5 countries that could destroy OPEC’s game plan

Saudi Arabia's Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih (C) arrives for a meeting of OPEC oil ministers in Vienna, Austria, June 2, 2016. REUTERS/Leonhard FoegerThomson Reuters

As an apparent wave of populism sweeps through the world, Theresa May prepares to trigger Article 50, and fears of a trade war between China and the U.S grow, financial markets are on edge. But alongside this uncertainty, there has been some good news for markets as well, with oil markets moving towards rebalancing. The recent OPEC production cut agreement, and the additional cuts by non-OPEC countries caused oil prices to touch a post-2014 high. But Saudi Arabia and Russia, among other oil producers, are now in the limelight, as the world waits to see how true to the agreement each country will remain. Perhaps more important at this point are those countries who were never part of the agreement, or who were absolved from it.

One such country is Libya; its rising oil supply can easily offset the effect of the proposed production cut. Recently, oil exports from Libya’s key oil terminals Es-Sider and Zueitina were resumed. This could bring 270,000 bpd back to the market, which is just a taste of how Libya, if peace prevails, could increase its production. The addition of 270,000 barrels alone accounts for almost a quarter of the OPEC production cut.

The second country is Iraq. Iraq fought hard to be exempted from any sort of cut or freeze, arguing that it needed money “to fight ISIS”, and while it eventually accepted a cut, the risk of this huge oil nation cheating on the deal is significant. Iraq’s output has grown at an alarming rate this year and the recently signed a deal with Lukoil, the Russian energy giant, to tap into the West Qurna-2 reservoir adds to the concerns.

Then there is Iran. Iran was not exempted from the deal but agreed to a production freeze at 3.8 million barrels per day. Like Iraq, Iran has also been busy signing deals with oil giants to ramp up its production. On December 7th Iran and Shell signed a deal to explore three oil and gas fields. Saudi Arabia has always seen Iran as a rival, with Iran being the key reason that Deputy Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman refused to sign the deal as put forward earlier in the year. This time around things were different, and matters has grown increasingly serious for Saudi Arabia.

The Kingdom had already borne the brunt of its decision in 2014 to not to cut production. We saw how the country’s masses, accustomed to government largesse in the shape of subsidies, extravagant pay and the leisure of not working, turned against the country’s gerontocracy when pay was slashed, holidays curtailed and subsidies removed. Also, the Foreign Exchange reserves of the Saudis were being depleted at an unprecedented rate. These factors explain the display of flexibility by the Kingdom at the Vienna conference on the 30th of December. On the other hand, prospects for Iran are just opening up after the Obama administration signed the controversial nuclear deal with the Islamic Republic. As the sanctions are being lifted gradually from Iran, it now sees the whole world opening up as a potential market – a temptation that may prove very hard to resist.

The Putin Factor: The appointment of Mr. Rex Tillerson as secretary of State and the various insinuations by the President-elect to lift sanctions could be symptomatic of greater production from Russia. Russia has recently claimed that it will beat 2016’s estimated oil production total of 253 million tons in 2017.

“Supposedly 253.5 [million tonnes of oil are expected to be exported from Russia] this year, which is 4.8 percent more than in 2015. In 2017, we will have a little more than this,” Molodtsov said.

Finally, Nigeria. As of now it is busy fighting Boko-Haram and attempting to strike some kind of political deal with the Niger Delta Avengers. Exempted from the oil deal, its production stands around 1.6 mbpd. President Buhari has vowed to increase the production to 2.2mbpd, a statement that will not be welcomed by fellow OPEC producers.

If any of these countries do significantly increase production, then the euphoria that has yet to reach its peak may begin to fade.

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Apple needs to fix its sticker problem or it risks losing big in the chat wars

Apple Store

Apple has a sticky problem on its hands, and until it’s resolved, it’s throwing a wet blanket over the experience of millions of people using iMessage and its new App Store.

Stickers are like emojis you can buy or download from the iMessage App Store and share in iMessage. If you’ve perused the marketplace since the launch of iOS 10 in September, you’ll know that they’re everywhere, and that there are increasingly stickers of all kinds.

There are cats shooting lasers, ugly sweaters, and stickers for video games like Goat Simulator and Galaxy on Fire.

These stickers offer diversity for both cats and people. There have been woman in hijab stickers on iMessage long before the Unicode Consortium will finalize plans to release its hijab emoji next year. There are hundreds of millions of women in the world who practice the Muslim faith. Many wear the hijab and had no representation of themselves in iMessage until stickers filled that gap, and that’s awesome.

Generally, the iMessage App Store and app extensions bring some of the best apps available inside conversations.

Some of my favorite apps – like Evernote, Square Cash, and Canva – have extensions in iMessage that make taking notes, paying friends, and sharing visuals that I’ve made pretty simple.

As I mentioned in an initial look at what I love and hate about iMessage a few months back, the experience is perhaps second to none when compared with other major chat apps or chatbots. And Apple smartly chose to lean against its robust existing App Store ecosystem.

But here’s the problem: Stickers are scattered in every category of the App Store. Sometimes they’re labeled as stickers and sometimes they’re not, so it’s extremely common to select an app, and instead of finding functionality that extends into iMessage, get a collection of stickers.

If this happened on occasion, you might just be annoyed or perplexed, but that isn’t the case. It happens all the time, and it muddies the waters and adds an unnecessary pain point to the iMessage App Store experience.

That’s why Apple needs to do something about these damned stickers, like, oh, I don’t know – leave them in the Stickers category, or put them in a subcategory of each store category.

Because it is not a pleasant surprise to download Trello in the iMessage App Store and then find out it has zero functionality and is just a collection of husky stickers. That’s not what you want out of your favorite productivity app.

Why the hell does Starbucks give me stickers in iMessage instead of its new AI assistant?

How could HomeAdvisor, an app meant to help you find talented people to remodel your home, do anyone any good by sharing stickers of air conditioning fans or awnings?

Consumers need to be given the option to see the full force of what’s possible when the App Store comes inside messaging.

I don’t need a sticker with slices of guacamole on toast from Whole Foods. I need the functionality of the Whole Foods app. Send people down this wrong road too many times and you risk turning them off iMessage before they see what it can actually accomplish.

It’s not all bad news: Stickers do appear to be making some money.

Check the top 50 paid items in the iMessage App Store today, and they are almost entirely stickers. But what is the purpose of the App Store? If the purpose is to create an ecosystem capable of making money for Apple, developers, and businesses, then people need to be able to locate amazing iMessage apps without falling into a bunch of stickers.

Microsoft, Facebook, and now Amazon are all busy trying to build their own chatbot ecosystems, but they don’t have Apple’s head start. And if bots are truly going to kill apps, who is going to be the biggest loser among companies in the chat wars? Clearly it’s Google and Apple, owners of Google Play and App Store.

So Apple better get these stickers out of the way, or it risks being hindered by a lot more than delayed AirPods and the removal of the classic headphone jack.