By Craig Erlam, Senior Market Analyst, UK & EMEA, OANDA
Equity markets are back in the green on Friday after a choppy week in which the recovery rally has stalled.
Efforts by Fed policymakers to manage market expectations have cooled the sense of immense relief that has delivered a strong rebound over the last month. The S&P was up more than 15% at one point while the Dow jumped more than 18%. Not bad on the back of what was ultimately one good inflation month.
James Bullard unleashed a flurry of hawkish views on Thursday which didn’t get a warm reception in the markets initially. But then they did rebound and are higher again today so it seems investors are still taking them with a pinch of salt. The Fed is clearly concerned that “dovish pivot” speculation could be undermining its tightening efforts which could explain why it’s being so steadfast in its hawkish message.
There will also be a concern that the labour market and household spending are showing little sign of weakening despite interest rates rising at an extraordinary rate over the past year. I don’t think that will stop the central bank from slowing the pace next month, especially if we see another drop in inflation just before, but it could cause the Fed to persevere for longer which is a concern for investors.
UK retail sales blip no reflection of what lies ahead
No one in the UK will be fooled by the latest retail sales report into thinking all is not as bad as it seems, not after yesterday’s Autumn Statement. The OBR expects living standards to decline by 7.1% over the next two years, the sharpest drop in six decades, as the country battles a cost-of-living crisis, severe fiscal consolidation, higher interest rates, and a recession. Against that backdrop, it’s hard to get remotely excited by an expectation-beating 0.6% jump in sales in October. Needless to say, it is not the start of a promising trend.
BoJ still unlikely to change course
Japanese inflation data may on the face of it give the impression that the Bank of Japan has achieved its inflation goals and can afford to soften its grip on the bond market but the reality is quite different. What is believed to be unsustainable factors like a weak yen, and high imported energy and food prices, are behind the increases, which the BoJ has been very willing to look through and will likely continue to do so. Especially with the pressure of yen devaluation far less intense after the US dollar’s correction over the last month.
Brent below $90 ahead of December OPEC+ gathering
Oil prices are continuing to retreat against the backdrop of increasingly gloomy economic prospects and surging Covid cases in China which risk further restrictions and lockdowns, threatening demand in the world’s second-largest economy. Brent crude has broken back below $90, testing the mid-October lows and, if sustained, the patience of OPEC+.
The group was heavily criticized for its two million barrel per day output cut and yet oil prices are now not far from the September lows that preceded the decision. Could OPEC+ go even further if the outlook continues to deteriorate when it meets again in a couple of weeks?
Gold holding onto gains
Gold is flat on Friday after paring gains over the last couple of days. The yellow metal has recovered strongly over the last month, around 10% from its lows, as risk appetite has improved and interest rate fears abated. It’s not out of the woods yet but its resilience after hitting resistance at $1,780 is encouraging. This is a major obstacle, having been such a substantial level of support from January to July.
Crypto volatility subsides for now
Bitcoin volatility is subsiding which will no doubt come as a relief to the crypto industry as the fallout from the FTX collapse continues. We’re continuing to learn who exactly is exposed to the collapse, to what extent, and what the ripple effects will be. One obvious impact is that of confidence in the space which could take time to repair in already challenging markets. I’m not sure anyone can be confident that the worst of the rout is behind us which means bitcoin is vulnerable to another plunge, with $15,500 being the first test of support and then potentially $14,000 below that.
Oil Markets Brace for Potential Resumption of Rally Amid Tightening Supplies
Oil markets are maintaining their steady course as hedge funds double down on their bets that tightening supplies will reignite the recent rally, despite a slight pause last week.
West Texas Intermediate (WTI) gained 0.7% before settling just above the $90-per-barrel price level following the surge in hedge funds’ bullish positions on WTI, the highest since February 2022.
Brent crude oil, against which Nigerian crude oil is priced, appreciated by 0.53% to $93.76 per barrel.
JPMorgan Chase & Co. is also chiming in, joining the chorus of voices predicting an “oil supercycle.” Oil has surged by over 25% since the end of June, poised for its most substantial quarterly gain since March 2022. This robust performance is credited to supply restrictions implemented by OPEC+ heavyweights Saudi Arabia and Russia, alongside brighter economic prospects in the US and China.
The market buzz is now dominated by discussions of the elusive $100-a-barrel crude, which could have ripple effects, increasing pressure on importing nations.
Analyst Zhou Mi from the Chaos Research Institute in Shanghai remains optimistic, emphasizing Saudi Arabia’s ongoing output cuts and solid demand from both China and the US.
Meanwhile, the physical market echoes these sentiments. Russia’s recent ban on diesel and gasoline exports has already elevated fuel prices, while US crude stockpiles continue to dwindle. The oil market’s backwardated structure further underscores strong competition for immediate supplies.
China is also gearing up for its Golden Week holiday, which is expected to boost jet fuel demand in the world’s largest oil-importing nation. With over 21 million people anticipated to take to the skies during this extended break, the momentum in the air travel sector appears to be continuing.
Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister, Faisal bin Farhan, highlighted the role of OPEC and its allies in stabilizing energy markets, underscoring their commitment to ensuring market equilibrium during a recent United Nations speech.
As the world watches these market dynamics unfold, the future of oil prices remains uncertain but decidedly intriguing.
Oil Prices Rally Amidst Russian Export Ban and Rate Hike Concerns
Oil prices saw an upward trend on Friday as concerns over Russia’s ban on fuel exports potentially tightening global supply.
This development overshadowed apprehensions of further interest rate hikes in the United States that could impact demand.
However, despite this bounce, oil prices were still on course for their first weekly decline in four weeks.
Brent crude oil gained 46 cents, or 0.5% to $93.76 per barrel while the U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude (WTI) oil surged by 65 cents, a 0.7% rise to $90.28 a barrel.
These gains were driven by growing concerns regarding tight global supply as the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allies (OPEC+) continued to implement production cuts.
Toshitaka Tazawa, an analyst at Fujitomi Securities Co Ltd, commented on the volatile nature of the market, stating, “Trading remained choppy amid a tug-of-war between supply fears that were reinforced by a Russian ban on fuel exports and worries over slower demand due to tighter monetary policies in the United States and Europe.”
He further noted that investors would closely monitor OPEC+ production cuts and the impact of rising interest rates, predicting that WTI would trade within a range of approximately $90 to $95.
Russia’s abrupt ban on gasoline and diesel exports to countries outside a select group of four ex-Soviet states had an immediate effect as it aimed to stabilize the domestic fuel market. This export restriction prompted a nearly 5% increase in heating oil futures on Thursday.
Tina Teng, an analyst at CMC Markets, explained, “Crude oil bounced off a session low after Russia banned diesel exports, which included gasoline. The action reversed a downside movement in crude markets following the hawkish Fed decision.”
However, she also warned that mounting concerns about a recession in the Eurozone could continue to exert downward pressure on oil prices.
The U.S. Federal Reserve recently maintained its interest rates but adopted a more hawkish stance, projecting a quarter-percentage-point increase to 5.50%-5.75% by the year-end. This decision heightened fears that higher rates might dampen economic growth and reduce fuel demand.
Also, the stronger U.S. dollar, reaching its highest level since early March, made oil and other commodities more expensive for buyers using alternative currencies.
NNPCL’s Crude Commitments Create Hurdles for Dangote’s Oil Operations
The Nigerian National Petroleum Company Limited (NNPCL) has found itself at the center of a growing challenge faced by the Dangote Petroleum Refinery, one of Africa’s largest industrial projects.
As the refinery gears up for full-scale production, it is grappling with unforeseen hurdles caused by the commitments made by NNPCL in the form of crude oil agreements with other entities.
Dangote Petroleum Refinery, a flagship project of the Dangote Group led by billionaire Aliko Dangote, is on the brink of becoming a game-changer in Nigeria’s energy sector. With a promise to significantly reduce the country’s dependence on imported petroleum products, the refinery holds the potential to bolster the nation’s energy self-sufficiency.
However, recent revelations have shed light on the complexity of the oil industry in Nigeria and how contractual commitments can disrupt even the best-laid plans.
According to Devakumar Edwin, the Executive Director of the Dangote Group, in an interview with S&P Global Commodity Insights, the NNPCL, which normally trades crude oil on behalf of Nigeria, has pledged its crude to other entities.
While Edwin did not disclose the specific recipients of NNPCL’s crude commitments, it was previously announced that the company had entered into a $3 billion crude oil-for-loan deal with the African Export-Import Bank. Under this agreement, NNPCL agreed to allocate future oil production to the bank as repayment for the loan.
This unforeseen twist has left Dangote Petroleum Refinery in a predicament, necessitating the temporary importation of crude oil.
Edwin, however, stated that this importation is only a short-term solution, as the refinery expects to receive crude supply from NNPCL starting in November 2023.
The refinery’s ambitious plans include producing up to 370,000 barrels per day of crude, which will be processed into Automotive Gas Oil (diesel) and jet fuel by October 2023. By November 30, 2023, the plant aims to produce Premium Motor Spirit (petrol), providing a much-needed boost to the domestic fuel market.
While the Dangote Group remains committed to its objectives, the delays caused by NNPCL’s prior commitments have raised concerns among oil marketers.
They believe that the prices of diesel and jet fuel, in particular, will only experience a significant reduction once the refinery begins receiving crude oil supplies from Nigeria rather than importing it.
Despite these temporary setbacks, Edwin reaffirmed the refinery’s readiness to receive crude oil, stating, “Right now, I’m ready to receive crude. We are just waiting for the first vessel. And so, as soon as it comes in, we can start.”
In essence, the shift in the refinery’s original timeline can be attributed to the prior commitments made by NNPCL, causing a momentary delay.
However, it remains a beacon of hope for Nigeria’s energy sector, promising a reliable supply of environmentally-friendly refined products and a substantial influx of foreign exchange into the country.
Devakumar Edwin also underscored that the revenues generated from the refinery’s operations would be reinvested in further developments, reaffirming Aliko Dangote’s unwavering commitment to Nigeria’s economic growth.
As the nation eagerly awaits the commencement of production at the Dangote Petroleum Refinery, it is clear that the complex web of oil industry contracts and commitments has played an unexpected role in shaping the refinery’s journey towards becoming a transformative force in Nigeria’s energy landscape.
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