1 UK warned of cocktail of economic risks (BBC) The UK faces a “cocktail” of serious threats from a slowing global economy as 2016 begins, Chancellor George Osborne has warned. He said this year is likely to be one of the toughest since the financial crisis. He told business leaders that far from “mission accomplished” on the economy, “2016 is the year of mission critical”.
His message is in stark contrast to the positive tone of his Autumn Statement, when he said the UK was “growing fast”. The price of a range of key commodities, such as oil, gas and iron ore, has fallen sharply in the past year, a move that indicates weakening demand in the global economy while oil prices hit fresh 11-year lows.
But shadow chancellor John McDonnell blamed the government’s “failed economic policies” for the threats facing the economy. “It’s a cocktail of his own mixture – failing to invest, failing to rebalance the economy, relying upon consumer debt to boost the economy for an election victory and now we’re facing our own lethal cocktail within our own economy,” he said.
The chancellor laid out a number of risks that the UK economy faces over the next 12 months in his Cardiff speech. Significant challenges – including tension in the Middle East, slowing growth in China and low commodity prices – are all weighing on global confidence, he added.
2 Saudi Arabia considers Aramco IPO (Terry Macalister in The Guardian) Saudi Arabia is considering a stock market listing for its national oil group – the world’s biggest energy company and probably the most valuable company on the planet.
Saudi Aramco is a highly secretive organisation but is likely to be valued at well over $1tn. Any public share listing would be viewed as a potent symbol of the financial pain being wreaked by low prices on the world’s biggest crude exporting country.
Prince Muhammad bin Salman, the country’s highly influential deputy crown prince, confirmed that a decision would be taken within months whether to raise cash in this way, even as oil company shares are depressed at this time.
The sale via an initial public offering (IPO) of any part of Saudi Aramco would be a major change in direction for a country, which has jealously guarded its enormous – and cheaply produced – oil reserves. Aramco’s reserves are 10 times greater than those of Exxon, which is the largest publicly listed oil company.
The prince, considered the power behind the throne of his father King Salman, is keen to modernise the largely oil-based Saudi economy by privatisation or other means but it also needs to find money. The country is under pressure, with oil prices plunging to their lowest levels in 11 years and more than 70% below where they were in June 2014.
This has put huge strain on Saudi public spending plans, which were drawn up when prices were much higher and pushed the public accounts into deficit. Prince Muhammed, however, denied that the country was facing an economic crisis: “We’re too far from it. We are further than the 80s and the 90s. We have the third-largest reserve in the world. We were able to increase our non-oil revenues this year alone by 29%,” he said.
Western oil companies including Shell, BP and ExxonMobil may be very interested in an opportunity to buy into Saudi Aramco – even when their own balance sheets are being stretched by a collapsing crude values. But other state-owned petroleum groups, from China and elsewhere, would also be keen to take a stake in a company that controls more than 260bn barrels of reserves. Saudi Aramco produces all of Saudi’s 10.25m barrels a day, which is more than double that of Exxon and Rosneft in Russia.
3 Samsung Q4 profit misses expectations (San Francisco Chronicle) Samsung Electronics has said that its fourth-quarter profit rose 15 percent over a year earlier, a smaller-than-expected gain as the world’s largest maker of smartphones and memory chips struggles to revive growth.
The South Korean company reported in its earnings preview that it recorded 6.1 trillion won ($5.1 billion) in operating profit for the October-December quarter, compared with 5.3 trillion won a year earlier. Samsung was expected to report 6.6 trillion won in operating profit.
Sales stayed nearly flat at 53 trillion won ($44.3 billion), also slightly lower than expectations. It did not give net profit or other details, which will be announced at the end of this month. The preliminary results showed that the company’s annual operating profit likely posted a slight gain from 2014 after posting more than 30 percent fall in 2014 from 2013.
Analysts have recently lowered their forecasts on Samsung’s earnings for the final quarter of 2015, citing weak global demand for personal computers and smartphones that hurt its semiconductor business. Its memory chip and mobile processor business have helped partially outweigh its profit fall from sales of its own smartphones.