By Craig Erlam, Senior Market Analyst, UK & EMEA, OANDA
What could have been a really positive week for equity markets is off to a much more nervy start, with stocks in Europe treading water and US futures slightly lower.
The inflation report on Friday was red hot once more, extinguishing any hope that investors could hop aboard the Fed pivot train and ride stock markets higher into year-end. Perhaps it’s not quite so dramatic but it was a real setback, something we should be used to by now.
The wages component was the killer blow. That was not just a beat, it obliterated expectations and came in double the forecasted number. It may be a blip, but it’s a huge one and it will almost certainly take more than one much cooler report in January to comfort those that still fear inflation becoming entrenched.
That’s ultimately where we’re now up to in the inflation story. Many accept that base effects and lower energy prices will drive the headline inflation figure much lower next year, among other things, while a slower economy – maybe recession – will eventually hit demand and contribute to the decline. But what the Fed fears now is fighting entrenched inflation and these wage numbers won’t make for comfortable reading.
An economic victory for China amid gloomy PMIs
Chinese stocks were the clear outperformer overnight as authorities continued to work towards a softening of the country’s zero-Covid stance with the end goal seemingly being the end of it altogether. It’s thought that it will be downgraded to category B management as early as next month with officials claiming it’s less threatening than previous strains, a huge move away from the rhetoric and approach of the last few years.
This came as the Caixin services PMI slipped to 46.7, much lower than anticipated. That said, I’m not sure anyone will be shocked given the record Covid surge, but the more targeted – albeit seemingly confused – approach being taken has ensured less disruption, as evidenced by how much better the PMI has performed compared with earlier this year.
And it’s not just China that’s seeing surveys underperforming and, in many cases, putting in sub-50 readings. Europe is either already in recession or heading for it and the surveys highlight just how pessimistic firms are despite the winter getting off to a warmer start.
Japan is among the few recording a growth reading, although having slipped from 53.2 in October to 50.3 last month, you have to wonder for how long. Input prices are punishing firms, with some now raising prices in order to pass those higher costs on. That won’t help activity or convince the BoJ to declare victory, as higher energy and food costs are also hitting domestic demand. The one major outlier is India where the services PMI accelerated higher to 56.4 buoyed by domestic and external demand. An impressive feat in this global environment.
Oil higher as China looks to ease Covid restrictions
Oil prices are higher on Monday, rallying 2%, after the G7 imposed a $60 price cap on Russian oil and OPEC+ announced no new output cuts. Both bring a degree of uncertainty, with the details of the cap and the impact on Russian sales still unclear.
From the OPEC+ perspective, it can’t be easy to make reliable forecasts against that backdrop and the constantly evolving Covid situation in China, which currently looks far more promising from a demand perspective. The decision to leave output unchanged was probably the right one for now and there’s nothing to stop the group from coming together again before the next scheduled meeting should the situation warrant it.
A major setback
It goes without saying that the jobs report on Friday was a big setback for gold as it leaves huge uncertainty around where the terminal rate will land. Of course, we should be used to bumps in the road by now, having experienced many already this year. There’s no reason why the path back to 2% should be any smoother.
But the yellow metal did recover those jobs report losses and even hit a new four-month high today. Perhaps the big difference now is momentum. It’s run into strong resistance around those August highs around $1,810 and simply doesn’t have the momentum it would have had the report been cooler. We’re now more than four weeks into the recovery rally in gold and a corrective move of some kind may be on the cards.
Silence is bliss
Bitcoin continues to enjoy a mild relief rally and has even moved above $17,000 to trade at its highest level in almost a month. It’s probably too early to celebrate yet though as these are very cautious gains that could be quickly and easily wiped out by more negative headlines related to FTX. Silence is currently bliss for the crypto community.
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.
Nigeria Takes Bold Step to Energize Oil Sector: Plans to Revoke Dormant Exploration Leases
The Nigerian Upstream Petroleum and Regulatory Commission (NUPRC) has announced that the Federal Government is considering revoking inactive oil exploration leases granted to companies unable to conduct exploration activities.
Gbenga Komolafe, CEO of NUPRC, conveyed that only companies demonstrating robust technical and financial capabilities would retain their leases under the guidelines of the Petroleum Industry Act (PIA).
“Based on PIA, the commission is focused on delivering value for the nation, so only firms that are technically and financially viable will keep their leases,” affirmed Komolafe in a statement to Reuters.
He outlined that the commission plans to review existing leases, and the allocation of new leases will be contingent upon specific terms and conditions.
Current data from NUPRC reveals that over 60% of prospecting licenses, comprising 53 exploration leases issued since 2003, have expired. Of these, 33 licenses, including four entangled in contract disputes, have not been renewed.
While automatic revocation has not been exercised, the regulator signals a departure from allowing companies to indefinitely retain leases without meaningful exploration activities.
The enactment of the PIA in 2021 empowers the regulator to assess the technical and financial capabilities of companies holding oil exploration leases.
The Nigerian oil and gas sector has faced challenges, witnessing dwindling investments as major players exit onshore and shallow water assets due to security concerns, infrastructure sabotage, and legal disputes in the Niger Delta.
The proposed move aims to incentivize active exploration, addressing the sector’s stagnation and fostering renewed investor confidence.
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