Crown Prince Sultan thanks Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques in the name of the Saudi people over the content of his Royal Decrees

Saudi Finance Minister: Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques’ Decrees are great gesture

King Abdullah is always seeking alleviation of burdens off citizens’ shoulders, says Assaf

Vice Minister of Higher Education says King Abdullah is investing in minds

Saudi Oil Minister: Saudi Arabia, OPEC have surplus that can cover any shortage

Crown Prince Sultan Bin Abdulaziz, Deputy Premier, Minister of Defense and Aviation and Inspector General, expressed his thanks and appreciation to King Abdullah, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, for the Royal Decrees which he issued Wednesday.

He said the Royal Decrees reflect the King’s keenness to ensure a better life for all citizens.

In a statement issued to the SPA, the Crown Prince said these Royal Decrees coincide with the people’s jubilation at the arrival of the King safely from treatment abroad. He said the people have been waiting eagerly for the return of the “King of Hearts and Humanity”.

He said the King’s effort to ensure a good life for all is a measure of his generous personality. He said the prosperous era of King Abdullah has witnessed quantitative and qualitative leaps in all walks of life. He said his focus and service is not only for the nation but also for Arab and Islamic nations and all of humanity.

Prince Sultan prayed to Allah to protect King Abdullah and bestow good health on him so that he continues to serve the nation and the Ummah.

Bahraini King Hamad Bin Issa Al-Khalifa has also welcomed the return of King Abdullah. In a statement issued Wednesday, King Hamad said, “On the occasion of the return of our brother King Abdullah, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, after his recovery, we express our happiness and that of the people of the Kingdom of Bahrain.

We express our heartfelt and warm congratulations to the Royal family and the Saudi people on this dear occasion.”

“We take this opportunity to express to the brethren in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, under the leadership of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, our thanks and appreciation for their support for their brethren in the Kingdom of Bahrain and their concern for its stability and prosperity.” “We pray to Almighty Allah to grant the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques continuous good health and success in the march of growth and progress in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.”

Crown Prince Sultan, Prince Naif Bin Abdul Aziz, Second Deputy Premier and Minister of Interior, Prince Salman Bin Abdul Aziz, Emir of Riyadh, and Bahraini King Hamad Bin Issa Al-Khalifa were among a string of officials and royals who turned out to greet the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, who was seated in a black chair set up just outside the plane’s door.

The King arrived from Casablanca, where he was recuperating following two surgeries in New York; the first surgery extracted the clot and corrected the disc while the second was to stabilize several vertebrae on the spinal cord. He was discharged from the hospital on Dec. 21.

In an impromptu speech, the King thanked those who came to receive him: “My brothers and sons, I thank each of you and I regret that I could not greet you one-by-one. My greetings to every individual of the loyal Saudi people, who are very close to my heart. I thank all of you – men, women and children. I wish you all the best and I pray for your good health and well-being.”

The Kingdom has declared a public holiday to mark King Abdullah’s safe return home.

Hours before his arrival, the King issued a number of Royal Decrees ordering billions poured into a development fund that helps Saudis buy homes, get married and start businesses, the official Saudi Press Agency (SPA) said.

He ordered the implementation of a 15 percent pay rise for state employees as well as an increase in the cash available for Saudi housing loans. Saudis, expats to benefit from the pardon.

King Abdullah also granted pardon to some prisoners indicted in financial crimes and announced plans to tackle unemployment.

Over 10,000 public right prisoners will benefit from the pardon issued by the King, according to Maj. Gen. Dr. Ali Bin Hussein Al-Harthi, Director General of Prisons.

Al-Harthi said the Royal Decree will include Saudi and non-Saudi public right prisoners who fulfill the conditions, out of a total of 49,000 male and female prisoners, which is the total number of inmates in correction houses and prisons in the Kingdom. He said the Royal Decree will not cover the debt payments of prisoners related to criminal cases.

Topping the list of new measures, the King ordered that SR40 billion ($10.7 billion) be pumped into the Kingdom’s Real Estate Development Fund, boosting a budget originally set at SR47 billion this fiscal year.

The fund provides interest-free loans to Saudis who want to build homes, get married or start small businesses.

Other measures included a 15 percent cost of living adjustment for government workers, a year of unemployment assistance for youth and nearly doubling to 15 individuals the size of families that are eligible for state aid.

Also decreed was writing off debts of people who had borrowed from the development fund and later died.

It was also announced that students studying abroad at their own expense will now get financial support if they are studying subjects including science, technology and mathematics.

Meanwhile, the Vice Minister of Higher Education, Dr. Ali bin Suleiman Al-Atiyyah stressed that the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah Ibn Abdulaziz Al Saud has been the real supporter of higher education and his auspicious era has been witnessing a real boom in higher education.

In a statement to the Saudi Press Agency (SPA), he pointed out that the number of Saudi universities has exceeded 24, and the governorates covered by higher education increased from 17 to 89 and the number of students on scholarships from 2500 to 110,000.

Dr. Al-Atiyyah noted that the King's patronization of the 2nd International Conference of E-learning and Distance Education re-affirmed the King's previous patronization of the first conference organized by the Ministry of Higher Education.

Under the patronage of Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, Minister of Higher Education Dr. Khalid Ala'anqari opened the second international conference on e-learning and distance education.

The minister also opened the conference's accompanying exhibition.

In a speech on the occasion, the Minister of Higher Education conveyed greetings of Saudi leaders to the conference highlighting his ministry's support for education.

Meanwhile, Saudi Oil Minister Ali al-Naimi said OPEC is prepared to meet any shortage of supplies due to unrest in the Middle East and that its members have sufficient spare capacity to do so.

"There is absolutely no shortage of supply now... OPEC is ready to meet any shortage in supply when it happens," Naimi told a press conference at the end of a consumer-producer meeting that signed a cooperation charter.

"There is concern and fear but there is no shortage," the minister reiterated in a bid to assure consumer countries that crude oil supplies are guaranteed despite sweeping unrest in the Middle East and North Africa.

Saudi Arabia, OPEC's largest producer, is pumping around 8.4 million barrels per day, but Naimi said the kingdom still has a spare capacity of another four million bpd.

Speaking after unrest in the Middle East caused oil prices to jump to $108 a barrel, the minister said the market volatility was only short-term and would not result in any shortages.

"OPEC and particularly Saudi Arabia will compensate any shortage because we did that successfully in the past... I want this transmitted to the market so the people can sleep well tonight," Naimi said.

Naimi said the current oil market was completely different from that of 2008, when supply bottlenecks drove crude prices to historical levels of more than $147 dollars a barrel.

In 2011, however, supply and demand are equal, supply is sufficient, inventories are at a comfortable level and the worldwide spare capacity is around six million bpd. US Deputy Energy Secretary Daniel Poneman meanwhile called on oil producers to boost output in a bid to ease crude prices.

"We think that the proper response (to the high prices) is that producers respond to those price signals and see the need for more production and bring that product to the market," Poneman told reporters in Riyadh.

"When producers bring product to the market, price starts to subside," the US official said on the sidelines of a producer-consumer conference in the Saudi capital. "All oil producers need to respond... expect all of them to respond."

The oil ministers of Kuwait and United Arab Emirates, two leading OPEC members, also said that the organization was closely watching developments and was prepared to act when necessary.

Oil prices shot up eight percent to $93.36 a barrel in New York opening trade as worries about unrest in Libya hit the market.

Prices jumped $7.16 a barrel for the WTI crude contract in the first day of trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange since violence escalated in key North African oil exporter Libya over the weekend.

In London, Brent North Sea crude rose more than two dollars from Monday to $107.75 on Libya fears.

The Extraordinary Ministerial Meeting of International Energy Forum (IEF), concluded in Riyadh, issued a concluding statement on its discussions about relationship between financial and oil markets, regulations organizing energy markets as well as activities related to the Initiative of Joint Oil Data.

The following is the text of the statement of the International Energy Forum:

Upon the invitation from the Government of Saudi Arabia and under the patronage of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah Ibn Abdulaziz, Ministers and representatives from 86 energy producing, energy consuming and transit countries met in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on 22 February 2011 in a historic Extraordinary IEF Ministerial Meeting to approve and sign the IEF Charter, discuss current and future energy markets and celebrate the 20th Anniversary of the producer-consumer dialogue that started in 1991 in Paris, France.

The IEF Charter marks a new era of international energy cooperation built on greater mutual understanding and trust, with a significant reinforced political commitment to an informal, open, informed and continuing global energy dialogue in the framework of the IEF among energy producing and energy consuming countries, including transit States. 86 countries approved and signed the IEF Charter, thus creating a solid foundation for a productive dialogue that fosters greater mutual understanding between producing and consuming countries on key energy policy issues and, where possible, narrows the differences in views and helps build trust in policy intentions. With all the major energy producers and consumers united in this dialogue framework, this fact sends a powerful positive signal to the energy world and energy markets that difficult issues can and will be tackled in a global context, whenever necessary.

The Workshop and the Forum provided rich and diverse views from distinguished experts with different backgrounds and affiliations. Opinions were polarized to some extent on the relative degree to which the linkages between physical and financial markets are recognized and the perceived importance of such linkages. The myriad of complex market layers for price discovery and risk transfer, from spot to derivatives also gave rise to spirited discussion, and potential benefits, consequences and costs of various regulation proposals were widely debated.

With regard to the magnitude of the impact of the derivatives markets (either exchange-traded derivatives or OTC derivatives) on petroleum prices and volatility, there was no consensus; some participants underlined the role of excessive financial speculation in the surge in prices and volatility; other participants, especially those involved in price reporting, felt that spot markets set their own prices, independently of any influence from financial markets; a third group recognized that it is difficult to isolate the effect of the physical layers from the financial layers in the current oil pricing system and, therefore, it is difficult to construct theoretically and test empirically whether the financial market drives the physical or the other way around.

The Workshop noted the increasing interaction of the physical and financial energy markets. It recommended continuing the ongoing effort to better understand the functioning of each of these markets, as well as the linkages between the physical and financial markets. The Workshop also recommended the enhancement of the international cooperation on market data transparency, and commended the Joint Oil Data Initiative1 (JODI) efforts in this regard.

The Forum recognized that regulations have important effects on market functioning and participants’ behavior and emphasized the need for appropriate regulation, with adequate international coordination.

The participants noted the positive and constructive nature of the dialogue among energy stakeholders. It was recommended that similar events covering the interlinkages between the physical and financial energy markets, as well as energy market regulation, be held on a regular basis in order to promote a deeper understanding and dialogue on these complex and important issues.

Acknowledging the consensus on the need for improving data transparency, international coordination of regulation and continued physical-financial market dialogue, Ministers commended the work by the three Organizations and encouraged them to take this important work forward in future regular meetings that facilitate the horizontal dialogue between the physical and financial energy market players.

The IEA, IEF and OPEC held their first Symposium on Energy Outlooks in Riyadh on 24 January 2011. The objective was not to align the Organizations assumptions and outlooks, but to improve clarity and understanding of the various outlooks. The Symposium offered a platform for sharing insights and exchanging views about energy market trends and short-, medium- and long-term energy outlooks, including analysis of market behavior and discussion of the key drivers of the energy scene along with the associated uncertainties.

The meeting provided a diversity of well-informed views from distinguished experts. Participants discussed energy market trends (energy supply, demand and prices) and associated factors that influence these trends (environmental policies, economic conditions, and technological development.

The meeting identified the main convergences and differences between the IEA’s and OPEC’s outlooks and discussed the reasons behind these differences, such as those related to definitions, methodologies, and the presentation of results. The Symposium noted that both the IEA and OPEC’s projections were similar in terms of supply/demand growth figures for 2011. This paints a market situation in 2011 characterized by a high level of spare capacity, in both upstream and downstream; relatively high OECD commercial inventories, an expected slowdown in oil demand growth compared to 2010, and increases in oil supply.

There was a consensus that oil will likely remain the main fuel in satisfying the world’s energy needs for the foreseeable future, and that oil resources, both conventional and non-conventional, are sufficient to meet future demand.

However, the symposium noted that there are considerable uncertainties concerning how future demand will evolve, in particular with regard to energy and environmental policies. Other key uncertainties relate to economic growth and technological change.

The discussions revealed that methodologies and definitions are important factors in identifying the reasons behind the differences in the outlooks. With this in mind, the Symposium recommended moving towards harmonizing definitions, where possible and appropriate, and disclosing more data, in a more timely manner, to enhance comparability between the outlooks.

In addition, it highlighted the need for a better exchange of data and information through a strengthened and improved JODI. Moreover, it recommended exploring the possibility of further possible joint meetings on certain technical areas of interest.

The Symposium noted that energy and environmental policies are one of the key drivers for future energy demand and supply; however, they are also one of the most uncertain areas of the outlooks. There was also a convergence of views about the large uncertainties associated with climate sensitivity and the extreme difficulty in achieving a 450 parts per million (ppm) atmospheric greenhouse gas (GHG) concentration stabilization level. In this respect, some participants recommended the need to explore and better understand the effect of different environment related policies’ assumptions on the results of the outlooks.

There was consensus on the need to alleviate energy poverty. Participants considered the objective of universal access for the poor to modern energy services laudable; some, however, were of the view that the suggested level of per household consumption was insufficient and should be made more ambitious.

The participants pointed at a number of areas in which comparability of IEA and OPEC outlooks could be improved, including through more convergence in definitions and greater disaggregation of information. Again, the role of JODI was highlighted in this regard.

The IEA-IEF-OPEC Symposium on Energy Outlooks reached its objective of offering a platform for experts to discuss energy outlooks and gain a better understanding of the interests and concerns of each Organization. It also helped in identifying and discussing the similarities and differences between the outlooks, in order to advance clarity in terms of the data, assumptions, methodologies and the analysis of the results of these outlooks.

Ministers commended the efforts made by the three Organizations and encouraged them to take the work forward on harmonizing definitions, disaggregations etcetera and further clarifying differences in energy outlooks to the market. In this context, the second Symposium on Energy Outlooks to be held in 2012 will provide a good opportunity to take stock of the progress made.

The objective of the Joint Oil Data Initiative ((JODI), now relabeled Joint Organizations Data Initiative, is to achieve a step change in provision of timely, high quality and transparent oil market data which is essential to the stability of oil markets.

While reaffirming their commitment to providing timely and accurate data to JODI, Energy Ministers have envisaged co-operation in expanding, in due course, the initiative to include data on other sources of energy that are important in the world energy mix, and disseminate other data relevant to the energy markets such as natural gas and annual investment in oil and gas upstream and downstream.

The extension of JODI to cover monthly natural gas data is now well under way, including cooperation with the Gas Exporting Countries Forum (GECF), and will hopefully result in the first launch of JODI-gas to the market before the end of 2011.

The extension of JODI to annual data on upstream and downstream capacities and expansion plans will start with oil and is currently under way, with first results expected at the earliest in 2012.

JODI partner organizations will continue their efforts in training statisticians in charge of JODI data compilation and submission in participating countries/economies; develop new tools and practices to regularly check JODI data and streamline data submission; enhance interaction with data users (in particular market analysts) and upgrade JODI platforms such as the JODI website.

It is equally important that participating countries/economies ensure that administrations and organizations in charge of data collection are better equipped and staffed, to implement appropriate regulations that ensure industry is fully engaged in the process of data submission and to address confidentiality issues and reduce if not eliminate them.

IEF countries need to further boost the quality, timeliness and reliability of the JODI Database to achieve a target of 3 smiley faces by the end of 2011.

Ministers encouraged the three organizations to continue their efforts and take the work forward in order to help mitigate energy market volatility. Mitigating energy market volatility and future uncertainty remains of crucial importance to stabilize energy markets and facilitate energy investment, which would also benefit the recovery of the global economy.

This requires further progress on achieving better data transparency in both the physical and financial markets, on putting in place appropriate, internationally coordinated regulation, as well as on arriving at a better common understanding of energy market trends and energy outlooks.

Ministers therefore requested the three organizations to report progress on their joint cooperation program to the 13th IEF Ministerial Meeting in Kuwait in 2012.