OIL HOLDS STEADY AS SAUDI AUTHORITIES FREEZE FORMER CROWN PRINCE’S BANK ACCOUNTS

Oil prices steadied near two-year highs on Thursday, with investors eyeing geopolitical tensions in major oil-producing countries which have sent prices soaring in recent weeks, reports The Wall Street Journal.

Brent crude, the global oil benchmark, eased 0.1% to $63.41 a barrel on London’s ICE Futures exchange. On the New York Mercantile Exchange, West Texas Intermediate futures were unchanged at $56.81 a barrel.

Oil prices have risen more than 4% over the past week, partly because of a political purge in major oil producer Saudi Arabia, where Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman detained dozens of high-profile people and stripped some government ministers of their jobs.

Saudi authorities have frozen the bank accounts of the kingdom’s former crown prince, Mohammed bin Nayef, the latest royal targeted in a corruption crackdown carried out by a Saudi leadership seeking to consolidate power,” write Summer Said and Margherita Stancati.

As of Wednesday evening, around 1,800 bank accounts had been frozen in connection with the probe.

The purge has coincided with renewed tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran, arch-rivals for power in the Middle East.

Saudi Arabia has accused Iran of arming Yemeni rebels with advanced rockets and with meddling in Lebanon’s political affairs. Iran says Saudi Arabia is needlessly firing up tensions.

TOTAL EXPANDS NATURAL GAS BUSINESS WITH $2 BILLION DEAL

Oil giant Total SA  says it will  buy French utility Engie SA’s liquefied-natural gas business for as much as $2 billion, reports Sarah Kent.

The acquisition would eventually make Total the second-largest LNG player among Western energy firms.

Many companies are vying to get into the gas market which is growing at a rate of 5% to 6% a year.

“We think gas-to-power will become one of the main sources of power in the future,” Chief Executive Patrick Pouyanné said in an interview.

“By 2020, Total’s LNG position among the big Western oil companies will be second only to Royal Dutch Shell PLC, which made a massive bet on natural gas in 2016 with its roughly $50 billion purchase of BG Group,” reports the Journal.

EU PROPOSES RULES FOR OFFSHORE GAS LINKS AS RUSSIAN-OWNED NORD STREAM 2 PIPELINE NEARS

The European Union proposed regulations on offshore pipelines, in a bid to disrupt an energy link between Russia and Germany that is fueling tensions within the bloc, writes Emre Peker.

The European Commission, the bloc’s executive, unveiled an amendment to energy rules after a months long struggle to intervene in the controversial Nord Stream 2 pipeline project.

The pipeline project has pitted European countries such as Germany, which stands to benefit from the development, against Poland, which opposes the project because it would increase Europe’s reliance on Russian gas and bolster alternatives to eastern routes via Ukraine and Belarus.

The Baltic Sea link would enable Russia’s state-owned PAO Gazprom to double its natural-gas transit via Germany to Europe.

Moscow’s gas market share in the EU stood at 42% last year.

HOLDERS OF VENEZUELAN BOND DEFAULT INSURANCE ASK TO BE PAID

Holders of Venezuelan-bond default insurance are trying to collect, contending that the country’s state-owned oil company failed to make a recent payment, writes Julie Wernau.

Investors with this insurance, known as a credit default swap, are making a case that there has been a “failure to pay credit event,” according to a Wednesday filing to the International Swaps and Derivatives Association.

“Firms that sold the CDS contracts could be on the hook for about $250 million if ISDA rules that oil company Petróleos de Venezuela SA missed the Nov. 2 payment, and the grace period that ended Tuesday,” writes Ms. Wernau.

While bondholders have been bracing for a Venezuelan default for months, there are signs that the cash-strapped government is running out of options.

The country has about $142 billion in debt outstanding, according to Moody’s Investor Service.