interest rates again this year and after data showed the US services industry grew more slowly than expected last month. 

US crude futures closed with one its biggest gains in five months, rising US$2.40, or 8 per cent, to US$32.28. It was last up 8.5 per cent at US$32.42.

Brent futures settled up US$2.32, or 7.1 per cent, at US$35.04 a barrel, after rising as high as US$35.11. It was last up 7.43 per cent at US$35.15. US heating oil futures finished 6.7 per cent firmer after the US weather model called for seasonal cold over the next two weeks. “We’re getting the rally in crude oil from the pounding that the dollar is taking,” said Robert Yawger, senior vice president of energy futures at Mizuho Securities USA.

“There is a little bit of spec activity involved in that too. The market has a tendency as of late here to draw in spec position when we trade below $30,” he added. An employee of Stewarts Inc., an oilfield service company, work on a chemical drum at a drilling site in the Permian Basin oil field on January 20, 2016 in the oil town of Andrews, Texas.

Oil and stocks: An unhealthy relationship? In the last year, speculators had racked up the largest short, or bearish, position in crude oil in history and part of the current volatility in the price has come as a result of some of those positions being closed.

The markets shrugged off government data showing US crude and gasoline inventories rose to record levels last week. Crude soared 7.8 million barrels higher, topping analysts’ expectations for a rise of 4.8 million barrels, as imports jumped and refiners trimmed throughput.

“People say ‘I think the market has bottomed, there’s no place else to go but up from here’—I don’t agree with that premise. I think we will make new lows before we start moving up higher—there’s just so much oil out there you don’t know what to do with it,” Sal Umek of the Energy Management Institute in New York said. “The bears are controlling the market, the bulls are only going to go in and try to get a little bit here and there.”

Analysts reviewing the possibility of the deal are doubtful that such a meeting could take place, but argue Russia’s options for tackling it deteriorating economy are running out, as oil prices look to remain stubbornly low.

Chief markets economy at Capital Economics, John Higgins said the reports of a deal should at least be weighed, given that oil cartel OPEC’s largest producer, Saudi Arabia, and Russia both produce some 10 million barrels of oil per day, but remained unconvinced that “anything tangible will come of the latest calls for coordinated action.” “If the wealthier Gulf producers are tolerating lower prices to protect market share, there are already plenty of signs that this policy is working. The number of active drilling rigs in the US has collapsed and shale production there is now falling,” he said. “There would also be major questions over compliance. Even if Saudi Arabia were ready to change tack and agree to coordinated output cuts, it is not obvious that Russia would be a reliable partner,” he added.

Oil prices held onto gains despite the mixed messages on a possible deal, with Brent prices for April delivery up 99 cents, or 3 percent, at $33.69 a barrel in Wednesday afternoon trade, pulling away from a session low of $32.30. U.S. crude futures rose 81 cents to $30.71, off a session low of $29.40. Hints of a deal come as the Russian economy, along with other less stable oil producing nations, is under major strain with economists predicting further contraction in 2016.

“A second year of recession looks likely in 2016. Most growth indicators will continue to slide in and while there is expected to be an improvement in the second and third quarter, this will only be due to the base effect. Under our base-case scenario, the economy will remain in recession through the first half of 2016 and we may only see a return to growth in fourth quarter,” senior partner at macro advisory, Chris Weafer said.

US ratings agency Fitch said the Russian government has asked ministries to identify 700 billon rubles ($9 billion) of cuts, which will help with the deficit but will also likely dent demand in an economy weakened by lower oil prices and rouble volatility.

Brent crude prices have declined over 10 per cent this year, and down around 70 per cent over the last 18 months, hitting the budgets of oil-dependent nations, such as Nigeria and Azerbaijan, which have sought assistance from the International Monetary Fund.

“The Kremlin is now at a position where it has to choose between further spending cuts or drawing down its sovereign wealth funds, which may be more palatable given upcoming elections. With the Russian economy declining rapidly (by 3.7 percent in 2015), there are reports of small scale protests starting to occur, which President Putin will not want to gather momentum,” said chief oil analyst at Energy Aspects, Amrita Sen in a note.

Sen also noted that because Russian oil companies such as Lukoil, which have seen a growing proportion of their production become increasingly uneconomical, have begun to call for output cuts and co-operation with OPEC, there is little downside for Russia to suggest a production cut deal with the cartel.

TCL falls $0.20 to close at $3.69

Wed, 02/03/2016 - 00:02

Overall Market activity resulted from trading in seven securities of which two advanced, two declined and three traded firm.

Trading activity on the first tier market registered a volume of 302,691 shares crossing the floor of the Exchange valued at $782,938.50. JMMB Group Ltd was the volume leader with 250,000 shares changing hands for a value of $137,500, followed by Prestige Holdings Ltd with a volume of 44,322 shares being traded for $454,300.50. Trinidad and Tobago NGL contributed 5,700 shares with a value of $108,300, while Trinidad Cement Ltd added 1,000 shares valued at $3,690.

GraceKennedy enjoyed the day’s largest gain, increasing $0.07 to end the day at $4.22. Conversely, TCL suffered the day’s greatest loss, falling $0.20 to close at $3.69.

Clico Investment Fund was the only active security on the mutual fund market, posting a volume of 71,040 shares valued at $1,598,402.21. Clico Investment Fund remained at $22.50. Bourse Brazil Latin Fund remained at $9.50. Calypso Macro Index Fund remained at $25.00. Fortress Caribbean Property Fund Ltd Scc - Development Fund remained at $0.67. Fortress Caribbean Property Fund Ltd Scc - Value Fund remained at $1.70. Praetorian Property Mutual Fund remained at $3.00.

The Second Tier Market did not witness any activity. Mora Ven Holdings Ltd remained at $14.98. 

498 steel workers fired

Wed, 02/03/2016 - 00:01

Two weeks after retrenched ArcelorMittal workers resumed duties at the Point Lisas plant, the company has sent home 498 employees from today with no pay.

The latest dismissals by the international steel producer saw 18 more people being sent home than the December 5 lay offs with the payroll department and port employees also receiving retrenchment letters yesterday.

According to the Steel Workers’ Union (SWUTT), the workers were given the letters yesterday, stating that from today, there will be no work for them until March 13. SWUTT are currently engaged in the judicial review of ArcelorMittal’s dismissal of workers in December and union president Christopher Henry said yesterday’s move was a violation of the order by Industrial Court president Deborah Thomas-Felix.

During case management two weeks ago, Thomas-Felix ordered that the conditions set out in the December 5 retrenchment letters be maintained for the duration of the case. That is that the workers should return to work on January 18.

“This was said by the president of the court, Deborah Thomas-Felix and we are surprised that the company would take such an action in that matter. Also, there was a long discourse as it relates to consultation.

“Consultation cannot be you telling me you are going to do this. It means that the union will have an opportunity to present its case, the company will consider and respond. Then in a compromise, the union and the company will come to a position,” Henry said.

However, scores of dejected employees gathered at the union’s office in California yesterday, waiting to hear union’s next move. Henry said workers were broke, as they could not recover from the December dismissals. Meanwhile, he said the expatriates who are paid large salaries remain at the company. 

With the union preparing to meet with Helen Bhagwansingh, the owner of Central Trinidad Steel Ltd (Centrin), where 200 workers were dismissed and the plant mothballed on January 11, Henry said this was a lot for pressure for the union.

In an interview yesterday, he said he has already contacted the union’s attorney and they will meet today to discuss their next move as it relates to ArcelorMittal. He said he also spoke with Labour Minister Jennifer Baptiste-Primus and will pen a follow-up letter, requesting her intervention.

Saying it was strange, he said the union had agreed to meet with the company to discuss the global climate in the steel industry. He said because they had meetings with the Ministry of Labour and other companies, they scheduled a meeting for Friday, in which they wrote to Baptiste-Primus, requesting her participation.

However, he said they got a letter from the company at 10.38 am yesterday, giving an ultimatum that if they did not agree to meet at noon today, action would be taken. He said at 1.17 pm, they got another letter saying that the workers were being sent home.

BP earnings plunge 91%

Tue, 02/02/2016 - 23:59

LONDON—T&T’s biggest single foreign exchange earner, BP, yesterday announced that its fourth-quarter earnings plunged 91 per cent, even as it said it would sack 3,000 more employees and sell US$5 billion in additional assets, as the company tries to address sharp declines in oil prices.

The company reported yesterday that underlying replacement cost profit fell to US$196 million from US$2.2 billion in the same quarter a year earlier and well below analyst expectations of US$730 million. Replacement cost profit is an oil industry accounting standard that includes fluctuations in the price of oil and excludes one-time items. 

BP said it lost US$6.5 billion in 2015, which was bigger than the overall loss of US$4.9 billion it reported in 2010, even though it took a US$17.2 billion hit in the second quarter of that year after the explosion in the Gulf of Mexico. BP declined to comment when asked if the company’s 2015 loss was the biggest on record.

“It’s going to be a very turbulent year for our industry,” CEO Bob Dudley said as he opened a news conference in London.

Oil companies are slashing jobs and delaying investments as crude prices plummet. Brent crude, the benchmark for international oil, fell 34 per cent last year and hit a 12-year low of US$27.10 a barrel in January. It traded at US$34.13 on Monday, having been above US$100 a barrel as recently as September 2014.

The company also set aside an additional US$443 million in the quarter to cover costs related to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. Charges for the spill now total US$55.5 billion.

BP stock fell sharply on the news by early afternoon, dropping nearly nine per cent to £3.35.

Yet Dudley took the numbers in stride, arguing that the markets had failed to take into account a robust US$5.8 billion operating cash flow for the quarter. The overall net loss narrowed to US$3.3 billion from US$4.4 billion a year earlier.

The company also said it was taking steps to streamline redundant systems put in place for legal reasons after the spill.

“We have our confidence back now,” he said.

The company said it reduced controllable cash costs by US$3.4 billion last year, and estimated future cuts at almost US$3.6 billion. It forecast asset sales of as much as US$5 billion this year.

BP also announced 3,000 job cuts globally by the end of 2017. That is in addition to 4,000 cuts planned in exploration and production—including some 600 in North Sea operations. European rival Royal Dutch Shell, which reports earnings later this week, said in January that its planned merger with British gas producer BG Group would result in some 10,000 staff and contractor job losses across both companies.

Oil prices have plunged because global supply is high at a time when consumption is growing more slowly than expected, particularly in China.

OPEC members, meanwhile, are refusing to cut production for fear of losing market share to non-members like the US and Russia. And Iran is looking to start pumping more after decades of sanctions.

BP is supported somewhat during the current price slump by higher margins at its downstream business, which includes refining and selling fuels. But that’s not enough to offset the broader impact of the market drop, said Spencer Welch, an oil expert at IHS.

“Without the ongoing costs of Macondo/Gulf of Mexico, then BP would still have made a reasonable profit in 2015, mostly from the downstream business,” Welch said in an email.

Dudley said he expected a tough 2016, particularly in the first half. There are few predictions that oil prices will bounce back quickly, with some analysts forecasting they will drop to near $10 a barrel. And that means lots of uncertainty.

“I expect continued layoffs, restructurings, and consolidated among oil and gas companies,” said Gianna Bern, associate teaching professor of finance at the University of Notre Dame. “We are witnessing the perfect storm in this industry.”

The oil and gas sector is set to slash spending to its lowest in six years in 2016 to $522 billion, following a 22 per cent fall to US$595 billion in 2015, according to analysts. (AP)

$630.4m after tax profit for First Citizens

Mon, 02/01/2016 - 21:31

The First Citizens Group earned profit before tax of $790.8 million for the financial year ended September 30, 2015 and now has assets totaling $37.5 billion which includes proceeds for the National Gas Company’s initial public offering (IPO) of $2.7 billion.

The group’s latest financial report, which has been posted to the T&T Stock Exchange, also shows profit after tax of $630.4 million. 

“There was also significant growth in both our customer loans and investments portfolios of 24 per cent and 15.8 per cent respectively. The group’s funding base grew marginally by 0.1 per cent to $27.7 billion,” Group CEO Karen Darbasie said in her report to shareholders.

“We have been able to significantly grow our loan and investment portfolio while simultaneously focusing on our asset quality to ensure improvements in our delinquency ratios and nonperforming loans (NPLs) ratios.” 

At the end of 2015 First Citizens’ NPLs as a percentage of total loans stood at 3.39 per cent.

Darbarsie said at a time of challenges in the global economic environment and signs of recession in the local economy, First Citizens is focused on its non-interest income product set, which has shown good growth within the last year. The group’s fee generating businesses including electronic banking and local capital markets have grown, she said. 

“In addition we are seeing the positive impact of our investments in our businesses in Barbados and Costa Rica within the context of our group diversification strategy.

Darbasie said the group’s subsidiaries performed well, expanding the range of products and services they offer and growing in market share and profitability. 

She added: “The Asset Management Company has increased assets under management from $13.9 billion to $15.3 billion and its profit before tax from $95.8 million to $111.9 million.

“Trustee Company focused on streamlining its operations and increasing its revenue generating capability, with fee income increasing from $36.1 million in 2014 to $39.8 million in 2015. The First Citizens Investment Services Ltd also contributed $131.1 million to profit before tax.”

She said based on the condition of the local and regional economies, First Citizens will continue its efforts at managing expenses and ensuring robust risk management. 

“Focus remains on these two main areas in order to ensure that the growth and stability of the Group continue,” she said.

ECA looks at retrenchment and severance

Mon, 02/01/2016 - 21:23

With economic uncertainty persisting in T&T due to declines in energy prices, the Employers Consultative Association of T&T (ECA) has launched a discussion series to determine how their members are being affected and to find workable solutions.

Retrenchment and Severance was the focus of the first discussion. The ECA described that issue as “of utmost importance and unfortunately, a current reality that cannot be dismissed as evidenced not just around the world but right here in T&T.”

The group is calling on all social partners to engage in active consultation and “desist from unproductive confrontation if the country is to weather the storm that is now before it.” 

The ECA said its mandate extends beyond the remit of just ensuring representation and strength within the employer community to safeguarding and advancing the socio-economic wellbeing of T&T. 

“It is because of this mandate that the ECA not only educated participants about the issue of retrenchment from several aspects, but also presented practical alternatives for consideration,” ECA CEO Joycelyn Francois Opadeyi explained. 

“We have long advocated that retrenchment must always be a last resort after all possible alternatives have been exhausted as this is a phenomenon that will certainly encumber our recovery process. What we have learnt is that regardless of sector or industry, it cannot be business as usual and that our country’s long-term sustainability requires an all-hands-on-deck approach. In so doing, the ECA stands ready to lend support to the employer community in a holistic way that drives both business growth and national development.”