Tag Archives: commodities rout

The copper price is brightening despite the Brexit vote that rocked the markets

Augustin Eden and Mike van Dulken from Accendo Markets tell Hot Commodity why copper is faring well in a tumultuous week following the Brexit vote…

What a turnaround in the markets this week. Talk of fresh restraint concerning US monetary policy normalisation (a 2018 rate hike, anybody?), reassurances from China that it will continue to meddle in its financial markets as required and hopes of coordinated central bank intervention have all helped boost the price of copper via a weaker US dollar and improved risk sentiment. This has in turn stopped a good portion of the record bearish speculative bets on the commodity, providing further support. You wouldn’t be wrong in concentrating exclusively on Brexit this week, but it’s probably time to start remembering that the wider world does still exist – even more so the fact that the wider world is far more of a going concern for the UK’s FTSE 100 blue chip miners than the country in which their shares are merely listed.

In particular, for all its imperfections, China is a godsend when it comes to copper. The world’s 2nd largest economy may be slowing (no arguments there) but it still currently buys 40 per cent of all the copper produced annually around the world. The Chinese government is doing everything it can to paint a positive picture, while regulators intervene in financial markets to keep all the balls in the air. And with ‘fiscal support’ (whatever that actually means in China’s case) constantly warming up on the touch-line, the positive impact on classic risk plays in the UK’s mining sector has helped offset global growth concerns emanating from Brexit.

Base metals haven’t been rocked as much as everyone thought they might have by the Brexit hit to global market sentiment. We know the miners are less exposed to the UK economy than they are to emerging markets and we’ve got this fantastic tool in the Chinese government primed to act the very moment things start to turn sour. Aside from the safe havens, copper could now be set to benefit most of all as trade talks commence in North America – with energy production a major talking point – and with the potential longer term for more of that between the UK and China. Energy is likely to be on the agenda here too, with the UK facing an impending shortage as coal plants close to be replaced by, er, well, nothing has been decided yet. But many renewables are likely to require a lot of a certain red metal to transmit what they can harness naturally.

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

Dong Energy’s IPO shows why offshore wind is more than hot air

Like Saudi Aramco, Dong Energy is now in the midst of preparing for an initial public offering.

The Danish energy giant’s June listing is expected to value the firm at up to $16bn (£10.9bn), making it one of the biggest flotations of the year. It will of course be dwarfed by Saudi Arabia’s oil colossus, which has been valued (perhaps overenthusiastically) at up to $2trn, but it’s still not to be sniffed at.

I think the two energy companies make for an interesting comparison. On one hand, you have Saudi Aramco – a longtime oil Goliath that has provided the Gulf state with lucrative revenues, but has recently fallen into comparatively tougher times as a result of the oil price rout. Saudi Arabia has now had to stop using its oil revenues as a piggy bank, has tapped the debt market and will be tapping the equity market in order to get rid of its deficit (which came in at a national record of $98bn last year).

I’m sure its plans to raise money will succeed, as well as its new strategy to diversify its economy away from black gold. But what for oil itself? Where will it sit in a rapidly changing energy sector where it must compete with other sources such as shale, at a time when the West is pushing energy-efficiency and a move to renewable power, while China’s energy demand is slowing down as its economy slows?

This brings me on to Dong. The energy firm, which counts the Danish government as its biggest stakeholder, used to have a major focus on coal but has now transformed itself into the world’s largest offshore wind farm operator. It has tried – unsuccessfully – to sell its oil division, as it looks to shed its “dirtier” assets to become greener than green.

Its efforts have paid off. Since 2013, when it was still struggling post-financial crisis and Goldman Sachs bought a stake in the firm (amid a gigantic public furore into the influence of the US investment bank on a state utility), it has increased its profitability – thanks to its offshore wind division.

Renewables are expensive and controversial. While they make sense environmentally, they require hefty state subsidies in the transition period and transitioning too fast can be a costly burden. Certain types can also be less reliable, such as solar and wind, as they are dependent on certain weather conditions.

In the UK (where Dong makes large profits), energy secretary Amber Rudd has called for deep cost cuts to offshore wind farms if they wish to receive billions of pounds of new subsidies.

But – and excuse the pun here – they’re the way the wind is blowing. Political pressure to implement and raise renewables targets mean that they’re here to stay. They just make long-term sense, despite their short-term challenges.

Perhaps it is a little simplistic to say that oil is the past and renewables are the future, especially at a time when the former is relatively cheap and the latter still expensive. And oil is still one of the world’s major energy sources, while renewables are a mere pipsqueak. A pipsqueak still relying on handouts from mum and dad.

I’m sure bankers and investors will be able to profit from Aramco’s IPO more than Dong’s, despite the changing fundamentals.

But with a move to greener energy sources inevitable in the developed world and oil reserves (and revenues) depleting, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the balance changing – after all, the vampire squid must be smelling money…

Oil price: can $50 be conquered?

Can oil make it back up to $50 a barrel? And what does this mean for US rate rises? Mike van Dulken and Augustin Eden of Accendo Markets give their take on this pivotal day in the recent recovery…

A stronger US dollar is showing no signs of hampering the oil price rally towards $50, even after a trio of Fed speakers (non-voters we must highlight) spiced things up by jumping on a few bright spots of macro data to send the US dollar basket back to 3-week highs, suggesting a June US rate hike remains a possibility.

Wording is surely key here, with a rate hike technically possible at every meeting. Whether one is likely or not is a very different matter. Markets may now be pricing in a slightly higher likelihood, but they are by no means pricing in a hike. It’s generally accepted that the Fed prefers to avoid surprising markets – it’s not a good look for the central bank of the world’s reserve currency and number one economy. Better warm ‘em up and hint for a while before delivering the killer blow. And anyway, last night’s speakers (Lacker, Williams Kaplan) are all non-voters, which suggests this evening’s Fed Minutes will be more important in terms of deciphering the FOMC rate-setting committee’s most up to date views.

As it stands, we just don’t see June on the cards for a hike, even if some US data is surprising to the upside (did the trio miss May’s Empire State Manufacturing data cratering on Monday?). Certainly not with a UK referendum on EU membership set to take place less than a week after the Fed next meets. It’s assumed that a Leave vote would ‘pound’ sterling even more than jitters already have, which would only go to put unwelcome upward pressure on the dollar – in essence delivering a rate hike of sorts.

Surely the Fed would be better holding off. If a Remain vote prevails, a relief rally in GBP could provide more room for manoeuvre via a corresponding drop in the dollar. Furthermore, as if that wasn’t enough, with each day that passes it looks increasingly possible (scarily so) that Donald trumps his democrat rival Hilary in the race for the a White House. Is that a geopolitical environment the Fed really wants to be hiking into? Of course not. The committee knows its choices have far-reaching implications. It was given a timely reminder in January via an aggressive market selloff in response to its December decision to go for it and deliver that first major post-crisis hike.

Which brings us to the non-currency drivers of the price of oil, the stuff we should really be concentrating on. THE FUN-DA-MENT-ALS. Supply disruptions have been a major issue of late, with Canada and Nigeria tagged as major reasons for prices continuing their 2016 reversal recovery. But these are likely short-term issues, in which case supply perceptions could be set to calm, thus hindering oil prices.

Extra help came from last week’s surprise drop in US weekly crude stocks (which suggests that consuming more = good) coupled with continued drops in US rig counts and stateside production as Opec-competing frackers call it a day. Opec mouthpiece Saudi Arabia remains stubborn within a divided cartel. All have helped usher prices ever higher and, as we write, there is the possibility (borrowing from Fed terminology) that another big drawdown in stockpiles is delivered this afternoon, sealing a test by oil prices of that key $50 level. Add to this improving, if patchy, US data and a better than expected rebound in Japanese GDP (big oil importer) and fundamentals are supportive of the near-term uptrend.

The question now is whether the current trend has legs? How close is US production to a turning point as shale and frackers return to bring production back on-line at more sustainable prices? They had been talking about $45-50 which is where we are. Those nasty 18-month term downtrends have been overcome to take us back to six-month highs. Can a major psychological level in $50 really be conquered too?

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

BHP investors: hold on to your seatbelts, you’re in for a bumpy ride

This week, Mike van Dulken and Augustin Eden from Accendo Markets warn that BHP Billiton investors should brace themselves for legal action of BP proportions…

BHP Billiton (BLT) is this week underperforming a similarly weak commodity sector, one which is already under the cosh from a US dollar rebound, an oil price turning over from its highs and persistent global growth concerns after the latest China data sapping investor sentiment. The reason Billiton’s faring worse than its peers stems from news of a $44bn civil legal challenge from Brazilian federal prosecutors related to last November’s Samarco dam failure. That in itself may appear to be a minor driver. It’ll be sorted out soon, won’t it?

Er, well, something similar happened to BP about six years ago and this has quite rightly spooked investors, who would now appear to be pricing in the prospect of long and protracted litigation akin to that which BP only put to bed in July last year – a whole five years and $53.8bn after its 2010 Deepwater Horizon Gulf of Mexico disaster!

The claim against BHP Billiton relates to clean-up costs for waterways and villages, community rebuilding and compensation for the deaths of 19 people and resulting homelessness inflicted on a further 700. Sound familiar?

While BP worked tirelessly to limit the impact (both environmental and financial) of its disaster, several attempts to close the affair failed, and now a fresh legal challenge for BHP Billiton sees its situation echoing that endured by BP. The March 2016 settlement between BHP Billiton, its domestic partner Vale and the Brazilian government was potentially just the beginning of a long road. While there remains the possibility that such an imposing precedent as BP’s Gulf of Mexico disaster is inflating the claim against BHP, one can’t help but see investors take flight at the prospect of added risk in an already risky sector.

Sure, the Brazilian government has form for demanding initially huge reparations for environmental disasters before conveniently reducing them, and a smaller settlement may well be agreed for BHP and its Samarco colleagues. But there is no guarantee of this. Then again, this is Brazil, where the president faces impeachment and replacement by any one of a number of equally dubious cronies.

BHP shares are still holding their uptrend from 2016 lows. Just. However, after giving up 50 per cent of their 2016 gains (now up just 40 per cent YTD vs highs of 80 per cent on 21 April), we have to wonder whether an already difficult situation could get even messier.

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

BP boss Bob Dudley’s proposed pay rise is arrogant and offensive

Bob Dudley is usually pretty good at PR. The BP boss took the helm of the FTSE 100 oil major just after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster – the biggest oil catastrophe in history – when its reputation was in tatters. Since then, the American executive has had to steer the company during an eye-wateringly difficult commodities rout, with the future of the oil market still in question.

At results conferences he usually made an effort to greet all us journalists individually, with a little comment to show that he actually registered who we were (“Ah City AM is a great paper” he said, having seen my name badge), something which I have found that few CEOs bothered to do.

But today it seems that he’s lost his touch. Unsurprisingly, the majority of shareholders voted against BP’s remuneration policy, which proposed hiking Bob’s pay up by 20 per cent to almost $20m (£14.1m) for 2015.

Put this figure alongside BP’s mammoth $5.2bn loss last year and 7,000 job cuts and it looks bad. Marie Antoinette bad.

I’ve seen commentators today argue that poor, overworked Bob has had a tougher time of it last year than a CEO would during a commodities boom (which is undoubtedly true) so he deserves the extra cash.

With this, I whole-heartedly disagree. I am sure that Bob’s job has been more stressful than any of us can envisage; trying to satiate employees, shareholders and everyone else while oil prices remain so painfully low must be nearly impossible. But I cannot imagine anyone in any other job being able to justify earning MORE money by arguing that the company – and their industry – is doing badly.

If that were the case, most journalists in the country would have been raking it in over the last decade, let alone supermarket employees etc etc. There are plenty of people all over the country working harder in tough conditions – this is no excuse for higher remuneration amid a backdrop of job cuts.

The other factor making Bob look bad is that his counterpart at FTSE 100 competitor Royal Dutch Shell, Ben van Beurden, took a whopping pay cut last year to €5.6m (£4.5m).

When we’re talking about such huge, incomprehensible sums it seems unfathomable why Bob would not have followed suit. He’s not stupid; he must have realised what the reaction would have been.

I’m not left-wing by any means – I support wealth creation and capitalism. But surely taking a salary of, say, a mere £5m would be enough for Bob and his family to live in the lifestyle they have become accustomed to, while sparing his reputation?

For sadly I think today’s events show that Bob now appears out of touch with his shareholders and – even worse – that he doesn’t care.

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.

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

Accendo Markets: will the Fed release the doves?

In the first of Accendo Markets‘ regular market commentary for Hot Commodity, Augustin Eden and Mike van Dulken discuss whether the Fed is having cold feet and why gold is good…

This week’s main event is sure to be this evening’s US Federal Reserve policy statement and whether it dares issue some form of dovish mea culpa regarding its December decision to hike, especially given the market turmoil that has greeted us in 2016. While credibility was on the line after such a protracted warm-up, it probably felt obliged to hike rates on US data improvement.

However, it at least has the option to tone down its opening message of 2016 (with no press conference or Q&A) about how many more hikes we might expect this year. From a lofty three, markets are now pricing in one at best. What’s clear is that while the US may have been ready, the global markets were not.

Will the Fed’s focus lie with the US economy’s continued recovery progress or recent financial market volatility? It should be the former, but the latter can’t be ignored. Arguments may dwell on how it was right to move then, but hold now.

Financial markets have neither enjoyed the second half of 2015, nor the tricky start to 2016, but the same needn’t necessarily be said about all asset classes. While equities are hindered by persistent commodity price weakness after an 18-month rout, and a slowing and troubled China, many ask whether the worst is priced in and the doom and gloom overbaked.

So far so gold…

What’s this got to do with the price of gold? Well, it’s having a cracking start to the year, bouncing from 5/6yr lows on talk of output having peaked. Also, as a safe-haven, it needn’t worry about US dollar strength. If people are that fearful (unless they’re Warren Buffett) they’ll probably be yellow-metal bound. The zero-interest bearing asset has seen rising demand from market volatility and technical drivers as well as hopes the Fed will go all dovish on us after December’s ‘mistake’ to raise rates from record lows.

If this does happen, we could well see a pullback in recent USD strength. It’s almost as if the dollar has been simply resting near its 2015 all-time highs, waiting for its next pointer, which could well be revised US monetary policy guidance for 2016. There’ll arguably be a knock-on for the entire commodities sector from that. Even oil could gush a little higher from the FX benefit, despite a more meaningful recovery surely needing moves to cut output and reverse its own supply glut.

This commentary was provided exclusively for Hot Commodity by Mike and Augustin at Accendo Markets – https://www.accendomarkets.com.

Do you agree with Mike and Augustin or do you have a different take on the Fed’s next move? Email info@hotcommodity.co.uk with your comments.

Libyan oil will fail to deliver despite unity government

Libya nominated a unity government yesterday after a lengthy UN-brokered negotiation, aimed at harmonising the embattled country that is currently being run by two rival governments.

But sadly political stability is still far away for this resource-rich country, which is having to fight the aggressively expansionist militant group Islamic State.

As such, it seems unlikely that the North African country, which has the largest oil reserves in the continent, will be able to return production to its 2011 peak of around 1.6bn barrels a day from its current levels of under 400,000 barrels.

With brent crude dipping to 12-year lows this week and hovering at around $28.30 a barrel yesterday evening, an absence of Libyan output will be of no matter to the market. But it is everything to Libya’s financial stability and its peace.

When I edited a Middle East-focused trade mag, I remember chatting to an insurance company CEO in Dubai shortly after Gaddafi had been toppled in 2011. The CEO, and a number of other UAE delegates, had been invited on a trip to Libya to boost trade. At the time, there seemed everything to hope for – I even wrote a feature along the lines of Libya’s oil reserves being the next big thing. But the awaited period of political stability and harmony failed to arrive, with competing armed forces taking control of oil fields even before IS came on to the scene.

Libya relies on oil for around 90 per cent of its revenue, so an unproductive Libyan oil sector means a financially weak Libya. A power vacuum and a struggling economy are manna to IS, which is destroying Libya’s oil fields, rather than taking them over like it did in Iraq and Syria. Whether this is a plan to weaken the country further in order to take control, or simply stage one of a plan to devalue the oil assets before pouncing on them, is debatable.

Either way, Libya is in dire straights. RBC Capital Markets research earlier this month called the country a “wild card” that could potentially add substantial quantities of oil to an already saturated market this year, but I think the term wild card is far too optimistic in this case. For wild card suggests a possible return to the stability needed for Libya’s oil sector to prosper – which would be incredible in the current climate.

Firstly, the new, nominated government needs to win acceptance – the fact that two out of the nine members of Libya’s Presidential Council have already rejected it shows just how divided the country is.

Secondly, to make progress on energy security in the face of low revenues, a divided government and attacks from a number of rebel groups, not just IS, will be a long and arduous process.

Thirdly, a growing number of oil fields have been destroyed by IS, meaning work would need to be done to return them to an operational standard.

Of course, situations change quickly and perhaps 2017 could present a more promising year for Libya and its oil reserves. But the longer it remains in flux since the demise of its tyrannical ruler, the less likely it seems.