By Craig Erlam, Senior Market Analyst, UK & EMEA, OANDA
It’s been quite a choppy start to the trading week, with much of the focus on China where Covid relaxation measures and property market support have brought some relief.
Unfortunately, both come at a time of record Covid infections in major cities including Beijing and Guangzhou. And those relaxation measures that were announced are not ambitious enough to make any difference in those cities seeing rising cases which means activity is going to weaken.
There is hope that China could further relax its zero-Covid policy next spring but for now, mass testing, heavy restrictions, and lockdowns are here to stay, despite growing opposition and fatigue. Those hoping that this initial relaxation phase would be more substantial were always setting themselves up for disappointment.
Property stocks in China and Hong Kong were given a big lift at the start of the week as Beijing unveiled its 16-point plan to support the industry. Having almost brought the industry to its knees as part of its reform efforts, Beijing is attempting to build it back up but as it’s already finding, the former is much easier to do than the latter.
Confidence is shattered and it will take time, effort, and patience to restore it. Now it’s a question of how much these measures will undermine Beijing’s initial reform measures and whether they’ll even succeed in reinvigorating the industry. Efforts until now have been like pushing on a piece of string.
Oil is steady but upside risks remain
The prospect of looser restrictions has boosted the price of oil recently and yet Brent still finds itself trading around the middle of its $90-$100 range. The US inflation data last week gave crude another boost as traders were left to dream again about a possible soft landing if the data continues that way and the Fed raises rates less.
There’s still a long way to go though and much of the world won’t be so lucky, assuming it isn’t already too late for the US. But further signs of inflation peaking will no doubt be welcome, you just wonder whether it will also be the catalyst for oil to break $100 again, further complicating the growth outlook once more.
Gold’s spectacular rebound
It’s been a fantastic 10 days for gold, with the yellow metal going from at risk of breaking below $1,620 support to rallying almost 10% to its highest level in almost three months. It’s been quite the ride, fueled by signals from the central bank that the next hike could be less aggressive and then that inflation report.
Can gold hold onto this momentum and break $1,800, taking it into territory that it hasn’t traded within since late-Spring, early-summer? It’s a big ask but if the data is generous and the dollar continues to give back some of its enormous gains from the past year, there’s every chance gold could build momentum from here.
Bitcoin waited patiently for this moment, forming a base around $20,000 in anticipation of inflation falling and the Fed narrative becoming much less hawkish. Unfortunately, that moment coincided with the spectacular collapse of FTX which has sent shockwaves through the industry and hammered crypto prices. Rather than taking off, bitcoin has plummeted to levels not seen in two years and further pain may lie ahead. There’s now enormous uncertainty in the space which could hold it back in the near term and weigh on prices.
Oil Prices Recover Slightly Amidst Demand Concerns in U.S. and China
Oil Prices Continue Slide as Market Skepticism Grows Over OPEC+ Cuts
Global oil markets witnessed a continued decline on Wednesday as investors assessed the impact of extended OPEC+ cuts against a backdrop of diminishing demand prospects in China.
Brent crude oil, the international benchmark for Nigerian crude oil, declined by 63 cents to $76.57 a barrel while U.S. WTI crude oil lost 58 cents to $71.74 a barrel.
Last week, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allies, collectively known as OPEC+, agreed to maintain voluntary output cuts of approximately 2.2 million barrels per day through the first quarter of 2024.
Despite this effort to tighten supply, market sentiment remains unresponsive.
“The decision to further reduce output from January failed to stimulate the market, and the recent, seemingly coordinated, assurances from Saudi Arabia and Russia to extend the constraints beyond 1Q 2024 or even deepen the cuts if needed have also fallen to deaf ears,” noted PVM analyst Tamas Varga.
Adding to the unease, Saudi Arabia’s decision to cut its official selling price (OSP) for flagship Arab Light to Asia in January for the first time in seven months raises concerns about the struggling demand for oil.
Amid the market turmoil, concerns over China’s economic health cast a shadow, potentially limiting fuel demand in the world’s second-largest oil consumer.
Moody’s recent decision to lower China’s A1 rating outlook from stable to negative further contributes to the apprehension.
Analysts will closely watch China’s preliminary trade data, including crude oil import figures, set to be released on Thursday.
The outcome will provide insights into the trajectory of China’s refinery runs, with expectations leaning towards a decline in November.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s diplomatic visit to the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia has added an extra layer of complexity to the oil market dynamics.
Discussions centered around the cooperation between Russia, the UAE, and OPEC+ in major oil and gas projects, highlighting the intricate geopolitical factors influencing oil prices.
U.S. Crude Production Hits Another Record, Posing Challenges for OPEC
U.S. crude oil production reached a new record in September, surging by 224,000 barrels per day to 13.24 million barrels per day.
The U.S. Energy Information Administration reported a consecutive monthly increase, adding 342,000 barrels per day over the previous three months, marking an annualized growth rate of 11%.
The surge in domestic production has led to a buildup of crude inventories and a softening of prices, challenging OPEC⁺ efforts to stabilize the market.
Despite a decrease in the number of active drilling rigs over the past year, U.S. production continues to rise.
This growth is attributed to enhanced drilling efficiency, with producers focusing on promising sites and drilling longer horizontal well sections to maximize contact with oil-bearing rock.
While OPEC⁺ production cuts have stabilized prices at relatively high levels, U.S. producers are benefiting from this stability.
The current strategy seems to embrace non-OPEC non-shale (NONS) producers, similar to how North Sea producers did in the 1980s.
Saudi Arabia, along with its OPEC⁺ partners, is resuming its role as a swing producer, balancing the market by adjusting its output.
Despite OPEC’s inability to formally collaborate with U.S. shale producers due to antitrust laws, efforts are made to include other NONS producers like Brazil in the coordination system.
This outreach aligns with the historical pattern of embracing rival producers to maintain control over a significant share of global production.
In contrast, U.S. gas production hit a seasonal record high in September, reaching 3,126 billion cubic feet.
However, unlike crude, there are signs that gas production growth is slowing due to very low prices and the absence of a swing producer.
Gas production increased by only 1.8% in September 2023 compared to the same month the previous year.
While the gas market is in the process of rebalancing, excess inventories may persist, keeping prices low.
The impact of a strengthening El Niño in the central and eastern Pacific Ocean could further influence temperatures and reduce nationwide heating demand, impacting gas prices in the coming months.
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