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Fed Urges U.S. Ban on Wall Street Buying Stakes in Companies

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Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and other banks that invest in companies are officially on notice: The Federal Reserve wants that ability taken away.

Among several recommendations issued by U.S. banking regulators, one from the Fed urged Congress to prohibit merchant banking, in which firms buy stakes in companies rather than lend them money. In a report released Thursday, the agency also pushed for limits on Wall Street’s ownership of physical commodities after lawmakers accused Goldman Sachs and other banks of seizing unfair advantages in metal and energy markets in recent years.

The report — based on a multi-agency study of banks’ investment activities required by the Dodd-Frank Act — highlighted ways to fix potential risks that regulators didn’t think were handled by the law’s Volcker Rule ban on certain trading and investments. The need for Congress to pass legislation presents the greatest hurdle to the Fed’s recommendations on merchant-banking and the ability of Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley to operate mines, warehouse aluminum and ship oil.

“Congress has an obligation to give their recommendations serious attention,” U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown, the most senior Democrat on the Banking Committee, said in a statement.

A 2014 Senate investigation into banks’ commodities businesses revealed Goldman Sachs had almost $15 billion in merchant banking investments. The firm’s most recent filings show it booked $1.2 billion in revenue through the first six months of this year in its division that houses merchant banking, with equity investments contributing $626 million of that.

Copper Investments

Another agency that participated in issuing the report, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, said it plans to restrict lenders’ holdings of the hard-to-value securities. The OCC also proposed a rule Thursday that would curtail banks’ investments in certain industrial metals including copper and aluminum.

The Fed called for the repeal of exemptions for industrial loan companies, which are lenders generally owned by non-financial firms, that allow them to operate outside of rules that affect banks. The Fed’s section of the report said its aim was to level the playing field among financial firms and “help ensure the separation of banking and commerce.”

Spokesmen for Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and JPMorgan Chase & Co. — another bank that could be affected by the recommendations — declined to comment on the regulators’ report.

A coalition of financial industry associations called the recommendations “unfortunate and ill-considered” in a statement. The groups — including the Clearing House Association, American Bankers Association and Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association — said merchant banking has financed startups and fueled job growth. The groups also argued that it hasn’t been shown to pose a risk to the financial system.

Congressional Gridlock

The Fed and the U.S. Treasury Department adopted a merchant-banking rule in 2001 after the 1999 Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act gave banks the right to make such investments. But making statutory changes to merchant banking and other industry laws would require intervention from lawmakers — a tall order in a politically-divided Congress that has passed only a few significant bills affecting the financial system in recent years. That leaves any immediate impact of the report in doubt.

The Fed, OCC and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. were required by Dodd-Frank to dig into further risks from bank investments, and they were supposed to issue the report almost five years ago.

The document was called for by a provision tucked more than 200 pages into Dodd-Frank under section 620. Lenders’ government watchdogs had to review the industry’s investment activities to determine whether they “could have a negative effect on the safety and soundness” of the financial system. But the mandate was easy to lose track of next to the passage that preceded it: section 619, which is better known as the Volcker Rule.

Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and JPMorgan were the targets of criticism that led to the 2014 Senate review of their commodities businesses. It found lenders used their ownership of metals and other physical commodities to dominate markets and gain unfair trading advantages. The physical commodities businesses at Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley were protected by grandfathering that allowed them wider abilities than most banks — an advantage the Fed is seeking to end.

Morgan Stanley sold off its oil business last year and backed away from industrial metals trading, while JPMorgan shed a big part of its physical commodities business in 2014. While Goldman Sachs dumped a coal-mining operation in 2015, Chief Executive Officer Lloyd Blankfein has maintained that commodities trading is a “core” part of his firm’s business.

Is the CEO/Founder of Investors King Limited. A proven foreign exchange research analyst and a published author on Yahoo Finance, Businessinsider, Nasdaq, Entrepreneur.com, Investorplace, and many more. He has over two decades of experience in global financial markets.

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Crude Oil

Fed’s Decision to Hold Rates Stalls Oil Market, Brent Crude Slips to $82.17

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Crude Oil - Investors King

Oil prices faced a setback on Thursday as the U.S. Federal Reserve’s decision to maintain interest rates dampened investor sentiment.

The Federal Reserve’s announcement on Wednesday indicated a reluctance to initiate an interest rate cut, pushing expectations for policy easing possibly as late as December. This unexpected stance rattled markets already grappling with inflationary pressures and economic uncertainty.

Brent crude, the international benchmark for Nigerian crude oil, saw a drop of 43 cents, or 0.5% to $82.17 a barrel, reflecting cautious investor response to the Fed’s cautious approach.

Similarly, West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude oil also slipped by 46 cents, or 0.6% to settle at $78.04 per barrel.

Tamas Varga, an analyst at PVM Oil, commented on the Fed’s decision, stating, “In the Fed’s view, this is the price that needs to be paid to achieve a soft landing and avoid recession beyond doubt.”

The central bank’s move to hold rates steady is seen as a measure to balance economic growth and inflation containment.

The Energy Information Administration’s latest data release further exacerbated market concerns, revealing a significant increase in U.S. crude stockpiles, primarily driven by higher imports.

Fuel inventories also exceeded expectations, compounding worries about oversupply in the oil market.

Adding to the downward pressure on oil prices, the International Energy Agency (IEA) issued a bearish report highlighting concerns over potential excess supply in the near future.

The combination of these factors weighed heavily on investor sentiment, contributing to the decline in oil prices observed throughout the trading session.

Meanwhile, geopolitical tensions in the Middle East continued to influence market dynamics, with reports of Iran-allied Houthi militants claiming responsibility for recent attacks on international shipping near Yemen’s Red Sea port of Hodeidah.

These incidents underscored ongoing concerns about potential disruptions to oil supply routes in the region.

As markets digest the Fed’s cautious stance and monitor developments in global economic indicators and geopolitical tensions, oil prices are expected to remain volatile in the near term.

Analysts suggest that future price movements will hinge significantly on economic data releases, policy decisions by major central banks, and developments in geopolitical hotspots affecting oil supply routes.

 

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Crude Oil

Nigerian Oil Loses Ground to Cheaper US and Russian Crude

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Crude oil

Nigeria’s once-thriving oil industry is facing a significant challenge as traditional buyers increasingly turn to more affordable alternatives from the United States and Russia.

This shift has led to France emerging as the leading buyer of Nigerian crude, marking a significant change in the global oil market dynamics.

Top Nigerian crude grades like Bonny Light, Forcados, and Brass have long been favored by refineries in Europe and Asia due to their low sulfur content.

However, the country’s primary customers, including India and China, are now opting for cheaper US and Russian oil.

This trend poses a substantial risk to Nigeria, which relies on oil exports for more than half of its foreign exchange earnings.

Data from BusinessDay reveals a stark decline in India’s purchase of Nigerian crude. In the first quarter of 2024, India bought N1.3 trillion worth of Nigerian oil, a significant drop from the average of N2 trillion purchased between 2018 and 2021.

“Buyers are increasingly turning to cheaper alternatives, raising concerns for the country’s revenue stream,” said Aisha Mohammed, a senior energy analyst at the Lagos-based Centre for Development Studies.

The latest tanker-tracking data monitored by Bloomberg indicates that India is buying more American crude oil as Russian energy flows dwindle amid sanctions.

India’s state-owned oil refiners and leading private companies have increased their imports of US crude, reaching nearly seven million barrels of April-loading US oil. This shift is the largest monthly inflow since last May.

Russian crude flows to India surged following the invasion of Ukraine, making Russia the biggest supplier to the South Asian nation.

However, tighter US sanctions have stranded Russian cargoes, narrowing discounts, and prompting India to ramp up purchases from Saudi Arabia.

“Given the issues faced with importing Sokol in Russia, it’s no surprise that Indian refineries are turning toward US WTI Midland as their light-sweet alternative,” explained Dylan Sim, an analyst at industry consultant FGE.

As a result, France has overtaken the Netherlands to become the biggest buyer of Nigerian crude oil, purchasing products worth N2.5 trillion in the first quarter of 2024.

Spain and India occupied second and fourth positions, with imports valued at N1.72 trillion and N1.3 trillion respectively, as of March 2024.

The sluggish pace of sales for Nigeria’s May supplies highlights the market’s shifting dynamics. Findings show that about 10 cargoes of Nigerian crude for May loading were still available for purchase, indicating a reduced demand.

Rival suppliers such as Azeri Light and West Texas Intermediate have also seen price weaknesses, impacting Nigerian crude demand.

“We’ve got much weaker margins, so Nigeria’s crude demand is taking a hit,” noted James Davis, director of short-term oil market research at FGE.

Sellers seeking premiums over the Dated Brent benchmark have found the European market less receptive, according to Energy Aspects Ltd.

“May cargoes were at a premium that didn’t work that well into Europe, but lower offers have seen volumes move,” said Christopher Haines, EA global crude analyst. “Stronger forward diesel pricing is also helping.”

Some Nigerian grades are being priced more competitively, including Qua Iboe to Asia and Bonny Light to the Mediterranean or East, with the overhang slowly reducing, according to Sparta Commodities.

However, the overall reduced demand could lead to a decrease in revenue from oil exports, a major source of income for the Nigerian government.

“Reduced demand could lead to a decrease in revenue from oil exports, a major source of income for the Nigerian government,” warned Charles Ogbeide, an energy analyst with a Lagos-based investment bank.

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Refiners Predict Petrol Prices to Fall to N300/Litre with Adequate Local Crude Supply

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Petrol - Investors King

The pump price of Premium Motor Spirit (PMS), commonly known as petrol, could drop to N300 per litre once local production ramps up significantly, according to operators of modular refineries.

This projection hinges on the provision of sufficient crude oil to domestic refiners, which they say would undercut the exorbitant costs currently imposed by foreign refineries.

Speaking under the aegis of the Crude Oil Refinery Owners Association of Nigeria (CORAN), the refiners stressed the urgency for the government to ensure a steady supply of crude oil to local processing plants.

They argue that the reliance on imported petroleum products has been economically disadvantageous for Nigeria.

Eche Idoko, Publicity Secretary of CORAN, emphasized that the current high costs could be mitigated by boosting local production.

“If we begin to produce PMS in large volumes and ensure adequate crude oil supply, the pump price could be reduced to N300 per litre. This would prevent Nigerians from paying nearly N700 per litre and stop foreign refiners from profiting excessively at our expense,” Idoko stated.

The potential price drop follows the model seen with diesel, which experienced a significant price reduction once the Dangote Petroleum Refinery began its production.

“Diesel prices dropped from N1,700-N1,800 per litre to N1,200 per litre after Dangote started producing. This is a clear indication that local production can drastically reduce costs,” Idoko explained.

In a previous statement, Africa’s richest man, Aliko Dangote, affirmed that Nigeria would cease importing petrol by June 2024 due to the Dangote Refinery’s capacity to meet local demand.

Dangote also expressed confidence in the refinery’s ability to cater to West Africa’s diesel and aviation fuel needs.

Challenges and Governmental Role

However, achieving this price reduction is contingent on several factors, including the provision of crude oil at the naira equivalent of its dollar rate.

CORAN has advocated for this approach, citing that it would bolster the naira and reduce the financial burden on refiners who currently buy crude in dollars.

The Nigerian government has shown some commitment towards this goal. Gbenga Komolafe, Chief Executive of the Nigerian Upstream Petroleum Regulatory Commission (NUPRC), confirmed that a framework has been developed to ensure consistent supply of crude oil to domestic refineries.

“We have created a template for the Domestic Crude Oil Supply Obligation to foster seamless supply to local refineries,” Komolafe stated.

Industry Reactions

Oil marketers have welcomed the potential for reduced petrol prices. Abubakar Maigandi, President of the Independent Petroleum Marketers Association of Nigeria (IPMAN), expressed optimism about the Dangote Refinery’s impact on petrol prices.

“We expect the price of locally produced PMS to be below the current NNPC rate of N565.50 per litre. Ideally, we are looking at a price around N500 per litre,” Maigandi noted.

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