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OPEC+ weighs large oil cutback to boost sagging prices

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FRANKFURT, Germany (AP) — The OPEC+ alliance of oil-exporting countries on Wednesday will debate a potentially large cut in the amount of crude it ships to the global economy — a move that could help Russia weather a looming European ban on oil imports and raise gasoline prices for U.S. drivers just ahead of national midterm elections.

Energy ministers from the OPEC cartel, whose leading member is Saudi Arabia, and allied non-members including Russia are meeting in person at the group’s Vienna headquarters for the first time since early 2020 at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Russian Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak, who has been sanctioned by the U.S., was attending the meeting in Austria’s capital.

A production cut could benefit Russia by establishing higher prices ahead of a European Union ban on most Russian oil imports, a sanction over the invasion of Ukraine that takes effect at the end of the year, analysts at Commerzbank say.

Russia “will need to find new buyers for its oil when the EU embargo comes into force in early December and will presumably have to make further price concessions to do so,” the analysts wrote in a note. “Higher prices beforehand — boosted by production cuts elsewhere — would therefore doubtless be very welcome.”

Moscow also faces a separate push by the U.S. and the other Group of Seven wealthy democracies to impose a price cap on Russian oil by Dec. 5. The EU agreed Wednesday on new sanctions that are expected to include a price cap on Russian oil, an EU official said.

Oil prices surged this summer as markets worried about the loss of Russian supplies from sanctions over the war in Ukraine, but they slipped as fears about recessions in major economies and China’s COVID-19 restrictions weighed on demand for crude.

The fall in oil prices has been a boon to U.S. drivers, who saw lower gasoline prices at the pump before costs recently started ticking up, and for U.S. President Joe Biden as his Democratic Party gears up for congressional elections next month.

It’s unclear how much impact a production cut would have on oil prices — and thus gasoline prices — because members are already unable to meet the quotas set by OPEC+. Yet Saudi Arabia may be unwilling to strain its relationship with Russia even if the world’s largest oil exporter had any reservations about cutbacks and has recently has drawn leaders from Biden to German Chancellor Olaf Scholz to talk about energy supplies.

The Commerzbank analysts said a small trim would likely see oil prices fall further, while the group would need to remove at least 500,000 barrels day from the market to bolster prices.

Such a production cut “would undoubtedly signal to the market the determination and resolve of the cartel to support oil prices,” said UniCredit economist Edoardo Campanella. But supply would drop by less than announced.

“If the group cuts target production by 1 million barrels per day, actual output would likely drop by about 550,000 barrels per day — as countries like Russia or Nigeria that are producing below quota would see their formal target decline but remaining above what they can currently produce,” Campanella said.

At its last meeting in September, the group reduced the amount of oil it produces by 100,000 barrels a day in October. That token cut didn’t do much to boost lower oil prices, but it put markets on notice that OPEC+ was willing to act if prices kept falling.

International benchmark Brent has sagged as low as $84 in recent days after spending most of the summer months over $100 per barrel. U.S. oil prices fell below $80 per barrel Friday. Ahead of the meeting, U.S. crude traded at $86.38 and Brent at $91.66.

The White House declined to comment before OPEC leaders made a final decision on oil production, but press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters Tuesday that the U.S. would not extend releases from its strategic reserve to increase global supplies.

“We’re not considering new releases,” Jean-Pierre said.

Biden has tried to receive credit for gasoline prices falling from their average June peak of $5.02 — with administration officials highlighting a late March announcement that a million barrels a day would be released from the strategic reserve for six months. High inflation is a fundamental drag on Biden’s approval and has dampened Democrats’ chances in the midterm elections.

Gasoline prices recently turned up because of refinery outages in California and Ohio, and vary widely, from over $6 per gallon in California to under $3 in some parts of Texas and the Gulf Coast, according to motoring club federation AAA. The national average of $3.80 is up slightly but down from a record high on June 14.

One major factor weighing on oil prices has been fears of recessions in places like the U.S. and Europe and slowdowns due to China’s strict COVID-19 measures.

Higher inflation is sapping consumer purchasing power, while central banks are raising interest rates to cool off overheating prices, a step that could slow economic growth. Oil prices at their summer highs, and higher natural gas prices boosted by Russian cutbacks to Europe, helped fuel inflation.

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Associated Press reporter Josh Boak contributed from Washington.

David Mchugh, The Associated Press

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Alberta

WestJet announces new flights to Tokyo, Barcelona, and Edinburgh

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Calgary – WestJet plans to offer flights to Japan starting this spring, marking the airline’s first non-stop flights to Asia from Calgary.

The Calgary-based airline said Monday that it will fly to Tokyo’s Narita International Airport from Calgary this spring.

The non-stop flights will operate three times weekly beginning April 30.

The airline also announced new routes from Calgary to Barcelona and Edinburgh and increased frequency to Dublin, London, Paris and Rome, also starting in the spring.

WestJet chief executive Alexis von Hoensbroech says the new flights are part of the airline’s plan to expand capacity from Calgary by more than 25 per cent by next year, beginning with intercontinental routes.

WestJet also says it is preparing for broader expansion within Canada and North America over the coming months.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 5, 2022.

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RBC reports $3.9B Q4 profit as it prepares for a more turbulent year ahead

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By Ian Bickis in Toronto

Royal Bank of Canada is taking measures to prepare for a more uncertain year ahead, but results from the past quarter still show gains in key areas like loans and new client additions.

The bank, which on Tuesday announced it had reached a deal to buy HSBC Bank Canada for $13.5 billion, said Wednesday it was raising its dividend for the last time until the deal is closed, while also announcing a two per cent discount on dividend reinvestments to help boost its balance sheet.

Given the potential slowdown ahead, the bank also set aside $381 million for potentially bad loans, compared with a reversal of $227 million last year, which offset gains elsewhere in the quarter to leave earnings of $3.88 billion just $10 million shy from a year earlier.

The actions on loan provisions and dividend discounts come as elevated housing and energy prices, geopolitical instability, and rising interest rates put pressure on growth, affect asset valuations and adds to market volatility, said RBC chief executive Dave McKay.

“We maintain our cautious stance on the outlook for economic growth,” he said on an analyst call.

“Although higher interest rates are needed to preserve long term economic stability, the lagging impact of monetary policy, combined with strong employment and significant liquidity in the system, has likely delayed what may end up being a brief and moderate recession.”

While rising rates put pressure on the economy, RBC is especially well positioned to benefit from them as the net interest margins on its sizable deposit base grows.

The bank said it saw net income in personal and commercial banking grow five per cent from a year ago to $2.14 billion, mostly due to those higher margins along with average volume growth of 10 per cent in loans, and wealth management also got a boost from higher net interest income and loan volume growth.

The boost from rising interest margins come as a benefit of RBC’s scale, which it continues to push to increase, both through the HSBC Canada acquisition, and more organic growth.

HSBC Canada gives the potential for RBC to add some 800,000 clients if it goes through as expected in late 2023, while this year the bank added 400,000 clients, and expects its client referral deal with the Canadian division of India’s ICICI Bank to direct some 50,000 more customers as immigration levels reach record highs.

The bank is well-positioned to add more clients, and deposits, next year to provide lower-cost funding for its loans, said McKay.

“We believe our largely deposit-funded balance sheet will be a key driver of profitability in a rising rate environment,” he said.

The bank’s capital markets business shows the clearest indications of volatility, with net income of $617 million down 33 per cent from a year earlier, but up 29 per cent from the third quarter.

Revenue totalled $12.57 billion, up from $12.38 billion a year earlier.

The quarter showed strong loan growth and no signs of a credit spike for RBC, said Scotiabank analyst Meny Grauman in a note, but he wondered about what the bank’s move on the discounted dividend reinvestment plan (DRIP) shows for the bank’s capital outlook, given the expected tougher economic conditions next year.

“In that context a defensive move on the DRIP raises questions about downside risks,” said Grauman.

He said the bank’s better-than-expected earnings, which came in at an adjusted $2.78 per diluted share for the quarter compared with a consensus of $2.68, according to Refinitiv, was from higher revenues and smaller loan provisions than expected.

Bank expenses however, which were up 9.5 per cent for the quarter compared with last year on higher staffing costs and some acquisition-related increase, came in higher than expected.

RBC said it will now pay a quarterly dividend of $1.32 per share, an increase of four cents.

For its full financial year, RBC said it earned $15.81 billion or $11.06 per diluted share on $48.99 billion in revenue compared with a record profit of $16.05 billion or $11.06 per diluted share on $49.69 billion in revenue in the same period last year.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 30, 2022.

Companies in this story: (TSX:RY)

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