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Mixed Ahead of Fed Minutes

A mixed start to trade in Europe after a more promising session in Asia overnight where stocks may have been boosted by talk of more pro-growth policies in China.

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

A mixed start to trade in Europe after a more promising session in Asia overnight where stocks may have been boosted by talk of more pro-growth policies in China.

That followed disappointing data late last week and early this from the world’s second-largest economy so the comments came at a good time. Still, we’re not seeing investors getting too carried away by comments alone, action needs to follow and small rate cuts from the PBOC don’t really fall into that category.

More misery for the UK as prices rise by the most since the early 80s

UK inflation hit its highest level in 40 years last month, with the annual CPI jumping 10.1% and the core reading 6.2%, both faster than expected. Double-digit inflation was inevitable but it has come earlier than expected which will leave households and businesses worrying about what that ultimately means for peak inflation later this year and how sustained it will be.

The data today has probably locked in a 50 basis point hike from the Bank of England as a minimum, especially when combined with yesterday’s wage growth numbers. Real incomes are still falling at a rapid rate but the central bank will have little choice but to persevere regardless and the economy will suffer the consequences.

RBNZ committed to tackling price rises as it raises the cash rate peak

The New Zealand dollar is trading a little lower on the day but the session has been quite volatile. We’ve seen some big swings in response to the RBNZ announcement despite the rate decision itself falling in line with expectations. The central bank now expects the cash rate to peak higher and earlier than previously anticipated, hitting 4.1% in the second quarter of next year, compared with 3.95% in Q3.

The RBNZ still firmly believes though that the actions it’s taken will both return inflation to the midpoint of its 1-3% target range in 2024 and not trigger a recession, although it did caution that the country will likely experience sub-par growth. That all sounds very hopeful but BoE aside, that appears to be the view of central banks still.

Fed minutes eyed as traders seek dovish pivot clues

There’s plenty more to look forward to today but the FOMC minutes naturally stand out. What’s interesting about them is that despite the supposed “dovish pivot” from the Fed, the commentary since has been anything but. Rather than talking up the prospect of falling inflation allowing for slower tightening, the message remains hawkish. What’s more, policymakers are continually pushing back against the policy u-turn next year that markets have been flirting with the idea of.

I expect any hawkish components of the minutes will be overlooked today and instead traders will dissect them for any additional dovish concessions that could further fuel the stock market recovery. That’s very much what we’ve seen in recent weeks and the decline in CPI last week only encouraged it.

Oil rebounds off support as JCPOA talks continue

Oil prices are edging higher on Wednesday, bouncing off technical support over the last 24 hours as Chinese Premier Li pushed for more pro-growth measures from local officials. There are growing downside risks as a result of the growth outlook and ongoing uncertainty around Chinese Covid restrictions.

What’s more, talks between the US and Iran are continuing around the nuclear deal which, if it gets over the line, could be a big positive for oil supply and therefore a negative for prices. There is no shortage of scepticism around the prospects for the JCPOA to be revived though but we may be reaching a point where that will become clear. For now, Brent appears to have decent support around $92.

Gold flat after a pullback

Gold is marginally lower on the day with focus fully on the Fed minutes later in the day. The yellow metal has been knocked back in recent days after briefly breaking through $1,800 resistance. It’s remained quite resilient though against the backdrop of a strengthening dollar and the FOMC minutes later could potentially reward that.

Could Fed minutes be the catalyst bitcoin needs?

Bitcoin rallies have struggled to generate much momentum of late, with $25,000 proving to be a strong barrier to the upside. What’s interesting is how shallow the pullback has so far been from that level which could be a bullish signal. Traders may be struggling to get on board with a break higher but they’re perhaps not keen to cash out either. The FOMC minutes later may be the catalyst it needs, one way or another.

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.

Gold

Gold Steadies After Initial Gains on Reports of Israel’s Strikes in Iran

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Gold, often viewed as a haven during times of geopolitical uncertainty, exhibited a characteristic surge in response to reports of Israel’s alleged strikes in Iran, only to stabilize later as tensions simmered.

The yellow metal’s initial rally came on the heels of escalating tensions in the Middle East, with concerns mounting over a potential wider conflict.

Spot gold soared as much as 1.6% in early trading as news circulated regarding Israel’s purported strikes on targets in Iran.

This surge, reaching a high of $2,400 a ton, reflected the nervousness pervading global markets amidst the saber-rattling between the two nations.

However, as the day progressed, media reports from both countries appeared to downplay the impact and severity of the alleged strikes, contributing to a moderation in gold’s gains.

Analysts noted that while the initial spike was fueled by fears of heightened conflict, subsequent assessments suggesting a less severe outcome helped calm investor nerves, leading to a stabilization in gold prices.

Traders had been bracing for a potential Israeli response following Iran’s missile and drone attack over the weekend, raising concerns about a retaliatory spiral between the two adversaries.

Reports of an explosion in Iran’s central city of Isfahan further added to the atmosphere of uncertainty, prompting flight suspensions and exacerbating market jitters.

In addition to geopolitical tensions, gold’s rally in recent months has been underpinned by other factors, including expectations of US interest rate cuts, sustained central bank buying, and robust consumer demand, particularly in China.

Despite the initial surge followed by stabilization, gold remains sensitive to developments in the Middle East and broader geopolitical dynamics.

Investors continue to monitor the situation closely for any signs of escalation or de-escalation, recognizing gold’s role as a traditional safe haven in times of uncertainty.

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Commodities

Global Cocoa Prices Surge to Record Levels, Processing Remains Steady

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Cocoa futures in New York have reached a historic pinnacle with the most-active contract hitting an all-time high of $11,578 a metric ton in early trading on Friday.

This surge comes amidst a backdrop of challenges in the cocoa industry, including supply chain disruptions, adverse weather conditions, and rising production costs.

Despite these hurdles, the pace of processing in chocolate factories has remained constant, providing a glimmer of hope for chocolate lovers worldwide.

Data released after market close on Thursday revealed that cocoa processing, known as “grinds,” was up in North America during the first quarter, appreciating by 4% compared to the same period last year.

Meanwhile, processing in Europe only saw a modest decline of about 2%, and Asia experienced a slight decrease.

These processing figures are particularly noteworthy given the current landscape of cocoa prices. Since the beginning of 2024, cocoa futures have more than doubled, reflecting the immense pressure on the cocoa market.

Yet, despite these soaring prices, chocolate manufacturers have managed to maintain their production levels, indicating resilience in the face of adversity.

The surge in cocoa prices can be attributed to a variety of factors, including supply shortages caused by adverse weather conditions in key cocoa-producing regions such as West Africa.

Also, rising demand for chocolate products, particularly premium and artisanal varieties, has contributed to the upward pressure on prices.

While the spike in cocoa prices presents challenges for chocolate manufacturers and consumers alike, industry experts remain cautiously optimistic about the resilience of the cocoa market.

Despite the record-breaking prices, the steady pace of cocoa processing suggests that chocolate lovers can still expect to indulge in their favorite treats, albeit at a higher cost.

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Crude Oil

Dangote Refinery Leverages Cheaper US Oil Imports to Boost Production

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The Dangote Petroleum Refinery is capitalizing on the availability of cheaper oil imports from the United States.

Recent reports indicate that the refinery with a capacity of 650,000 barrels per day has begun leveraging US-grade oil to power its operations in Nigeria.

According to insights from industry analysts, the refinery has commenced shipping various products, including jet fuel, gasoil, and naphtha, as it gradually ramps up its production capacity.

The utilization of US oil imports, particularly the WTI Midland grade, has provided Dangote Refinery with a cost-effective solution for its feedstock requirements.

Experts anticipate that the refinery’s gasoline-focused units, expected to come online in the summer months will further bolster its influence in the Atlantic Basin gasoline markets.

Alan Gelder, Vice President of Refining, Chemicals, and Oil Markets at Wood Mackenzie, noted that Dangote’s entry into the gasoline market is poised to reshape the West African gasoline supply dynamics.

Despite operating at approximately half its nameplate capacity, Dangote Refinery’s impact on regional fuel markets is already being felt. The refinery’s recent announcement of a reduction in diesel prices from N1,200/litre to N1,000/litre has generated excitement within Nigeria’s downstream oil sector.

This move is expected to positively affect various sectors of the economy and contribute to reducing the country’s high inflation rate.

Furthermore, the refinery’s utilization of US oil imports shows its commitment to exploring cost-effective solutions while striving to meet Nigeria’s domestic fuel demand. As the refinery continues to optimize its production processes, it is poised to play a pivotal role in Nigeria’s energy landscape and contribute to the country’s quest for self-sufficiency in refined petroleum products.

Moreover, the Nigerian government’s recent directive to compel oil producers to prioritize domestic refineries for crude supply aligns with Dangote Refinery’s objectives of reducing reliance on imported refined products.

With the flexibility to purchase crude using either the local currency or the US dollar, the refinery is well-positioned to capitalize on these policy reforms and further enhance its operational efficiency.

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