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EDITOR IN CHIEF- ABDULLAH BIN SALIM AL SHUEILI

Gas markets lead broad commodity strength in 2022

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Commodities extended their strong start to the year this week with the broad Bloomberg Commodity index trading up 4.1 per cent so far this month while the energy-heavy SP GSCI has notched up gains in the region of 5 per cent. The energy sector has been the main focus so far this year with tighter-than-expected supply driving crude oil higher by close to 10 per cent while extreme roller-coaster rides best describe what is unfolding in the natural gas market, both in the US and especially in Europe.


Another roller-coaster week unfolded in global gas markets. The US natural gas first month futures contract jumped 14 per cent on Wednesday to a six-week high, in response to frigid freezing weather before collapsing by 12 per cent the following day on the prospect for weather turning milder and after the weekly stock draw was in line with expectations. Adding to this was the recent surge in LNG shipments to Europe and the once-insulated US market has become much more exposed to international developments, all of which supported the biggest weekly rise since November.


Meanwhile in Europe, the energy crisis rumbles on and despite an armada of LNG ships delivering increased supplies, prices remain at punitively and, for some, unaffordable prices.


The mentioned arrival of LNG shipments and so far mild January weather has reduced the risk of blackouts and gas storage running empty, but uncertainties regarding the Nord Stream 2 pipeline and Russia’s intentions in Ukraine continue to trigger sudden spikes and high volatility. On Thursday, the Dutch TTF benchmark gas future briefly traded below €70/MWh in response to the mentioned mild weather and strong overseas LNG supplies, before suffering a sharp reversal higher back above €90/MWh after Russia-US talks failed to ease fears of military action in Ukraine, a crossing point for around one-third of Russian gas to Europe.


Crude oil continues its month-long rally and while the early January jump was driven by temporary worries about supply disruptions in Libya and Kazakhstan, a bigger and more worrying development has become apparent during this time. Besides the surging Omicron variant having a much smaller negative impact on global consumption, it is the emerging sign that several countries within the OPEC+ group are struggling to raise production to the agreed levels that has supported prices this month.


For several months now we have seen overcompliance from the group as the 400,000 barrels per day of monthly increases was not met, especially due to problems in Nigeria and Angola. However, in their latest production survey for December, SP Global Platts found that 14 out of the 18 members, including Russia, fell short of their targets. According to Platts, the 18 members in December produced 37.72 million barrels a day, some 1.1 million barrels below their combined quota.


The rising gap between OPEC+ crude oil quotas and actual production has already been felt in the market with front month futures prices in both WTI and Brent having rallied stronger than later-expiring contracts. The spread or so-called backwardation between the first and the second Brent futures contract has risen from a low point at 20 cents a barrel in early December, when Omicron worries sparked a sharp correction, to 70 cents a barrel currently.


Global oil demand is not expected to peak anytime soon and that will add further pressure to available spare capacity, which is already being reduced monthly, thereby raising the risk of even higher prices. This supports our long-term bullish view on the oil market as it will be facing years of under investment with oil majors diverging some of their already-reduced capital expenditures towards low carbon energy production.


The timing of the next move up hinges on Brent’s short-term ability to close above $85.50/b, the 61.8 per cent retracement of the 2012 to 2020 selloff, followed up by a break above the double top at $86.75. First though, the chart below increasingly points to the need for a period of consolidation or perhaps even a correction. But with firm fundamentals in play only a bigger than expected omicron development and stronger production can send the price sharply lower.


By Ole S Hansen, Head of Commodity Strategy – Saxo Bank


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