Saudi to invest $530m in Red Sea desalination plants

Saudi Arabia plans to build nine desalination plants for more than 2 billion riyals ($530 million) on the Red Sea coast, its environment minister said on Sunday.

The plants will have capacity of 240,000 cubic meters of water per day and will be completed in less than 18 months, Abdulrahman al-Fadhli wrote in a Twitter post.

The project, which the minister said was ordered by King Salman in a royal decree, will help government-owned Saudi Saline Water Conversion Corp (SWCC) raise production efficiency and cut operating and capital costs, Fadhli added.

He gave no details on funding.

Saudi Arabia said in 2016 it planned to use public-private partnerships (PPP) with local and foreign companies to fund infrastructure projects.

In August, it said it would develop resorts on about 50 Red Sea islands, completing the first phase of that project – which is backed by its Public Investment Fund (PIF) – in the fourth quarter of 2022.

Jordan’s King Abdullah tells Pence of concern over Jerusalem

Arab outrage over President Donald Trump’s decision to move the American embassy in Israel to Jerusalem had prompted the cancellation of several planned meetings ahead of Pence’s trip, originally scheduled for December.

Abdullah, a key US ally, said he had “continuously voiced over the past year… my concerns regarding the US decision on Jerusalem that does not come as a result of a comprehensive settlement to the Palestinian Israeli conflict”.

“Jerusalem is key to Muslims and Christians as it is to Jews,” he added. “It is key to peace in the region. And key to enabling Muslims to effectively fight some of the root causes of radicalisation.”

Israel occupied the West Bank in 1967 and later annexed east Jerusalem in a move never recognised by the international community.

The US move to recognise the city as Israel’s capital broke with decades of international consensus that the city’s status should be settled as part of a two-state peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians.

Israel claims all of Jerusalem as its united capital, while the Palestinians see the eastern sector as the capital of their future state.

Israelis and Palestinians alike interpreted Trump’s move as Washington taking Israel’s side in the dispute over the city. 

Pence will head to Israel later Sunday for a two-day visit, during which he can expect a warm welcome from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin.

‘Dangerous and messianic’

Pence – a devout Christian – will visit the Western Wall, one of the holiest Jewish sites in Jerusalem’s Old City, and pay his respects at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial.

He will also deliver a speech to Israel’s parliament on Monday. A coalition of Arab parties said Saturday it would boycott the address, calling Pence “dangerous and messianic”.

The US vice president arrived in Jordan on Saturday evening from Egypt, where he met President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, a key Trump ally.

The leaders of both Egypt and Jordan, the only Arab states that have peace treaties with Israel, would be key players if US mediators ever manage to revive a stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process, as Trump says he wants.

Speaking in Amman Sunday, Pence called Trump’s Jerusalem move a “historic decision” but said the United States respected Jordan’s role as custodian of the city’s holy sites.

“The United States of America remains committed, if the parties agree, to a two-state solution. We are committed to restarting the peace process, and Jordan does now and has always played a central role in facilitating peace in the region,” Pence said.

Abdullah said he was “encouraged” by Trump’s stated commitment to finding a solution to the decades-long conflict, which he called a “potential major source of instability”.

“We hope that the US will reach out and find the right way to move forward in these challenging circumstances,” he said.

Sisi had urged the US president before his Jerusalem declaration “not to complicate the situation in the region by taking measures that jeopardise the chances of peace in the Middle East”.

The international community considers east Jerusalem illegally occupied by Israel and all embassies are currently in commercial capital Tel Aviv.

Pence’s trip has also been overshadowed by the White House’s decision to freeze tens of millions of dollars in aid to the United Nations agency for Palestinians, as well as by a federal government shutdown looming over Washington.

Hot back nine sees Fleetwood hold off McIlroy in Abu Dhabi

England’s Tommy Fleetwood successfully defended his title at the $3 million Abu Dhabi Championship Sunday, shooting a seven-under par 65 round to beat compatriot Ross Fisher by two shots.

The 27-year-old Southport resident made the turn at one-under par, but was on fire on the back nine. He made six birdies, including one on the closing 18th hole, to edge Fisher.

The back-nine heroics of Fleetwood, ranked 18th in the world and expected to rise to No10 when the new list is released Monday, included making a 25 feet putt for birdie on the 15th hole to tie for the lead with Fisher, and then a 50-feet birdie putt to take outright lead on the 16th hole.

Fisher (69) started the day in impressive fashion with an eagle on the second hole, courtesy a 45-feet putt, and was four-under at the turn. But on the back nine, he made a bogey on the 10th and a solitary birdie on the 16th hole to finish on 20-under par.

Last year, Fleetwood beat the reigning world No1 Dustin Johnson by one shot, kickstarting a successful season that culminated in him winning the European Tour’s Race to Dubai.

Johnson (70) finished on 14-under par this year, while former world No1 Rory McIlroy shot a 70 to tie for third place at 18-under par alongside Matthew Fitzpatrick (69).

Overnight joint leader Thomas Pieters (72) and winner of last week’s South African Open, England’s Chris Paisley (69) were tied fifth at 17-under 271.

Airbus to get ’10 years of visibility’ from Emirates deal: CEO

A $16 billion deal with Emirates airline for A380 superjumbos will give Airbus “at least 10 years of visibility”, the European manufacturer’s CEO Tom Enders said in an interview published Sunday.

Emirates announced the deal on Thursday to buy 36 Airbus A380s – just days after the group said it would have to halt production without new orders.

The deal is “excellent news” and “a sign of confidence on the part of a company that has built its strategy on growth around the plane”, Enders told France’s Journal du Dimanche newspaper.

It “gives us at least 10 years of visibility.”

Emirates said it had placed firm orders for 20 of the double-decker aircraft with options for a further 16. Deliveries are scheduled to start in 2020.

The airline is already the world’s biggest customer for the A380 with 101 in its fleet and 41 more firm orders previously placed.

Airbus hopes that by continuing the programme for the next 10 years or even beyond, potential customers of the A380 will decide to order the aircraft, especially in China.

The group’s decision in 2007 to pursue the A380, capable of packing in 853 seats, was diametrically opposed to rival Boeing’s bet on the Dreamliner, marketed as a more efficient plane that could be used for both medium and long-distance flights.

But the economics of the four-engine A380 have proved daunting, with airlines having to operate every flight at full capacity in order to make a profit.

Airbus sales director John Leahy had said on Monday that the company would have to halt the A380 programme unless Emirates placed another order.

Enders, 59, told the Airbus board of directors last month that he would not seek reappointment as CEO when his current term ends in April.

Bahrain arrests 47, charges 290 in mass crackdown

Bahraini police said Sunday they had arrested 47 people on charges linked to terrorism, including plots to assassinate “public figures”, as well as filing charges against another 290.

Authorities have cracked down hard on dissent since mass street protests in 2011 which demanded an elected prime minister and constitutional monarchy in the Sunni-ruled, Shiite majority kingdom. 

The government accuses Shiite Tehran of training “terrorist cells” in the tiny island state, located between rival regional heavyweights Iran and Saudi Arabia. 

Iran denies involvement. 

In a statement released by Bahrain’s police force on Sunday, the interior minister said law enforcement had arrested 49 “terrorist agents” and foiled attacks across the country, including planned killings of “officials and public figures”. 

Police had also transferred the cases of 290 wanted persons and suspects to the public prosecutor’s office, it said. 

The statement did not specify the dates of the arrests but said they were part of “one of the most important preventive operations”, triggered by “attacks on police” and a fire at a Saudi Aramco oil pipeline in Bahrain last year. 

A key US ally and home to the US Fifth Fleet, Bahrain has drawn harsh criticism from international rights groups over its crackdown on dissent.

Dozens of Bahrainis have been jailed and stripped of citizenship since Arab Spring-inspired protests broke out in 2011. 

Bahrain’s parliament and king last year granted military courts jurisdiction to try civilians charged with “terrorism” — a vaguely defined legal term.

The kingdom has also deported citizens whose nationalities had been revoked. 

PCP Capital boss says Newcastle United deal still alive

Amanda Staveley hit back on Friday saying her bid to buy Premier League side Newcastle United remained live despite a source close to present owner Mike Ashley saying it was dead in the water.

Staveley, whose company PCP Capital Partners were instrumental in the deal that saw Abu Dhabi’s Sheikh Mansour buy Manchester City, told The Times she had been “hurt” by the remarks made by the source.

The source had told Sky Sports on Tuesday that dealing with Staveley had been “exhausting, frustrating and a complete waste of time”.

Staveley, who has previously failed with a bid to buy Liverpool, rejected this out of hand.

She says her third offer of £250 million ($348 million) is very much a real bid. 

The figure is below Ashley’s asking price but the bid would also see her invest an additional £100 million in players over the first two transfer windows.

“I’m very much still interested in buying Newcastle,” said the 44-year-old English businesswoman.

“And our bid remains on the table.

“I’m very concerned, I’m very surprised and I’m disappointed about what’s been said this week.

“The suggestion that we were either wasting time or not serious is absurd. It’s hurtful. Hugely hurtful.”

Staveley is adamant manager Rafael Benitez is integral to the future plans should they succeed in wresting the club from Ashley’s hands.

“Rafa is doing an incredible job,” said Staveley. “We want Rafa to be part of this project.”

Staveley says she has brought together potential investors from around the globe – believed to be from the Middle East, east Asia and the United States.

“This is something we’ve been working really hard on,” she said.

“It’s not something we’ve just thrown together. I’m putting a lot of my own capital into this and our investors, who come from around the world, include sovereign wealth funds.”

Staveley says there is an emotional element to her interest in buying the club as well.

“They’re such passionate fans and it’s a great club,” she said.

“I’m a northerner. My family home is an hour away from St James’ Park. I just love football and Newcastle has a proper history and a real magic.”

Sportswear magnate Ashley announced he wanted to sell the club last October after 10 years in charge, having paid £134.4 million to buy Newcastle in 2007.

The 53-year-old Londoner has proved a divisive figure during his tenure, which has seen Newcastle twice relegated from the Premier League and then immediately promoted back.

Saudi minister previously held in purge to head Davos delegation

Saudi Arabia’s delegation to the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos next week will be led by state minister Ibrahim al-Assaf, who was released from detention related to an anti-corruption purge in November, Saudi sources said.

Assaf, who was also a former finance minister and a board member of national oil company Saudi Aramco, was among people detained and under investigation by a new anti-corruption body, a senior Saudi official had told Reuters.

After he was seen attending a cabinet meeting earlier this month, a Saudi source said he had been cleared of wrongdoing and retained his positions as minister of state and adviser to the king.

Saudi security forces have rounded up dozens of princes, ministers and business leaders and converted the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Riyadh into a luxurious prison in what the authorities said was a crackdown on corruption.

The move was also widely seen as helping Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman consolidate his grip on power after he ousted his cousin as heir to the throne in the summer.

Some detainees have cut deals with the government, handing over cash or assets in exchange for their freedom.

Assaf’s restoration appears to suggest that influential figures might keep their positions if they cooperate with the investigations.

The government media office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Etihad exec embarks on round the world record attempt

Senior Etihad Airways executive, Andrew Fisher, will embark on a journey of a lifetime on Sunday when he attempts to break the world record by flying around the globe in the shortest time frame on scheduled flights, and with the fewest number of sectors.

Fisher, who works as the airline’s vice president fleet planning, hopes to shave three hours off the current record of over 55 hours by completing the journey in only four sectors. 

His flight path begins in the early hours of Sunday morning in Shanghai, taking him to Auckland, Buenos Aires and Amsterdam before returning to the Chinese city in the early hours of Tuesday morning.

“It’s about time the job was done,” he said. “The planning has taken a long time, essentially to ensure the flight timings, routings and transits are kept as tight as possible and there is only a short window of opportunity for this to happen.”

The progress of Andrew’s record-breaking attempt can be followed on Twitter at @AndrewFisherNZ

US set to overtake Saudi Arabia as global oil producer

The United States are set to overtake Saudi Arabia as the world’s number two oil producer after Russia this year, as shale companies, attracted by rising prices, ramp up drilling, the International Energy Agency said on Friday.

“This year promises to be a record-setting one for the US,” the IEA wrote in its monthly market report.

Crude production of 9.9 million barrels per day (bpd) in the US was now at the highest level in nearly 50 years, “putting it neck-and-neck with Saudi Arabia, the world’s second largest crude producer after Russia,” the IEA said.

“Relentless growth should see the US hit historic highs above 10 million bpd, overtaking Saudi Arabia and rivalling Russia during the course of 2018 – provided OPEC/non-OPEC restraints remain in place,” it said.

A global supply glut pushed oil prices as low as $30 per barrel at the start of 2016.

But producing nations – both inside and outside the OPEC oil cartel – struck a deal at the end of 2016 to cut back production and drive prices higher.

Geopolitical tensions and a reduction in oil stocks have also contributed to the recovery.

Crude recently rose above $70 per barrel for the first time since 2014 after OPEC and non-OPEC countries agreed to extend their combined cutbacks until the end of this year.

Rising prices have, in turn, made it more attractive for shale companies to increase drilling.

And since the United States is not a party to the deal, its shale production can continue uninhibited.

“US growth in 2017 beat all expectations … as the shale industry bounced back, profiting from cost cuts, (and) stepped up drilling activity,” the IEA said.

“Explosive growth in the US and substantial gains in Canada and Brazil will far outweigh potentially steep declines in Venezuela and Mexico,” it said.

“The big 2018 supply story is unfolding fast in the Americas,” the IEA said.

Shale production is controversial, because in order to extract oil and gas, a high-pressure mixture of water, sand and chemicals is blasted deep underground to release hydrocarbons trapped between layers of rock.

And environmentalists argue that the process – known as fracking, or hydraulic fracturing technology – may contaminate ground water and even cause small earthquakes.

Regarding OPEC output, the IEA said that there was “no clear sign yet of OPEC turning up the taps to cool down oil’s rally”.

In its own monthly market report published on Thursday, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries had said that the global oil market was moving closer to reaching a healthy balance between supply and demand.

The IEA, which advises advanced market economies on energy policy, said that there was 95-percent compliance by OPEC countries with the agreed cuts.

In the first annual decline since 2013, total oil production from the group’s 14 members fell from 39.6 million bpd to 39.2 million bpd, it said.

And while “supply discipline from the non-OPEC camp has been less rigorous, 82 percent for 2017,” it was “nonetheless strong,” the agency said.

At the same time, the increase in US production offset roughly 60 percent of the realised cuts, the IEA said.

The impact of the reduction was further blunted by a rebound in output from Libya and Nigeria, excluded from the cuts.

The IEA calculated that the global oil supply eased by 405,000 bpd to 97.7 million bpd in December, but this was due mostly to unplanned outages in the North Sea and lower Venezuelan output, the IEA said.

That compares with estimated overall global demand for oil of 97.8 million bpd.

The IEA said that if both OPEC and non-OPEC countries maintained compliance, “then the market is likely to balance for the year as a whole.”

For producers, there was a silver lining to taking part in the supply cuts, since “they earned more in 2017 while pumping less,” it said.

Among OPEC producers, Saudi Arabia saw the biggest reward, making nearly $100 million a day in additional revenue. Beleaguered Venezuela, on the other hand, only earned an extra $9 million.

As a whole, OPEC producers netted an extra $362 million a day.

Russia, not a member of the cartel, earned the most of all, pocketing an additional $117 million a day, the IEA calculated.

Is BA to follow Emirates with new order for A380s?

Airbus is in talks to sell new A380 superjumbo planes to British Airways this year after securing a program-saving deal from Gulf operator Emirates, according to people familiar with the matter.

The UK carrier, which currently has 12 A380s in its fleet, had said in the past that it was looking for six to seven second-hand A380s. Now it’s considering taking a larger number of new ones, said the people, who asked not to be named because the discussions are private.

Airbus’s outgoing head of sales,  John Leahy, said on Bloomberg Television Friday he was confident the European planemaker would secure one more A380 order this year. That customer is British Airways, the people said. Airbus, based in Toulouse, France, and BA parent IAG declined to comment.

British Airways is interested in the superjumbo because of the jet’s ability to maximize the number of passengers per flight at its London Heathrow hub, which is running close to capacity limits. The carrier’s main focus is on North Atlantic routes that are among the world’s busiest long-haul services, and it ranks as the No. 1 operator of Boeing’s 747 jumbo, the second-biggest passenger plane after the A380.

BA is examining a deal for new planes after concluding that refurbishing used examples of the Airbus behemoth for its own needs would be too expensive, one of the people said. The carrier’s superjumbos are fitted out in a four-class configuration featuring 469 seats, according to its website.
Order Drought

IAG CEO Willie Walsh has been mulling the business case for second-hand A380s for as least two years, with planes becoming available as the oldest ones come off lease from Singapore Airlines after a decade of service. Walsh also ran the rule over six younger aircraft deemed surplus to requirements at Malaysia Airlines Bhd.

An order for new double-deckers from IAG would help vindicate Airbus’s efforts to save the A380, which Leahy said Monday might be scrapped after failing to attract a buyer for more than two years. That was before Dubai-based Emirates announced its deal for as many as 36 planes worth $16 billion.

While Airbus says that order will keep the A380 production line going for more than a decade, it’s still looking at slashing build rates to just six annually from 12 this year. Follow-on orders from carriers such as British Airways are therefore still vital in lifting the annual tally to a level where the manufacturer can break even on each plane.