The big global banks have begun to warn clients that the blistering rally in oil and industrial commodities in recent weeks has run far ahead of economic reality, raising the risk of a fresh slump in prices over the summer.
Barclays, Morgan Stanley and Deutsche Bank have all issued reports advising investors to tread carefully as energy and base metals fall prey to unstable speculative flows in the derivatives markets.
Oil has jumped 40pc since January even as the US, China and the world economy as a whole have been sputtering, falling far short of expectations.
“Watch out: this rally may not last. The risks for a reversal in recent commodity price trends are growing,” said analysts at Barclays.
“There is a huge disconnect between the price action in physical markets where differentials are signalling over-supply and the futures markets where all looks rosy.”
Miswin Mahesh, the bank’s oil strategist, said a glut of excess oil is emerging in the mid-Atlantic, with inventories rising at a rate of 1m barrels a day. Angola and Nigeria are sitting on 80m barrels of unsold crude and excess cargoes are building up in the North Sea and the Mediterranean.
Morgan Stanley echoed the concerns, warning that speculators and financial investors have taken out a record number of “long” positions on Brent crude on the futures markets even though the world economy keeps falling short of expectations. “We have growing concerns about crude fundamentals in the second half of 2015 and 2016,” it said.
Shale producers in the US are taking advantage of the artificial surge in prices to hedge a large part of their future output, more or less guaranteeing that the US will continue to pump 10m b/d and wage a war of attrition against high-cost producers in the rest of the world.
A comparable dynamic is playing out in the copper market, where net long positions have jumped 60pc since the start of the year and helped power the longest rally in copper prices since 2005, even as industrial output grinds to a halt in China.
The warnings come as a draft report from OPEC painted a gloomy picture of energy industry, predicting that oil wouldn’t touch $100 in the next 10 years.
The mini-boom in energy and metals has taken on huge significance since it is being taken as evidence that global recovery is under way and that the dangers of a deflationary spiral have abated. Barclays said that this in turn is a key factor driving up global bond yields, and therefore in repricing the cost of global credit.
If the commodity rally is being driven by investor exuberance in the derivatives markets – rather than a genuine recovery in the world economy – it is likely to short-circuit before long and could even lead to a relapse into deflation. It is extremely difficult for central banks to navigate these choppy waters, raising the risk of a policy mistake.
Fresh data suggest that the US economy may have contracted in the first quarter, and is currently growing at a rate of just 0.8pc, below the US Federal Reserve’s stall speed indicator.
Deutsche Bank has also warned that the energy rally is showing “signs of fatigue”, with near-record inventories in the US, and little likelihood of further stimulus from central banks at this stage to keep the game going. “We see fresh downside risks to crude oil prices heading into the summer,” it said.
Durable oil rallies are typically driven by OPEC cuts but this time the cartel has boosted supply by 500,000 b/d to 31m as Saudi Arabia tries to drive marginal drillers out of business across the world.
Contrary to expectations, America’s shale producers have yet to capitulate. The rig count has fallen by more than half but output has held up longer than expected. While a few drillers have gone bankrupt, others are already signalling plans to crank up production.
Houston-based EOG said it expects to boost output in the third quarter at the Eagle Ford basin in Texas, benefiting from dramatic gains in technology that are cutting shale costs at an astonishing speed. Devon Energy has raised its growth target to 25pc to 35pc this year, having cut its production costs by a fifth in the first quarter.
Tactical stockpiling of crude oil by China and other countries has masked the scale of oversupply but oil analysts say this effect may be fading. The deep economic slowdown in resource-hungry emerging markets has snuffed out the commodity supercycle. There is little sign yet of a durable rebound.
China is still slowing as President Xi Jinping deliberately engineers a deflation of the country’s investment bubble.
A series of cuts in the reserve requirement ratio and interest rates – including a 25pc reduction over the weekend – merely offsets “passive tightening” caused by capital outflows and rising real borrowing costs.
It is not yet a return to ‘”stimulus as usual”.
Not everybody is willing to throw in the towel on crude oil.
Michael Wittner, from Societe Generale, said US output will decline in the coming months as the delayed effects of lower investment start to bite, ultimately vindicating the Saudi’s shock strategy of flooding the market.
Crude stockpiles tend to build up from March to May. This is the “window of greatest vulnerability for a crude price correction”, Mr Wittner said. That window will be closing within weeks.
By Julien Toyer MADRID | Tue Jun 5, 2012 5:44am EDT
(Reuters) – Spain said on Tuesday that credit markets were closing to the euro zone’s fourth biggest economy as finance chiefs of the Group of Seven major economies were to hold emergency talks on the currency bloc’s worsening debt crisis.
Treasury Minister Cristobal Montoro sent out the dramatic distress signal in a radio interview about the impact of his country’s banking crisis on government borrowing, saying that at current rates, financial markets were effectively shut to Spain.
“The risk premium says Spain doesn’t have the market door open,” Montoro said on Onda Cero radio. “The risk premium says that as a state we have a problem in accessing markets, when we need to refinance our debt.
The country, which enjoyed rapid growth after it joined the euro at its launch in 1999, is beset by bank debts triggered by the bursting of a real estate bubble, aggravated by overspending by its autonomous regions.
The risk premium investors demand to hold Spanish 10-year debt rather than the German equivalent hit a euro era high of 548 basis points on Friday, on concerns that Spain’s fragile banking system and heavily indebted regions will eventually force it to seek a Greek-style bailout.
Montoro said Spanish banks should be recapitalized through European mechanisms, departing from the previous government line that Spain could raise the money on its own and prompting the Madrid stock market to rise.
But his comments on Spain’s borrowing sent the euro down after the 17-nation European currency earlier hit a one-week high against the dollar on expectations that a conference call of G7 finance ministers and central bankers may hasten bold action.
The European Central Bank holds its monthly rate-setting meeting on Wednesday and European Union leaders meet on June 28-29 to discuss their strategy for overcoming the two-year-old crisis which has already seen Greece, Ireland and Portugal forced to accept international bailouts.
Investors have fled peripheral euro zone sovereign debt for the relative safe haven of German Bunds and U.S. and British government bonds amid worries about Spain’s banking crisis and fears that a June 17 Greek election could lead to Athens leaving the euro, setting off a wave of contagion around the euro area.
Spain will test the market on Thursday by issuing between 1 billion euros ($1.24 billion) and 2 billion euros in medium- and long-term bonds at auction.
Emilio Botin, chairman of the nation’s biggest bank, Banco Santander told Reuters Spanish banks needed about 40 billion euros in additional capital, adding that “there is no financial crisis in Spain”. Montoro said the figures were “perfectly accessible”.
But his dramatization of the debt situation set a stark backdrop for the conference call of the United States, Canada, Japan, Germany, France, Italy and Britain, plus European Union officials, which two G7 sources said would start at 1100 GMT.
Montoro’s comments appeared aimed at pressuring the ECB and EU paymaster Germany to find ways of intervening. But the central bank has so far shunned calls to resume purchases of Spanish government bonds, and Berlin has said it is up to Madrid to decided whether to apply for assistance if it needs help.
Spain has been trying to persuade EU partners to allow direct aid from the euro zone’s rescue fund to recapitalize its banks without making it submit to the political humiliation of a full-fledged assistance programme, officials say.
The festering euro zone crisis has sparked mounting concern outside Europe, with the United States fretting that it could further harm its faltering economic recovery, and countries such as Japan and Canada fearing fallout for the global economy.
“We have reached a point where we need to have a common understanding about the problems we are facing,” Japanese Finance Minister Jun Azumi told reporters.
Ottawa and Washington both called for action after a G7 source said fears that capital flight from Spain could escalate into a full-fledged bank run had triggered the emergency talks.
“Markets remain skeptical that the measures taken thus far are sufficient to secure the recovery in Europe and remove the risk that the crisis will deepen,” White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters.
In a sign of increasing concern about the euro area’s debt crisis, Australia’s central bank cut interest rates by 25 basis points to 3.50 percent, the lowest level in two years. It cited further weakening in Europe and a deterioration in market sentiment.
PRESSURE ON BERLIN
Pressure is building in particular on Germany, the biggest contributor to euro zone rescue funds, to back away from its prescription of fiscal austerity for the region’s weaker economies and to work harder on fostering short-term growth.
Berlin argues that it is already doing its share by encouraging above-inflation domestic wage settlements, accepting the prospect of higher-than-usual German inflation and most recently agreeing that Spain should have more time to achieve its fiscal targets.
Furthermore, Chancellor Angela Merkel opened the door on Monday to the prospect of a euro zone banking union in the medium term, saying she would discuss with EU authorities the idea of putting systemically important cross-border banks under European supervision.
A German government strategy paper seen by Reuters sets out a timetable for closer fiscal union in the euro zone, but Berlin does not expect final decisions on strengthening economic policy coordination until March 2013, with only a roadmap being agreed at this month’s summit.
A G7 source familiar with plans for the call said the group would urge more progress at this month’s EU summit, though this alone would probably disappoint global markets.
Central banking sources said the ECB could contribute by cutting its main interest rate, lowering its deposit rate to try to shake loose some 700 billion euros parked overnight in its vaults by anxious banks, or by providing a third big liquidity injection to banks.
Some analysts believe the bank is more likely to await the outcome of the Greek election and the EU summit before taking decisive action.
A G7 source said there was only a very small chance the G7 would go as far as to pledge coordinated action to curb excessive currency volatility. Japan, for one, fears a strong yen, which has been a safe haven for investors during the euro zone crisis, could help tip its economy into recession.
The G7 could also call for concerted action at the upcoming summit of the wider Group of 20 major economies in Mexico on June 18-19, the source said. The G20, which includes China, played a prominent role during the 2008-2009 financial crisis.
A G20 official in Asia said the grouping, which also includes Brazil and India, could look to put pressure on Germany to switch to stimulus mode, as part of a wider call for strong, developed economies to step up spending.
“Germany and Canada could be seen as those having fiscal capabilities among the advanced economies,” the official said.
- Merkel rejects debt sharing as Obama urges Europe action (ekathimerini.com)
- Spain wants euro zone fiscal authority (news.yahoo.com)
- Spain tries to calm investors amid market pressure (seattlepi.com)