Monthly Archives: February 2016

BT and Openreach? It’s complicated, says TalkTalk

Jessica Lennard, director of corporate affairs and regulation at TalkTalk, tells Hot Commodity why Ofcom’s report brings more questions than answers for BT…

It was another big week for the telecoms industry, as Ofcom emerged from its bunker after a year-long consultation on the current state of the sector. Its main conclusions (that the UK is lagging badly behind on the technology of the future, fibre to the home; and that BT is systematically abusing its ownership of the national network, Openreach) came as no surprise to many. The fact that the regulator’s 108 page report holds few concrete policy proposals to remedy its fairly punchy findings was nonetheless greeted with widespread frustration by commentators, customers and BT’s rivals.

BT has remained ostensibly bullish as whispers about the need for a break-up have grown into a roar over recent months. But an 11th hour ‘coincidental’ offer of an extra £1bn investment (presumably found down the back of the sofa) laid bare quite how nervy the ex-monopoly has become. BT celebrated a ‘victory’ yesterday, but smart shareholders will now want to know what exactly the regulator intends to do – did they really “bottle it”, in the words of Lib Dem Leader Tim Farron? Or could this be the start of a smart negotiation by Ofcom chief executive Sharon White, who was quite clear that full separation remains on the table until further notice.

One assumes this is by no means a settled debate for BT itself. Part of the business is clearly pulling away into retail, with aggressive expansion into mobile and TV – expensive pursuits that would benefit nicely from a big wad of cash from spinning off Openreach. Instead, BT’s beleaguered chief executive finds himself embroiled in a seemingly never-ending national debate over a crumbling infrastructure network. Openreach may still symbolise BT’s engineering heritage, but if Sharon White has her way and imposes a kitchen sink’s worth of new regulation, will keeping it be worth the trouble?

This commentary was provided exclusively by Jessica Lennard at TalkTalk for Hot Commodity.

Sorry investors, the oil glut looks here to stay

FinnCap’s Dougie Youngson tells Hot Commodity why he is sceptical about recent talk of cuts to oil production…

Oil prices ticked up again at the beginning of this week as investors continued to hope that that the current glut of oil production could finally start to fall. Last week Saudi Arabia, Venezuela and Qatar announced they were proposing to freeze production at January’s level. But any deal is dependent on the participation of Iraq and Iran. Both are said to be supportive of the “big freeze”, but have yet to commit to the group. Oil-field-services firm Baker Hughes also said last Friday that the number of rigs drilling for oil in the U.S. fell by 26 last week to 413, down 68% from a peak in October 2014. But in both cases we are looking at freezes on current production levels, not cuts, and these countries will continue to produce above quota.

There is actually a practical reason for not making cuts. Once you shut in a well it can be difficult to bring it back online at the previous levels of performance. Shut in wells rarely return to former production rates, and this is a serious concern given the cuts that are required in order bring production in line with demand. This issue is particularly pronounced in Russia, which can be victim to a more common kind of freeze. Its shut in wells tend to get quickly filled up with water, and come winter this water freezes, which has a devastating effect on both the reservoir and infrastructure.

It’s not just the threat of gammy wells that mean producers are unlikely to shut down production. After all, what incentive does Saudi Arabia really have to reduce production? Why should they help out the rest of the industry? If they can still make a profit at the current oil price then they have little incentive to change. Oil is a finite resource and their oil supplies won’t last forever. So it makes more sense for them to keep production high, so that they can maintain their market share and enhance margins when the oil price does eventually recover.

Ultimately, any resolution on production levels will simply act as a sticking plaster. Key countries may well say they will rein in their overproduction, which is no bad thing. Demand is also forecast to increase by one to two million barrels per day, and this increase could help mop up the overproduction by the end of the year. However, what people say they will do and what will actually happen are two very separate things. The only certainty is that producers will act in their own interests, whatever they may be.

This commentary was provided exclusively for Hot Commodity by FinnCap.

Iran’s oil minister has raised the oil price without actually doing anything

Iran’s oil minister Bijan Zanganeh is a consummate politician.

Today he has single-handedly managed to boost the oil price and send Twitter crazy by implying that he will cooperate with other producers in freezing production, without actually saying…anything.

As it stands, the Saudi-led output freeze pledge is pretty lacklustre anyway. Confirming that you won’t lower production from near all-time highs will do very little to address the huge supply glut and slowed demand.

But without Iran’s cooperation, the deal goes from pretty lacklustre to downright useless. Iran, recently freed from international sanctions, was one of the world’s largest oil producers before the embargoes and if it decides to ramp up production then it will render a Saudi/Russian/Qatari/Venezuelan output freeze largely ineffective.

Zanganeh hasn’t explicitly said whether he would freeze production or not, instead sticking to newspeak mumblings of “support” and a “good meeting”, but this in itself speaks volumes.

The fact that the oil price has now lifted above $34 a barrel on this “news” shows exactly why the market should be taken with a pinch of salt.

To read the full story, go to: http://www.hotcommodity.co.uk/2016/02/17/brent-crude-iran-oil-output-freeze/

Price of brent crude rises after Iran’s oil minister says he supports production freeze

The price of oil has risen after Iran’s oil minister Bijan Zanganeh has said that he supports other producers’ pledges to freeze production – although he didn’t confirm if Iran would follow suit.

Zanganeh said that today’s meeting with his counterparts from Venezuela, Iraq and Qatar was good and that he supports cooperation between Opec and non-Opec producers, according to reports.

He told the oil ministry news service Shana that he supports anything to stabilise the market and that this is the first step, but more steps need to be taken, reported Reuters.

The talks followed yesterday’s meeting in Doha, where Saudi Arabia, Russia, Qatar and Venezuela all pledged to freeze oil output, if other producers participated.

Getting Iran to agree is the tricky part and Zanganeh, while positive about the talks, did not explicitly say whether he would agree to freeze output. Iran only recently had its Western sanctions lifted so is obviously keen to ramp up output and make up for lost time.

The price of a barrel of brent crude was up more than three per cent this afternoon to around $33.

“Asking Iran to freeze its oil production level is illogical … when Iran was under sanctions, some countries raised their output and they caused the drop in oil prices.” Iran’s OPEC envoy, Mehdi Asali, was quoted as saying by the Shargh daily newspaper before the meeting, according to Reuters.

“How can they expect Iran to cooperate now and pay the price?” he said. “We have repeatedly said that Iran will increase its crude output until reaching the pre-sanctions production level.”

Oil prices have been painfully low for the past 18 months, mainly due to Saudi Arabia’s “lower for longer” strategy to try and drive out higher-cost competition.

But the Opec leader’s plan has not been working, which is why it is now trying other ways to boost prices.

The market so far is unconvinced. With the countries pledging to freeze production at near-record levels and Iran not yet on board, it is simply not enough to end the mammoth supply glut.

For more analysis, check out the piece I wrote yesterday for London newspaper City AM:
Saudi-Russian pledge to freeze oil production may be smoke and mirrors

ANALYSIS ON TODAY’S NEWS TO FOLLOW SHORTLY

There are still some gems among Anglo American’s junk heap

This week, Mike van Dulken and Augustin Eden from Accendo Markets mine a little deeper into Anglo American’s “reversification”.

Shares in Anglo American (AAL), a mining giant that’s always had diversity at the centre of its business model, were the worst performing on the FTSE 100 in 2015. Such diversity was key to maintaining profitability in all commodity price conditions, which had been good for so long. But it’s clear that there’s now just one set of conditions: awful. It’s now become necessary to divest and Anglo American is just the latest miner to announce its plan to streamline its exposure. In this case, we’ll see its portfolio reduced to just three products from nine.

High growth emerging markets are, of course, seen as a bellwether for the commodities space as a whole. It’s little surprise that a perceived slowdown in China has dented a steel industry that’s been producing at very high levels for years. Iron ore and coal, the latter also highly out of favour as an energy source, are thus prime candidates to be dropped from a highly diversified miner’s repertoire. Copper, on the other hand, is a commodity that’s able to move with the times, present as it is not just in heavy industry and infrastructure, but also essential in the microelectronics that will dominate any economy that makes the transition from manufacturing and export-led to consumption and services-led.

With precious metals miners clearly benefitting from renewed safe haven demand in early 2016 and a global car industry that’s not only too big to fail (forget about the banks – this one really is), but subject to tighter controls given global warming and a certain car manufacturer’s recent antics, it makes sense to keep producing these products. Furthermore, the luxury goods market may well be oversold at the moment as investors connect slowing EM growth with a corresponding slowdown in the growth of the middle classes in that part of the world.

It’s pretty clear that slowing economic growth – or “continued transition” – needn’t automatically mean people are getting poorer. If anything, the western lifestyle should only pervade emerging markets more as their populations, more exposed to international markets every day, are increasingly freer to strive for material success. So things like diamonds, if you’re lucky enough to be mining them, look good too.

As far as Anglo American is concerned, there are of course positives and negatives in all this. The company is the world’s largest platinum group metals miner and owns DeBeers diamonds. Tick! However, with such a large portfolio of things no one wants (iron ore, coal…) for sale, Anglo finds itself operating in an already oversupplied buyer’s market as it tries to offload them. That, unfortunately, puts a big fat cloud of uncertainty over the company’s efforts. Yet with the entire sector plagued by exactly this type of uncertainty, what’s new?

And with ratings agency Fitch having today downgraded the miner’s credit rating to junk, one might be spooked by the news and worried about the miner’s future. However, its shares remain on a northerly charge from January all-time lows, almost doubling on improved sentiment towards its turnaround strategy, and they haven’t even batted an eyelid at this morning’s downgrade (AAL shares are currently up 7 per cent, near their highs of the day). Post crisis, we all know the ratings agencies are last to the party.

This analysis was provided exclusively for Hot Commodity by Accendo Markets: https://www.accendomarkets.com

The oil price is now hinged on a war of words

In the latest of Accendo Markets‘ regular commentary for Hot Commodity, Mike van Dulken and Augustin Eden give their take on the latest oil price volatility…

Ever since Russia piped up a few weeks back, saying that it was about to sit down with Saudi Arabia to discuss a worldwide five per cent cut in crude production, there have been several instances of other market players trying the same thing, and just a little oil price volatility to boot. Suffice to say, markets quite quickly called this tactic following a swift rebuttal from the leader of the Opec cartel, and perhaps a few more call-outs by some level headed (and perhaps a little cynical) analysts, ourselves included.
 
The latest attempt (by Iran) to buoy the price of oil by talking about production cuts was mostly unsuccessful, although prices did move by about a dollar and, to give credit where credit’s due, held those gains for a few days. So we’re now entering an era where a war of rhetoric is likely the major driver for crude prices, given that the hard fundamentals – a global supply glut and a squabbling group of producer nations – have not changed. We really could be getting to the point whereby the oil price is moving on the breath of whoever happens to mention production cuts on a particular day. Price action is largely dictated by psychology, but when it becomes completely dictated by psychology, there’s a problem.
 
That’s why some big names like the International Energy Agency (IEA) have had to step in to remind us all about the fundamentals. The world is still awash with oil. Such tones, echoed by some of the world’s largest oil traders (who you’d have thought might actually like the price to rise and make them a quick buck or two on their burgeoning stockpiles) yet rebuffed by oil company executives hoping for a return to $100/bbl for so long, are being brought ever closer to the fore in February. The oil execs are now coming round: BP’s Bob Dudley has gone on the wires to tell us that “every oil storage tank will be full by the second half of 2016”. From the CEO of a company that needs oil prices to be higher, it doesn’t get much more bearish than that.
 
Are we finally seeing a sense of realism come back to the oil market after such a tumultuous January? Shale has proven surprisingly resilient to Opec-led tactics of over production and price depression, and it looks as if low interest rates (they’re still low, and going negative) will continue to assist any fracking company to jump into action as soon as the cracks in the crude producing nations’ balance sheets get wider. In a world where carbon emissions dictate the directions of the energy and automobile industries, lower oil prices are here to stay. Sadly for Saudi Arabia, it’s the market that’s king.

This commentary was produced exclusively for Hot Commodity by Accendo Markets: https://www.accendomarkets.com.

Do you agree with Mike and Augustin or do you have a different take on the oil market? Email info@hotcommodity.co.uk with your comments.

President Trump could put UK exports in jeopardy

The UK’s biggest export partner could be put in jeopardy if Donald Trump were elected President of the United States.

The controversial Republican candidate has suggested putting an eye-wateringly high tariff of 35 per cent (or more!) on imported goods in the US, in a bid to boost home-grown US industry.

His comments seem predominantly aimed at the Chinese market, but if a tariff were wielded on all exports to the US, this could have a marked effect on the UK economy.

The UK exported around £37.4bn-worth of goods to the US in 2014, equating to 12.7 per cent of the UK’s goods exports, according to data from economic think tank Capital Economics. When combining goods and services, the US made up 16.4 per cent of our export market that year – a hefty chunk not to be sniffed at.

Economists have widely condemned Trump’s protectionist policies, arguing that the cost of tariffs would be passed on to US consumers in the form of higher prices. But of course, they could have some of their desired effect and prompt US businesses to choose domestic goods where they have the option.

The UK export market has enough to worry about at the moment, with a potential Brexit and all the uncertainty around EU trade levies that would bring. Getting Trump-ed (geddit?) for crucial exports in the US could have a devastating effect.

Furthermore, by pushing US consumer prices up and squeezing the labour force (by removing illegal immigrant workers and discriminating against legal ones), some think that Trump’s policies could cause a major downturn in the US economy. As the old adage says, when the Dow Jones sneezes, the rest of the world catches a cold…

Are you hoping Trump comes up trumps or are you hanging on for Hillary? Email your thoughts to Hot Commodity at info@hotcommodity.co.uk for the chance to have your comments appear on the blog and win a luxury holiday for two (except not the last bit).