News Archive

Wall Street slightly higher; biotechs cap gains

Wall Street was slightly higher in volatile trading on Thursday as a decline in biotech stocks offset gains in energy shares.

The Nasdaq biotech .NBI sector was down 3.5 percent, with Celgene’s (CELG.O) 4.8 percent fall weighing the most.

Incyte’s (INCY.O) 11 percent drop also dragged the index lower, after the company said it would stop a mid-stage study on a key cancer treatment.

Crude rose as much as 6 percent earlier on speculation that Saudi Arabia and other OPEC countries would cut output to boost prices. [O/R]

“Oil’s been firmly in control of the market,” said Kim Forrest, senior equity research analyst at Fort Pitt Capital Group in Pittsburgh.

“I think what oil has become is a proxy for ‘are we going into a recession?’,” she said.

At 11:05 a.m. ET, the Dow Jones industrial average .DJI was up 33.83 points, or 0.21 percent, at 15,978.29, the SP 500 .SPX was up 7.47 points, or 0.4 percent, at 1,890.42 and the Nasdaq Composite index .IXIC was up 34.00 points, or 0.76 percent, at 4,502.17.

Six of the 10 major SP sectors were lower, led by the 2.15 percent fall in health stocks .SPXHC.

Abbott Labs (ABT.N) was down 8.8 percent at $36.94 after it reported a drop in revenue. The stock was the biggest drag on the healthcare sector.

Facebook (FB.O) surged 12.2 percent to $106.23 after the world’s biggest social network reported a 52 percent jump in revenue.

The U.S. Federal Reserve kept interest rates unchanged on Wednesday and said it was “closely monitoring” global economic and financial developments, while keeping an optimistic view of the U.S. economy.

Advancing issues outnumbered decliners on the NYSE by 2,081 to 847. On the Nasdaq, 1,582 issues rose and 993 fell.

The SP 500 index showed four new 52-week highs and 20 new lows, while the Nasdaq recorded 12 new highs and 115 new lows.

(Reporting by Abhiram Nandakumar in Bengaluru; Editing by Anil D’Silva)

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HSBC curbs mortgage offering to Chinese citizens in U.S.

NEW YORK/ VANCOUVER Europe’s biggest lender HSBC will no longer provide mortgages to some Chinese nationals who buy real estate in the United States, a policy change that comes as Beijing is battling to stem a swelling crowd of citizens trying to get money out of China.

An HSBC (HSBA.L) (0005.HK) spokesman in New York told Reuters on Wednesday that the new policy went into effect last week, roughly a month after China suspended Standard Chartered (STAN.L) and DBS Group Holdings Ltd (DBSM.SI) from conducting some foreign exchange business and as authorities try to limit capital outflows.

China’s stock market slump, slowing economic growth and weak real estate prices have encouraged Chinese individuals and companies to try to shift money offshore for higher returns, a headache for Beijing as the capital outflows undermine efforts to prop up the yuan and domestic investment.

Realtors of luxury property in cities like New York, Los Angeles, and Vancouver, said more than 80 percent of wealthy Chinese buyers have ties to China.

In the United States, real estate agents and regulators say Chinese buyers often prefer to buy property in cash and they are the biggest foreign buyer.

Data from the country’s National Association of Realtors shows they bought $28.6 billion of property in 2015, up from $22 billion in 2014.

HSBC declined to clarify which clients would be affected by the change beyond describing the policy as impacting some Chinese nationals.

Luxury homes news website Mansion Global, which first reported the HSBC policy change, said it would affect Chinese nationals holding temporary visitor ‘B’ visas if the majority of their income and assets are maintained in China.

In Vancouver, an HSBC spokeswoman said HSBC’s Canadian arm already had similar policies in place and was actively reviewing those policies in the context of the local regulatory environment to determine if and what changes are necessary.

She added that the bank has a very conservative risk appetite and favors customers with strong ties to Canada, or who are building strong ties to Canada.

China’s State Administration of Foreign Exchange said late last year it would soon launch a system to monitor foreign exchange businesses at banks and put people who tried to buy more foreign currency than is allowed on a watch list.

Those found trying to purchase more than the maximum $50,000 in foreign currency a year would be placed on a watch list, it said.

“HSBC fully complies with all applicable regulations in the markets in which it operates and constantly reviews its policies to protect its customers and support the orderly and transparent operation of financial markets,” a statement from the London-based bank said.

HSBC’s pivot away from lending to some Chinese nationals abroad comes as other international banks clamor to lend more to wealthy Chinese.

The Royal Bank of Canada (RY.TO) scrapped its C$1.25 million cap on mortgages to borrowers with no local credit history last year in a bid to tap into surging demand for financing from wealthy immigrant buyers.

A spokeswoman representing RBC in Hong Kong was not immediately able to comment on the bank’s Canadian business.

(Additional reporting by Lawrence White, Editing by Lisa Jucca and Neil Fullick)

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Russia says Saudis proposing 5 percent global oil cut

ST PETERSBURG, Russia/DUBAI Russia said on Thursday that OPEC’s largest producer Saudi Arabia, had proposed oil production cuts of up to 5 percent in what would be the first global deal in over a decade to help clear a glut of crude and prop up sinking prices.

Benchmark Brent futures LCOc1 jumped as much as 8 percent on Thursday to nearly $36 a barrel on news of the potential deal, which if implemented would immediately reduce surplus global output exceeding demand by 1 million barrels per day (bpd). Brent was trading at $34 a barrel at 1540 GMT (10:40 a.m. ET).

A turnaround in oil’s fortunes would be welcomed by oil-rich countries where the price collapse has caused budget squeezes and political turmoil with some even forced to devalue their currencies.

Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak said Saudi Arabia had proposed that oil-producing countries cut production by up to 5 percent, which for non-OPEC member Russia – the world’s top producer – would represent around 500,000 bpd.

“Indeed, these parameters were proposed, to cut production by each country by up to 5 percent,” Novak said. “This is a subject for discussions, it’s too early to talk about.”

Saudi Arabian officials did not immediately comment on the proposal but a senior Gulf OPEC delegate said: “Gulf OPEC countries and Saudi Arabia are willing to cooperate for any action to stabilize the international oil market.”

The proposal did not come directly from Saudi Arabia but rather from OPEC members Venezuela and Algeria, one Gulf OPEC source said.

Oil sank to 12-year lows of around $27 a barrel earlier this month, from as high as $115 some 18 months ago, because of a U.S. shale oil boom and a decision by OPEC to pump more to fight for market share against higher-cost producers.

But cheap oil has caused economic pain in many producer countries. In Saudi Arabia it has pressured the currency and opened up a record state budget deficit of around $100 billion.

In Russia, the rouble hit an all-time low, street protests have flared in Azerbaijan and investors are concerned about a potential debt default by OPEC member Venezuela.


Novak also told reporters there was a proposal for a meeting between the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and non-OPEC nations at the oil minister level and that Russia was ready for such talks.

“There are lots of questions about the oversight over cuts,” he added.

Saudi Arabia has repeatedly called on non-members to contribute to output cuts if they want the organization to help producers deal with the oil glut with the world running out of space to stockpile unwanted crude.

Russia has long rebuffed the idea of cuts saying its fields were different from those in the Gulf and are difficult to shut.

President Vladimir Putin, who has yet to comment on the idea of joint cuts, sees the oil sector as an important bargaining chip in relations with the West that have become tense due to disagreements over Russia’s annexation of the Crimea region and over the conflict in Syria.

“You have to take this seriously now. Key will be if Russia can deliver,” said Gary Ross, a veteran OPEC watcher and founder of U.S.-based Pira group.

Brenda Kelly, head analyst at London Capital Group, said the proposed cuts were unlikely to happen.

“There have been attempts in the past that have come to (nothing). Saying something about the oil price and doing something are very different things, and it seems like panic given the price drop,” she said.

A global deal could also be complicated by the position of OPEC member Iran. It wants to raise output after the lifting of Western sanctions which had curtailed production for years.

“Because of the international sanctions, we lost 1.1 million barrels per day of our exports. So we have to go back to our share of the market,” a source familiar with Iranian thinking said on Thursday.

(Reporting by Darya Korsunskaya; Writing by Vladimir Soldatkin; Editing by Christian Lowe and Anna Willard)

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Alibaba delivers on revenue but feels China slowdown

Strong holiday sales helped e-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding Ltd (BABA.N) beat forecasts on Thursday with a 32 percent rise in third-quarter revenue, but it was not immune from China’s slowdown.

Alibaba’s results also reflected a weakening of the Chinese economy, with so-called gross merchandise volume (GMV) rising by its slowest annual rate in more than three years.

As Chinese growth fell to its weakest pace in 25 years, Alibaba’s GMV — the total value of goods transacted on its platforms — rose 23 percent to 964 billion yuan ($147 billion).

Alibaba’s U.S.-listed shares fell by 2.1 percent to $68 at 1458 GMT (9:58 a.m. ET) following the results.

“Revenue was better than expected,” Wedbush Securities analyst Gil Luria said. “The flip side is the volume growth was less than expected.”

Luria said volumes might have been hit by Alibaba’s efforts to clean up its marketplaces, which have been plagued by merchants faking transactions to get better rankings, which can in turn boost sales.

Alibaba is trying to replace decelerating volume growth in online shopping by expanding in other areas such as online video and local services.

But the majority of Alibaba’s revenue still comes from China’s online shoppers buying from domestic businesses, a business driven by growth in GMV.

Executive Vice Chairman Joe Tsai said Alibaba was buoyed by two trends that were running counter to the larger China economy, namely strong retail sales growth and deepening online penetration.

“Consumption as a share of GDP is becoming higher, so we benefit from that,” Tsai said. “We’ve (also) seen a very massive shift of users going online.”

That means what happens in the broader Chinese economy will have less effect on Alibaba, said Tsai.

Alibaba highlighted plans to develop e-commerce in rural areas and to encourage more foreign merchants to sell products into China via its platforms, but CEO Daniel Zhang said earlier this year a key focus for 2016 would be to deepen its already-strong position in China’s biggest cities.

Some analysts saw this shift back to “first-tier” cities as a defensive move with its main e-commerce competitor, (JD.O), making inroads and the broader economy slowing.

Alibaba’s net income attributable to shareholders reached $1.93 billion, or 76 cents per share. Excluding items, Alibaba earned 99 cents per share.

Revenue rose to 34.53 billion yuan in the quarter ended Dec. 31, compared with the average analyst estimate of 33.33 billion yuan, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

(Reporting By Lehar Maan in Bengaluru, Paul Carsten in Beijing and John Ruwitch in Shanghai; Editing by Saumyadeb Chakrabarty and Alexander Smith)

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EU clamps down on corporate multi-billion tax avoidance

BRUSSELS The European Commission weighed into the row about multinational corporations avoiding tax on Thursday, proposing to clamp down on companies shifting their profits to low-tax countries.

It also said it wanted a step up of rules governing the disclosure of tax data.

Business and banks warned that the measures could hurt competitiveness, deter investment and increase administrative costs.

Big corporations legally avoid taxes of up to 70 billion euros ($76.10 billion) a year in Europe, a study of the European Parliament has estimated, with global losses from such schemes ranging between $100 billion and $240 billion.

A lot of it comes from reporting profits made in one high-tax country in another with lower tax bands.

“Billions of euros are lost every year to tax avoidance. This is unacceptable and we are acting to tackle it,” the EU tax commissioner Pierre Moscovici said in a statement calling “for fair and effective taxation for all Europeans.”

Responding to such criticism in Britain, Google agreed last week to pay 130 million pounds ($185 million) in back taxes, but it was seen by many as too little compared with the profits made by the company in Britain.

Among the Commission’s proposals – which would have to be approved by all European Union member states – is one to allow EU countries to tax profits generated in their territories even if transferred somewhere else, providing the effective tax rate in the country where the profits are transferred is less than 40 percent of that of the original country.

Loopholes that allow companies to use dividends or capital gains to skip taxation would be closed and national mismatches in the tax treatment of some complex instruments would also be eliminated, the EU executive said.

Ceilings would also be imposed on the amount of interest a company can deduct from its taxable income. Currently companies can shift debt to subsidiaries based in countries that allow higher deductions.

The proposed measures aim at turning into binding rules some of the voluntary guidelines against tax avoidance, known as anti-BEPS (base erosion and profit shifting), agreed by the G20 group of the world’s largest economies and by members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

Lawmakers from the main parties in the EU Parliament backed the proposals but some called for more ambitious measures, including an EU-wide common corporate tax.


Corporations will have to reveal their taxes, profits, revenues and other financial data to the administrations of all countries where they operate, which then will exchange data among themselves, the proposed rules say.

By increasing transparency, the measure is expected to deter aggressive tax planning, but it falls short of a fully public disclosure that may have exposed companies to further scrutiny.

Full transparency is already applied to the mining and banking sector. It prompted a political storm in Britain when it became public that seven of the top 10 investment banks with headquarters in London paid no taxes in Britain.

Moscovici left the door open to a wider disclosure of tax data, but said that analysis are still ongoing to assess whether public access to this information may affect legitimate business interests.

Unions and business, respectively, said the measures did not go far enough and went too far.

“This is a crackdown on tax avoidance with giant loopholes,” Veronica Nilsson, from EU trade union ETUC, said pointing at the limited transparency and the strings attached to tackle profit shifting as “two steps backward”.

Markus Beyrer, head of EU companies’ lobby group BusinessEurope, said the proposed measures could hurt business.

“The EU must not act as lone front-runner in implementing the BEPS agreement, and must not undermine the competitiveness of EU industry or damage the EU’s attractiveness as an investment location,” he said in a statement.

Banks called for waivers to lenders in the application of the proposed limits on interest deductibility.

(Additional reporting by Tom Bergin in London; Editing by Jeremy Gaunt)

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Pending home sales almost flat in December

WASHINGTON Contracts to buy previously owned U.S. homes barely rose in December, an indication that the housing market remains mixed going into the first quarter of 2016.

The National Association of Realtors (NAR) said on Thursday its pending home sales index inched up 0.1 percent to 106.8. Economists polled by Reuters had expected a 0.8 percent increase in December.

The trade group also said the index declined slightly more in November than initially estimated. Pending home sales were still up 4.2 percent from the same month a year earlier.

In a widely anticipated move, the Federal Reserve raised its benchmark overnight interest rate in mid December, the first time in almost a decade. Mortgage rates initially rose too, but have since dropped below December’s levels.

Pending home contracts become sales after a month or two.

Milder-than-usual temperatures were seen having boosted sales in the northeast of the country, where the index increased 6.1 percent. Contracts fell in the other three main regions.

(Reporting by Lindsay Dunsmuir; Editing by Andrea Ricci)

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Rocky markets test the rise of amateur ‘algo’ traders

LONDON University student Spencer Singleton is among a growing band of amateurs turning to computer-driven automated stock trading – until now the preserve of hedge funds and mega brokers – and says he’s beating the market.

Texas-based Singleton won a contest last July run by an algorithmic investing website to write trading programs. The site, Quantopian, gave him $100,000 to put his model into action for six months and told him to keep any profits.

The 21-year-old says his portfolio is up about 1.5 percent so far this year, against an 8 percent slump in the SP .SPX equity index. Likewise, he has made about 2.5 percent since mid-September, whereas the U.S. index lost more than 7 percent in the period.

Other amateurs have tried the same game from their front rooms or garden sheds and ended up getting burnt, concluding that this is a hunt for “fool’s gold” best left to the big players unless you’re an ex-professional or computer whizz kid.

Singleton is neither – he is a third-year student of supply chain management – but says the competition gave him his big break. “As a university student, I wouldn’t have been able to get $100,000 in a million years to trade,” he told Reuters. “It would have easily taken 10 years for me to develop a complicated algo platform like the one offered by Quantopian.”

Program-driven online trading platforms such as U.S-based Quantopian and QuantConnect and British-based Cloud9trader – which have clients across the world – did not exist at the height of the financial crisis of 2008.

However, Singleton said he has tested his model against historical data from the crisis year, yielding a 16 percent return against a 38 percent slump in the SP index.

Huge numbers of amateurs are now trying to strike it rich on global markets, with the overall retail trading market worth up to $3 trillion in the United States alone.

But while automated trading accounts for about 75 percent of all financial market volume, just a tiny fraction of independent or amateur traders use them due to the complex technology, need for massive historical data and high costs.


Nevertheless, the companies providing platforms for the homespun “algos” say popularity is growing among everyone from advertising executives and telecom engineers to defense contractors.

Quantopian’s founder and chief executive John Fawcett said its membership has surged to 60,000 from 35,000 less than a year ago, while QuantConnect’s founder and CEO Jared Broad saw a jump in its membership to 17,000 from 6,000 a year earlier.

Broad said automated strategies tend to do well when the markets are volatile or falling sharply, adding that trading volumes at one of his brokerages had surged 300 percent in just three weeks in 2016.

Their rapid growth raises the risk of market manipulation or fraud, but Quantopian said it had created many safeguards, including limits on the number of trades clients can make.

London-based Navinder Singh Sarao was arrested last year, with U.S. authorities linking his automatic computer trades to the “flash crash” in 2010 that briefly wiped $1 trillion from U.S. stock markets.

Sarao, who traded from his parents’ house near Heathrow airport in a London suburb, is fighting U.S. attempts to extradite him. A British court is due to hear the case on Feb. 4.


In essence, rule-based online trading platforms provide tools and tutorials for people to write algorithms on Web browsers and test their models with years of historic data. They also help people to open accounts with approved brokers.

It’s hard to verify independently the claims of retail traders who say they have made good money this year, when worries about a slowing Chinese economy and the slumping oil price have wiped up to $8 trillion from world stock markets in January alone.

Some people like Jason Roberts have lost and got out. He spent about six years, from roughly 1999 to 2004 and again in 2008, building automated trading software before quitting to help web and mobile startup projects.

Roberts said every time he teamed up with traders on an automated trading venture, their strategies and ideas missed the mark even though they had previously been successful as market professionals.

“Like brokerages, these trading websites make money when people use their platforms, so it’s in their interest to convince you that you can beat the market,” said Roberts, who is now a consultant for car-ride service Uber.

“I’m not entirely convinced that it’s possible to beat the market consistently, whether you’re trading manually, guided by experience and intuition or algorithmically, which amounts to following an encoded set of rules … It’s easy to lose money with algorithmic trading, just like with any investment.”

Julien Turc, head of cross-asset quantitative strategy at Societe Generale, said that building a systematic trading strategy is very difficult. It is easy to find strategies that would have done well in the past, but harder to make money out of them in the future.

“However, algorithm trading is getting more popular now as you have got better technologies, regulators push towards transparent and electronic trading and it’s increasingly becoming difficult to make money using traditional trading tools.”


Singleton and Michael Van Kleeck, another winner of Quantopian’s monthly code-writing contest last June, are among thousands of enthusiasts who, undeterred by the criticism, believe they have an edge over traditional trading methods.

“Humans consistently underperform because they have emotional interference. Algo trading formalizes your strategy upfront and sets clear boundaries on your risk exposure,” said Jon Kafton, founder of Cloud9Trader, an automated online trading site being trialled.

For Kleeck, the algo websites and trading platforms appeal to those who, like himself, have a voracious appetite for reading anything connected to making money on financial markets.

“It’s not a rocket science, although there might be some rocket scientists on the forum. It’s all part of the general spread of technology into everyday lives.”

(Reporting by Atul Prakash; Editing by Sudip Kar-Gupta and David Stamp)

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BG shareholders give Shell’s $52 billion acquisition final nod

LONDON BG Group (BG.L) shareholders overwhelmingly approved Royal Dutch Shell’s (RDSa.L) $52 billion takeover on Thursday, clearing the way for the two firms to create the world’s biggest trader of liquefied natural gas (LNG).

BG will now merge with Shell on Feb. 15, nearly two decades after the company was born from British Gas and just a few months after it reached record oil and gas output thanks to new projects in Australia and Brazil.

At a meeting in London, 99.53 percent of BG shareholders voted in favor of the merger, a day after 83 percent of Shell’s shareholders approved the deal first announced on April 8 last year.

Shell shareholders are putting their faith in CEO Ben van Beurden’s decision to focus the Anglo-Dutch company’s operations in liquefied natural gas (LNG) and deep water oil production over the coming decades as the industry undergoes one of its worse downturns in decades.

Low oil prices will remain a challenge for the combined company in the short term, however, as crude has fallen 75 percent over the past 18 months to around $30 a barrel.

While the oil price is expected to stage a gradual recovery, Shell has said the combined group needs crude to be above $60 a barrel to break even.

“I very strongly believe in what Shell is trying to do long term … The idea that they try to specialize in their strengths being deepwater and LNG is absolutely the right thing to do,” BG Chairman Andrew Gould told reporters.


BG Chief Executive Officer Helge Lund, who joined BG weeks before the merger was announced, is set to step down. Shell executive Huibert Vigeveno, who headed the integration planning in recent months, will become transitional CEO.

Lund, who previously led Norway’s Statoil through a period of spectacular growth, has yet to indicate his plans.

BG shares were up 3.4 percent while Shell B shares were trading 5.4 percent higher after the vote, compared with the sector index .SXEP that 4.2 percent higher.

The acquisition will boost Shell’s oil and gas production by 20 percent and bring it closer to challenging the world’s top international oil company ExxonMobil (XOM.N).

Combined, Shell and BG will overtake Chevron (CVX.N) as the world’s second-biggest publicly-traded oil and gas company measured by market value.

The combined company is also set to topple Exxon as the largest publicly-traded oil and gas producer by 2020, according to analysts at Simmons and Company.

Once the two companies merge, Shell will start a complex integration process that will include thousands of job cuts, tens of billions of dollars in asset sales and the harmonizing of the companies’ trading and production operations as they overlap in many parts of the world.

Shell has promised to find $3.5 billion from cost savings and overlaps by 2018, from various areas including its corporate, administrative and IT operations.

BG was created in 1997 when British Gas split into two separate companies. In 2000, another change saw the creation of BG Group, focused on international oil and gas production.

(Editing by David Clarke)

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Within OPEC, Iran is a challenge to any deal on oil cuts: sources

LONDON/DUBAI Iran, boosting oil exports after the lifting of sanctions, is talking of a need to recoup its market share, making the OPEC member a challenge to any deal among producers to fix a supply glut, OPEC sources said on Thursday.

Russian officials have decided they should talk to Saudi Arabia and other OPEC countries about output cuts, the head of Russia’s pipeline monopoly said on Wednesday, hinting Moscow may be softening its steadfast refusal to cooperate over supplies.

The prospect of supply restraint by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and rivals has boosted oil prices to almost $36 a barrel from a 12-year low close to $27 last week, despite widespread scepticism that a deal will happen.

Iran wants to recover its position as OPEC’s second-largest producer behind Saudi Arabia, which it lost in 2012 to Iraq when sanctions over its nuclear work forced Tehran to cut exports. Now, the recovery of market share is central, sources say.

“Because of the international sanctions, we lost 1.1 million barrels per day of our exports. So we have to go back to our share of the market,” a source familiar with Iranian thinking said on Thursday.

With sanctions lifted this month, Iran says it is increasing its oil output by 500,000 barrels per day (bpd) and boosting exports, a plan that other OPEC sources say makes any global cut agreement harder.

“Any deal is difficult to reach,” said a non-Iranian OPEC source, who added Iran would need to keep output flat or raise it by, say, 100,000 bpd “since higher prices would mean more revenue without the need to raise production. But I doubt it, really.”

OPEC officials are holding bilateral talks aimed at persuading Russia to participate in cuts alongside OPEC and for Iran to soften its position, industry sources say.

Venezuela and Algeria are among those holding these conversations, sources say. Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak said on Thursday OPEC was trying to organize a meeting with other producers next month. No date has been set yet.

Iranian Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh, attending a Franco-Iranian summit in Paris on Thursday, said Iran had not been contacted by Russia about any cuts in output.

It is too early to say whether a deal will occur or whether Iran’s position would scupper any agreement. Some of OPEC’s Gulf members, in any case, are not overly concerned by the extra barrels from Iran.

United Arab Emirates Energy Minister Suhail bin Mohammed al-Mazroui said on Wednesday the glut would decrease even if Iran boosted output by 500,000 bpd due to expected growth in global demand of at least 1.3 million bpd. 

(Additional reporting by Bate Felix in Paris; Editing by Dale Hudson)

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