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No cheers from Algiers: oil price set for more volatility

Mike van Dulken, head of research at Accendo Markets, tells Hot Commodity why Algiers was fruitless and what we can expect next from the oil market…

It seems, as expected, nothing will come from an over-hyped Opec-led oil production freeze meeting in Algiers. Except for providing lots of quotes to fill the airwaves and fuelling oil price volatility, that most would have happily forgone.

I’m not sure how markets developed any optimism whatsoever that an agreement would be made, given the poor track record at meetings so far this year. We now likely have to wait for the official Opec meeting in Vienna at the end of November for something more concrete in terms of concerted efforts to stabilise the global oil market, buoying prices in the face of a global supply glut. However, having everybody (Opec and Russia) in the same room and on the same page is a good start. As is some welcome, even surprise flexibility from the Saudis.

The build-up to today’s finale has been as fun as ever, with plenty of inflammatory and contradictory comment almost making a mockery of the event and the major parties involved. Deals and solutions were allegedly plentiful only to result in little. Iran is the linchpin – stubborn as ever. But rightfully so, in our view, preferring to ramp up production from 3.6m/bpd to its goal of 4m. A distinct lack of urgency on its part to find compromise with struggling Opec peers suggests it is nowhere near as desperate to help stabilise prices. It clearly sees more upside in selling 10 per cent additional production at $46-50/barrel than selling its current output at $50+. How so? After years of sanctions, being able to sell any oil at all is a bonus. And if peers do capitulate and cut production, it will only help Iran in its quest to retake market share. Where’s its incentive to play ball before it gets back to pumping at full pelt? Let the others move first.

This makes sense, with Iran’s public finances far less exposed to the oil industry than Opec mouthpiece Saudi Arabia. The latter was, to nobody’s surprise, the most frustratingly but unproductively vocal this week. It helped the oil price rally with talk of a deal offered to Iran (“if you freeze, we’ll cut”) only for the gains to be swiftly eroded by Iran’s flat refusal. This suggests, even confirms, that the Saudis are in a much more perilous position financially, needing a production freeze/cut deal soon. It’s no surprise, with a skyrocketing budget deficit of $100bn, that it’s mulling a Saudi Aramco IPO and selling government debt to ease the burden of lower oil prices on public spending plans inked when oil was closer to $100/barrel. It is set to meet Russia again next month; prepare for plenty more market-moving rhetoric.

This week’s meeting may not have delivered that much, but will hopefully prove a stepping stone on the way to more stable oil prices. The stream of disagreement between all parties involve, however, remains a wide one to cross. What’s the chance that November’s Opec meeting is yet another damp squib, forcing us to look to 2017 and contemplate déjà vu all over again?

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

Oil price: don’t expect much from Algiers

Mike van Dulken, head of research at Accendo Markets, tells Hot Commodity why the oil majors’ meeting in Algiers is unlikely to bring resolution to the production impasse…

The price of a barrel of brent crude oil sits at the mid-point of a tight $45.5-$50/barrel September range, one which has already closed in from a wider $42-$53 from April through to mid-August. Investors are pausing for thought, price activity narrowing as they await the outcome of an informal Opec-led meeting on the sidelines of the International Energy Forum in Algiers, Algeria on 26-28 September. It is here that we hope to finally hear some real progress regarding an agreement between major oil-producing nations to curb excessive output, stabilise the market and solve the global supply glut. This would likely help the oil price rally quite significantly.

We have been here before though, if you cast your mind back to April in Doha. The risk is we simply end up with yet another unanimous agreement that a freeze is necessary but which nobody is willing to implement, because they don’t trust fellow attendees to honour the promise and/or because they can’t afford to cap production themselves. With oil prices down at $45 versus the $100+ they traded at when times were good, most oil-reliant nations are hurting badly – Opec mouthpiece Saudi Arabia included. The latter has resorted to selling bonds and is prepping for a future IPO of state oil company Saudi Aramco. A painful adjustment is becoming increasingly necessary within the group to rebalance previously oil-funded public finances with much lower oil receipts.

Conflicting comments from oil ministers as the meeting approaches does little to inspire confidence. The Saudis, Iranians and Russians are keeping us entertained. Buy the build-up, sell the meeting has proved the correct strategy so far this year.

While a failed meeting risks sending oil prices lower, a host of drivers are, nonetheless, keeping prices from falling markedly: the buck-denominated commodity is buoyed by expectations of a delay to US Fed rate rises, something we don’t see happening until March next year at the earliest; the energy commodity remains in recovery mode with technicals still showing supportive rising lows around $45 since the very depressed 12/13 year lows (<$28) in January; global growth has not collapsed, even if remains sluggish to say the very least; there is no sign yet of a Chinese hard landing (big oil consumer). Also, monetary stimulus/accommodating policy remains in abundance from all the major central banks; geopolitical instability in the Middle East remains ever-present; and US oil inventories continue to oscillate around breakeven, never straying too far (last week’s aberration drawdown was due to a storm). As with the Fed and its rate rises, I struggle to see how we can get a unanimous agreement to freeze production or respect caveats this month, which means prices are highly likely to correct. But I also expect the build-up to generate much excitement and a price rally beforehand, meaning the ensuing correction merely retraces the up-move and doesn’t do too much damage. After all it’s in every participants' interest to talk up the price, but in nobody’s interest to see it break the 2016 recovery uptrend. Expect lots of chat and media comment for something that will likely amount to nothing more than another round of tea and biscuits and agreeing to disagree by the great and good (and bad) of the oil world. This commentary was produced exclusively for Hot Commodity by Accendo Markets: https://www.accendomarkets.com.

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.

Good news! The US economic revival is definitely on its way

This week, Mike van Dulken and Augustin Eden from Accendo Markets tell Hot Commodity why the US is on the up…even if the rest of the world isn’t.

Equity markets went to town yesterday on positive US data and hopes of more stimulus from the European Central Bank (ECB) and China’s People’s Bank of China (PBoC). Yet this is surely supporting the case for the US Federal Reserve to deliver further interest rate hikes this year – something likely to stifle US growth.

So was the market reaction simply increased confidence in the US economic recovery, coupled with a realistic belief the Fed won’t dare hike this year for fear of a repeat of January’s volatility? This should maintain a nice accommodative tilt to global monetary policy to spur economic recovery elsewhere.

US interest rates have risen only a touch to regain 0.5 per cent and equal the historic lows of its peer across the pond – the UK’s Bank of England (BoE). However, US macro data has blown too hot and cold since then for the Fed’s Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) to be comfortable hiking again anytime soon. Mixed Fed chat of late, with some quite noticeable changes of heart by long-term committee hawks (Bullard), adds to our belief.

With markets already building up to Friday’s US Non-Farm Payroll numbers, it’s worth noting that jobs data has been anything but a worry for the Fed for a good while now, with net monthly additions averaging around 225,000 since 2013. Unemployment at 4.9 per cent remains in a downtrend towards 10 year lows, but wage growth is still lacking.

News that US Q4 2015 GDP growth was revised up to one per cent quarter-on-quarter from 0.4 per cent last week was welcomed by markets, but it still showed a slowdown from previous quarters.

US Consumer Price Inflation (CPI) expectations have also faded quite dramatically (just 1.4 per cent for the next decade, suggestive of another oil price plunge), and sit way below the Fed’s two per cent target. Core CPI figures (excluding food & energy) may have accelerated back to target but for this to hold up oil prices must fall no further, allowing the influence of their 2014 price plunge to dissipate.

So aside from the fact that Friday’s US jobs figures are sure to deliver the traditional monthly market volatility, for us it will only serve to bolster confidence in the US economic revival. Good news. This in turn may further support the case for policy normalisation, but it’s not going to be enough for the Fed to consider the stars truly aligned for another press of the big red button. Even better news for risk appetite. Enjoy the first Friday’s usual fun ‘n’ games, but other data is far more important.

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

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

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.