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Receding Concerns

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By Jeffrey Halley, Senior Market Analyst, Asia Pacific, OANDA

Another day, another directional move by markets on whatever the latest omicron headline is. Following on from yesterday’s indicative news from South Africa that the new Covid-19 variant could be milder than previous versions symptom-wise, much the same message was reinforced by the US’ Dr Anthony Fauci overnight.

That was all markets needed to hear really and equity markets in Europe and the US followed Asia’s lead and piled back in. Unsurprisingly, travel and leisure led the way while technology only rose modestly. When looked at in totality, markets appear to be moving rapidly back into pricing up the Fed taper trade. Value (old boring companies) outperformed growth (exciting technology companies), which makes sense as the US yield curve also steepened once again overnight. The theory being that technology and their ilk, with sky-high valuations, are more sensitive to upward moves in interest rates.

The US Dollar and oil also rallied overnight with markets getting back to business as usual. And today in Asia, the region is breathing a sigh of relief with equities performing well across the region. While I hope that we have seen “peak omicron,” if that proves not to be the case, I dread to think about the reversal of direction we will see. As I have previously stated, the winner in December will be volatility and not directional plays. We remain one negative omicron headline away from more of the former, and less of the latter.

That doesn’t mean there is nothing else going on, and a dousing of the omicron fires has allowed other themes to come back into focus. Next week’s FOMC policy meeting will be a critical juncture and the receding omicron threat (allegedly), should allow the FOMC to announce a faster taper and possibly earlier rate hikes. If US CPI prints at 7.0% on Friday, that should be a done deal.

But next week is a veritable all-you-can-eat buffet of central bank decisions. Hungary, Chile, Indonesia, Switzerland, Norway, the European Chief Government Debt Monetiser Bank (ECB), Mexico, Russia and perhaps the most exciting, Turkey. That isn’t an exhaustive list, and the PBOC announces its LPR’s the week after. After yesterday’s RRR cut was announced, the odds are rising of a cut in the 1-year LPR at least. Today, we have Australia, tomorrow India, Canada, Brazil and Poland.

We already know what the ECB, Japan and Australia will do, but the picture is murkier in the Latam, Eastern Europe space where we are likely to see a tightening bias continue. India may hint at a hike in 2022 in a change of direction as stagflationary forces increase. We can safely assume that all of Asia except Singapore and South Korea will be on hold through 2022. Turkey will be the outlier, where a collapsing currency and surging inflation could drive another Erdogan-omics rate cut. The tightening of US monetary policy has not been fully priced or appreciated by markets, and further divergence in that respect from Turkey will continue to make short Lira the easiest trade on the planet. I am just pondering where on my 2022 calendar to pencil in USD/TRY at 20.0000.

The situation in China’s property developer sector remains fluid, with Evergrande and Kaisa both looking to restructure their entire debt holdings, including offshore obligations. But highly-leveraged firms within the sector remain in deeply distressed territory with more obligations on offshore debts due this week. The first seeds of a solution appear to be occurring though, led by the RRR cut and debt restructuring hopes. I emphasise hopes as a positive outcome is far from certain. This story still has a lot more to run and any short-term rallies in the mostly Hong Kong-listed sector should be approached with extreme caution.

The Reserve Bank of Australia left policy rates unchanged today as expected. They did leave a glimmer of wiggle room in the accompanying statement to act sooner on rates if required. We can expect similar get out of jail clauses from a few central banks next week, most likely the ECB. The Australian Dollar has rallied modestly, but both it and its Kiwi cousin, remain at the mercy of nervous global risk sentiment, omicron, FOMC, or otherwise.

Receding omicron fears lift equities.

The modest rallies that started yesterday in Asia, continued to gain momentum overnight across Europe and the US, boosted by comments from Dr Anthony Fauci. That let markets get back to their global recovery trade happy place. However, that same sentiment also steepened the US yield curve and turned the focus back to an expectedly hawkish FOMC next week. Travel and leisure rebounded impressively, but the overriding them was one of value outperforming growth, with the Dow Jones having a stellar day versus the Nasdaq.

The S&P 500 rose 1.17% overnight, with the Nasdaq gaining 0.93% and the Dow Jones recording a stellar 1.87% rally. Futures on all three have continued in the same vein in Asia, rising 0.45% today. That has also reversed sentiment in Asia, notably in Japan and Hong Kong, both bastions of fast-money retail traders.

The Nikkei 225 has leapt 2.15% higher, with the Kospi rising 0.55%. In Mainland China, markets were also boosted by the RRR cut and easing lending conditions. The Shanghai Composite is flat, but the narrower Shanghai 50 is 0.65% higher, while the CSI 300 has risen by 0.60%. Property sector fears continue to cap gains on the Mainland. Hong Kong has rallied strongly, rising 1.85% as investors flocked back into China big-tech listings, which have endured torrid recent sessions.

Singapore has risen by 0.35%, with Kuala Lumpur 0.40% higher and Jakarta climbing by 0.70%. Taipei is unchanged while Manila has edged 0.25% lower with Bangkok jumping 1.05% higher. With the RBA also staying unchanged, Australian markets are also staging a strong recovery led by travel and leisure. The ASX 200 and All Ordinaries have risen by 1.05%.

With a dearth of tier-1 data in Europe today, I expect that sentiment will continue to drive market direction and that should see European stocks enjoy another positive start. As ever, the caveat on the equity rally will be if negative omicron headlines start hitting the news wires.

Currency markets content to range trade.

Currency markets showed little reaction to the Fauci omicron comments overnight, having already put the new variant behind it to focus on the upcoming FOMC meeting next week. That sentiment saw the US Dollar drift higher in a benign session, the dollar index rising 0.15% to 96.30 before falling slightly to 96.24 in Asia as currency markets continue to drift.

The Fed taper once again pushed USD/JPY higher as the US yield curve steepened once again overnight, USD/JPY rising 0.60% to 113.50, before adding another 0.20% to 113.70 in Asia. If we have indeed seen “peak omicron,” the 112.50 lows seen last week could well be the lows for the cross for the foreseeable future.

EUR/USD, GBP/USD are marking time around 1.1290 and 1.3285 with both vulnerable to a resumption of their medium-term downtrends next week if the BOE and ECB remain on hold while the FOMC speeds up tapering. AUD/USD rallied 0.40% today to 0.7080 after the RBA remained on hold but left the door slightly cracked for a faster unwinding of loose policy in the future. NZD/USD is treading water at 0.6760 with some Yen cross buying supporting both. Further gains are likely to be harder to come by if the US Dollar remains firm.

The US Dollar has weakened across the board versus Asian currencies thanks to the rebound in investor sentiment on weaker omicron fears. USD/Asia is down approximately 0.15% today in a quiet session. Looking ahead, as the market swings back to pricing in a fast Fed-taper and earlier rate hike life off, the rally by Asian currencies is likely to stall and reverse into next week.

Oil surges on lower omicron concerns.

The Fauci comments overnight saw more fast money returning to the long oil trade as markets started pricing a resumption of the global recovery and higher oil consumption. Brent crude leapt 5.40% higher to $73.65 a barrel, while WTI jumped 5.45% higher to $70.00 a barrel. In Asia, Brent has added 0.55% to $74.05, and WTI has added 0.90% to $70.65 a barrel.

Both contracts have quite a bit more upside potential, assuming the mild omicron reality is correct. The technical indicators are neutral but most especially, despite OPEC+ raising production quotas once again this month, the grouping continues to struggle to even meet its previously outlined increases. Virus volatility aside, that and OPEC+’s optionality over immediately changing the targets from the last meeting, which remains officially open, should provide a healthy modicum of support on any material pullbacks. Oil will be immune to a more hawkish FOMC next week.

Both contracts have recovered above their respective 100-day moving averages and if investor sentiment remains positive Brent crude can retest $76.00 and WTI $73.00 before the end of the week. I continue to believe that the lows of last week could well be the lows for the next year.

Gold remains marooned

Gold had another directionless session as it remains forgotten by the investor community, particularly those bullish traders who have been so badly whipsawed over the last month.  Gold drifted 0.30% lower to $1778.50 an ounce overnight as US yield firmed, only to reverse that in Asia, rising 0.20% to $1782.50 an ounce.

In the bigger picture, gold looks set to trade in a rough $1770.00 to $1800.00 an ounce range this week, unable to sustain momentum above or below those levels. The 50,100 and 200-day moving averages (DMAs), clustered between $1791.00 and $1793.50 provides immediate resistance, followed by $1800.00. Support lies at $1770.00 and $1760.00.

Gold could still stage a modest recovery this week, but if the US yield curve continues steepening, that may never eventuate, especially if US CPI data on Friday is likely to print around 7.0%. Gold remains a sell on rallies to $1810.00. The balance of risks still favours a move lower towards $1720.00 an ounce.

Crude Oil

Brent Crude Falls to $84.12, WTI Rises to $80.19

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In a cautious market, oil prices showed mixed movements in Asian trade on Tuesday.

Global benchmark Brent crude oil, against which Nigerian oil is priced, experienced a slight decline of 13 cents, or 0.15%, to settle at $84.12 per barrel.

Meanwhile, U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude oil saw a modest increase of 14 cents, or 0.17% to $80.19 per barrel.

The recent fluctuations come after both benchmarks posted significant gains of around 2% on Monday, marking their highest closing prices since April.

The market’s attention has now shifted back to fundamental factors, which have exhibited signs of softness for some time.

Francisco Blanch, a commodity and derivatives strategist at Bank of America, noted in a client note that global crude oil inventories and refined product storage in key locations such as the United States and Singapore remain elevated.

“The oil market shifted its focus back to fundamentals, which have been soft for some time,” Blanch stated, highlighting the broader concerns about global demand growth.

Data from the first quarter of the year indicated a deceleration in global oil demand growth to 890,000 barrels per day year-on-year, with further slowing likely in the second quarter.

Also, according to the country’s statistics bureau, China’s oil refinery output fell by 1.8% year-on-year in May due to planned maintenance and higher crude costs.

Market participants are also keenly watching for further indications on interest rates and U.S. demand trends, with several U.S. Federal Reserve representatives scheduled to speak later on Tuesday.

Despite the mixed signals, some analysts remain optimistic about the impact of OPEC+ supply cuts.

Patricio Valdivieso, vice president and global lead of crude trading analysis at Rystad Energy, said, “The latest guidance provided by OPEC+, as well as their unchanged 2.25 million barrels per day demand growth outlook, signals a stagnation in oil supply growth for 2024 and an apparent downside risk to production in 2025.”

Valdivieso further noted the disconnect between OPEC+’s demand outlook and those of other agencies, making it challenging to adopt a fully bearish stance on the market.

This sentiment has been reinforced by recent investor behavior, with hedge funds and other money managers purchasing the equivalent of 80 million barrels in key petroleum futures and options contracts over the week ending June 11.

Support for the market has also come from a rebound in refining margins, particularly in Europe and Asia.

Sparta Commodities analyst Neil Crosby pointed out that refining margins at a typical complex refinery in Singapore averaged $3.60 a barrel for June so far, up from $2.66 a barrel in May.

As the market navigates these dynamics, the cautious optimism among investors and analysts suggests a period of continued volatility and adjustment, with fundamental factors and policy decisions playing pivotal roles in shaping future price movements.

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Energy

Dangote Refinery’s Power Production Dwarfs National Grid’s 11-Year Progress

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The stark contrast in power generation between Nigeria’s national grid and Dangote Refinery has come into sharp focus as Dangote Refinery generates twice the national power production.

Over the past eleven years, Nigeria has managed to add a mere 760 megawatts (MW) to its national grid, while the Dangote Refinery has outpaced this growth significantly with  1,500 MW in a much shorter timeframe.

For decades, Nigeria has grappled with chronic power shortages, an issue that has repeatedly dominated election campaigns and policy debates.

Data from the Nigeria Electricity System Operator revealed that power delivery from Generation Companies (Gencos) to Distribution Companies (Discos) via the Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN) has seen only a modest increase.

From an average of 3,400 MW in November 2013, it has risen to 4,160 MW as of June 12, 2024, marking a 22 percent increase.

In stark contrast, the Dangote Refinery, which began construction in 2018, now produces 1,500 MW of power for its operations.

This significant output not only surpasses the national grid’s decade-long expansion but also emphasizes the private sector’s ability to address Nigeria’s power challenges more efficiently.

“We don’t put pressure on the grid. We produce about 1,500 megawatts of power for self-consumption,” stated Aliko Dangote at the Afreximbank Annual Meetings and AfriCaribbean Trade & Investment Forum in Nassau, The Bahamas.

This development underscores concerns regarding the slow pace of growth in Nigeria’s power sector despite substantial investments and an 11-year-old privatisation effort.

“The government and some operators in the sector may claim there has been some form of growth since 2013, but in actual terms, how many people are benefiting from the privatised power sector?” questioned Charles Akinbobola, a senior energy analyst at Sofidam Capital.

He added, “The challenge of the power sector has not entirely been the scarcity of funds. Several trillions of naira have been pumped into that industry. The sector has been plagued by the shortcomings of its managers.”

Comparatively, Nigeria’s power production capacity of 13,000 MW falls significantly short of South Africa’s 58,095 MW, despite having a similar-sized economy and a quarter of Nigeria’s population.

The ageing national grid, however, delivers only about 4,000 MW to over 200 million citizens—roughly the power consumption of Edinburgh’s 548,000 residents.

Other African nations have made more significant strides in addressing their power needs.

Egypt, for instance, added 28,229 MW to its national grid between December 2015 and December 2018, achieving a total installed capacity of 58,818 MW.

This was accomplished through a fast-track project and a substantial partnership with Siemens, adding 14,400 MW in just 2.5 years.

The sluggish growth of Nigeria’s power sector is not just a technical issue but a significant economic one. Rising energy costs and unreliable power supply have disrupted productive activities, forcing many factories to self-generate more than 14,000 MW of electricity.

According to the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria, member companies spent N639 billion on alternative energy sources between 2014 and 2021, further highlighting the inefficiencies within the public power supply system.

“The power sector’s inefficiencies cost consumers billions of naira and stifle economic growth,” noted Muda Yusuf, CEO of the Centre for the Promotion of Private Enterprise. “There are issues of technical and commercial losses which are yet to be addressed. These inefficiencies are costs that consumers are compelled or expected to pay for as part of the cost recovery argument.”

The stark contrast in power generation between the Dangote Refinery and the national grid serves as a wake-up call for Nigeria’s power sector.

It underscores the urgent need for comprehensive reforms, better management, and increased investment to meet the growing energy demands of the nation’s burgeoning population.

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Crude Oil

Nigerian Oil Theft Escalates to 400,000 Barrels a Day, Exposing Systemic Corruption

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A recent report has revealed that Nigeria’s daily oil losses surged to 400,000 barrels as efforts to curb crude oil theft remain ineffective.

This escalation from 100,000 barrels per day in 2013 underscores the severe and worsening challenge facing the nation’s oil sector.

The report, produced by the public policy firm Nextier, is the result of several months of in-depth investigation.

It reveals a complex web of sophisticated networks involving powerful actors, foreign buyers, security personnel, transporters, and government officials.

This elaborate system facilitates the large-scale theft of crude oil, which has been a significant drain on Nigeria’s economy.

From 2009 to 2021, Nigeria lost 643 million barrels of crude oil, valued at $48 billion, due to theft. This loss represents more than half of the nation’s national debt as of 2021.

The situation has also severely impacted Nigeria’s ability to meet its OPEC quotas, which have dwindled from 2.5 million barrels per day in 2010 to just 1.38 million barrels per day.

The report, authored by Ben Nwosu, an associate consultant at Nextier, and Ndu Nwokolo, a managing partner at Nextier, paints a grim picture of the local dynamics fueling this crisis.

It highlights the involvement of multiple small-scale artisanal actors, who are often supported by local political and security forces. These local actors contribute to the creation of underground economies, further complicating efforts to curb theft.

Environmental hazards are another grave concern. Illegal refining processes, characterized by uncontrolled heat and poorly designed condensation units, have led to numerous explosions. Between 2021 and 2023 alone, these operations resulted in 285 deaths.

Despite these dangers, illegal refineries continue to thrive due to economic necessity and systemic corruption.

Nigeria’s four refineries, which have a combined capacity of 445,000 barrels per day, are currently operating at only 6,000 barrels per day due to mismanagement and corruption.

This shortfall forces the country to rely heavily on imported refined products, further exacerbating the situation.

Massive corruption in oil importation and subsidies has led to billions of naira being unaccounted for between 2016 and 2019.

Moreover, the government’s inability to support modular refineries has perpetuated reliance on illegal operations.

Security forces are often implicated in the theft, providing protection for a fee. Although recent measures, such as the destruction of illegal refineries, have offered temporary relief, these efforts have been short-lived.

New illegal operations quickly emerge, perpetuating the cycle of theft and corruption.

The authors of the report emphasize that addressing this complex issue requires more than punitive measures. They call for a comprehensive approach that tackles the root causes, including the need for effective governance and economic opportunities for affected communities.

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