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Weather woes and energy crisis lift commodities

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The commodity sector continues to recover as the Bloomberg Commodity Index claws back more than half of what it lost during the June to July 20 per cent correction. Gains were seen across most sectors, led by agriculture as weather woes lifted the cost of coffee and the three major crops – especially corn. Industrial metals received a boost from China’s continued efforts to support its weakening economy by announcing more stimulus policies that would pump billions into infrastructure projects. The energy sector was supported by surging gas prices driving up demand for diesel and Saudi Arabia flagging the risk that OPEC+ may cut production to stabilise volatile markets.

In financial markets, the dollar reached a fresh 20-year high against the euro as Europe’s energy crisis continued to pressure the economic outlook for the region. US stocks tumbled and bond yields rose ahead of Friday’s eagerly awaited speech by Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell. In which, he was expected to reiterate his determination to bring down inflation by continuing to hike interest rates. Inflation-fighting measures, such as hiking interest rates and removing stimulus into a post-pandemic economic slowdown, was the main driver behind the recent correction in commodities.

Overall, however, we maintain the view that commodities can weather headwinds from an economic slowdown with supply of key commodities being equally challenged. In the long-term, support for commodities will be driven by underinvestment, urbanisation, the green transformation and deglobalisation. In the short-term, prices are likely to be supported by the unfolding energy crisis in Europe, Russia-sanctions related supply disruptions, adverse weather raising fresh concerns about food supplies, and China’s efforts to support its economy.

Crude oil sellers having second thoughts

While the macro-economic outlook remains challenging due to the lower growth outlook and recent dollar strength, crude oil and the product markets have nevertheless managed a strong rebound this past week. The energy crisis in Europe continues to strengthen, with gas and power prices surging to levels that measured in dollars per barrel of crude oil equivalent equates to $530 and $1,400 per barrel, respectively. The latest surge was driven by recent low-water level disruptions on the river Rhine and Gazprom announcing a three-day closure of the Nord Stream 1 pipeline due to maintenance, starting on August 31.

Should Gazprom (President Putin) decide to weaponise supplies further and keep the pipeline shut after maintenance ends, the risk of further spikes remains – thereby extending the already wide price gap between gas and crude oil. A development that will further support an already very visible increase in demand for fuel-based product, especially diesel and later on this autumn also heating oil, at the expense of gas. This gas-to-fuel switch has supported the recent recovery with the US last week shipping a record amount of diesel to energy-starved customers looking for alternatives to Russian supplies.

However, the trigger which eventually sent crude oil higher this week were comments from the Saudi Energy Minister and other OPEC members. These comments flagged possible cuts to production following a recent and growing disconnect between falling futures markets and a physical market that has yet to show weakness. A discrepancy we have noticed as well in recent weeks with crude oil futures being sold as a hedge against an economic slowdown with little focus on the physical market and its current price supportive supply and demand fundamentals.

Having found support after retracing 61.8 per cent of the December to March 111 per cent surge, the Brent crude oil futures contract has now returned to $100 per barrel with trend line resistance, currently $102.25 preventing a further upside push. A continued recovery at this point may force money managers to reassess their exposure in Brent and WTI with a potential short-squeeze brewing. During a three-week period to August 16, speculative traders reduced their net long to 278k lots, the lowest since April 2020.

Ole S Hansen, Head of Commodity Strategy, Saxo Bank

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