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Markets Today – Cautious Optimism, Oil, Gold, Bitcoin

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Stocks - Investors King

By Craig Erlam, Senior Market Analyst, UK & EMEA, OANDA

Equity markets are marginally lower after strong sessions on Monday and Tuesday, a sign that investors are remaining cautious despite encouraging data on the new variant.

Volatility is going nowhere over the coming weeks but investors are clearly enthused by what the early data is telling us. That said, with the UK considering “plan B” restrictions, it would appear leaders are not as enthused by what they’re seeing, which frankly makes me wonder whether markets are getting ahead of themselves.

The knee-jerk reaction to the new variant was obviously overdone based on the information we now have but where the markets will end up is anyone’s guess. There’s still plenty more to learn. Of course, investors love to buy those dips so no one would be surprised if we were in the early stages of this year’s Santa rally.

There are so many different risk factors to contend with right now. Just as Covid appeared to take a back seat for much of the last few months, there’s now far less talk of inflation risks and interest rates. Markets are now pricing in little chance of a rate hike next week from the BoE and a faster taper from the Fed also looks less certain.

Is the market going to reward such caution from the central banks or will inflation fears take over again and push real yields lower. That would certainly be great for gold prices in the near term but could make for some nervous times next year. As has been said so often recently, central banks are stuck between a rock and a hard place and life isn’t getting any easier for them.

Oil recovers well but faces major resistance

Oil prices are easing slightly today after an impressive rally since the OPEC+ meeting last week. Brent appears to have run into some resistance around the lower end of $76.50-77.50 which could be a big obstacle to the upside. This was a big area of support in late September and again in late November and a move back above here could set the stage for a push back above $80.

That may be tough in the near term with so much still unknown about the Omicron variant and governments in discussions about appropriate restrictions to slow the rapid spread. But clearly, OPEC+ warnings have not fallen on deaf ears and should the variant not prove too bad, crude prices could remain well supported.

Gold edges off lows but remains vulnerable

Gold is slightly lower on the day as it continues to struggle to generate any upside momentum whatsoever. It recently held onto the mid-October and November lows but continues to face significant resistance to the upside. Omicron uncertainty didn’t help the yellow metal despite its safe-haven reputation, which begs the question, what will drag it higher?

Central banks are unlikely to flood the market with liquidity again if we see severe restrictions or lockdowns as it battles uncomfortably high and widespread inflation. But they may take a more patient approach in order to remain as accommodative as possible, which could still be viewed as an inflation risk and drive more hedge flows in the coming weeks. If not, we could see the ground below become very shaky.

Can bitcoin cling on

Bitcoin has clawed its way back above $50,000 and appeared to be clinging on after sinking back below earlier in the day. The risk rebound we’ve seen in the markets has aided the recovery but it still looks vulnerable after the weekend plunge and any sudden shift in risk appetite could trigger another dip. Should it hold above $50,000 then the next test remains around $53,500, with a move above leaving it on a much stronger footing and perhaps signaling the end of the correction.

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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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Commodities

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

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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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