Oil markets jittery over lower demand forecasts

Russian blaze A fire broke out in an oil refinery in Moscow on Saturday morning, shutting down a unit that produced more than half the plant’s gasoline output. Fire crews battled for more than three hours before extinguishing the blaze at the refinery owned by Gazprom Neft, the oil arm of Gazprom. (File photo / Reuters)
Updated 18 November 2018
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Oil markets jittery over lower demand forecasts

RIYADH: Oil prices continued to nosedive last week over demand concerns amid an outlook of a slowing global economy. The strong US dollar weighed on both oil prices and the global demand outlook. Currencies weakened against the dollar, eroding their purchasing power.
Brent was down to $66.76 per barrel and WTI dropped to $56.46 per barrel by Friday. The former came close to its one-year low as both the International Energy Agency (IEA) and OPEC released monthly reports that articulated a darkening demand outlook in the short term. This increased fears of an oil demand slowdown. Market fundamentals also suggest that price volatility is likely to remain high in the near-term, although the oil market reached a balance in early October.
OPEC’s Monthly Oil Market Report (MOMR) arrived with bearish sentiments, revising downward its oil-demand forecast for this year and next, for the fourth month in a row. It forecast that global oil demand will rise by 1.29 million barrels per day (bpd) in 2019, 70,000 less than what OPEC expected last month. The MOMR also forecast increasing non-OPEC supply growth for 2019, with higher volumes outpacing the annual growth in world oil demand, leading to an excess in supply. The report was welcomed with open arms by the IEA, which had been at least in part responsible for driving sentiment toward a bear market. Surprisingly, OPEC warned that oil demand is falling faster than expected. Necessary action is a must.
Saudi Arabia is not sitting idly by while oil markets look as if they are heading toward instability. Markets were expecting severe US sanctions on Iran, which could have resulted in supply shortages once Iran’s crude exports went to zero. The unexpected introduction of waivers to allow eight countries to continue importing Iranian oil, was however an eye-opener. Now, as the world’s only swing producer, Saudi Arabia will have to take other measures to balance oil markets and drain excess oil from global stockpiles.
Despite what some analysts are claiming, there is currently no strategy to send less oil to the US to help reduce US stockpiles. Yes, some have claimed that Saudi crude shipments to the US are at about 600,000 barrels per day this month, which is a little more than half of what was being shipped in the summer months. But the reasons for this are related to seasonally low demand, the surge in US inventories and refineries heading into their winter maintenance season. Remember that November crude oil shipments were allocated to the US refiners last month before the US waivers on the Iranian sanctions were revealed. Also, keep in mind that Saudi Arabia owns the largest refinery in the US, which has a refining capacity that exceeds 600,000 bpd.

Lurking on the horizon is the massive US budget deficit and increasing rumblings that the US economic boom is over. 

It must be noted that there is a degree of financial manipulation underway in the oil futures markets. At the moment, there are few places where quick profits can be made, so some investors moved from stocks to commodities. Now, there are downward pressures on oil prices as some commodities market traders went long on oil futures, thinking that crude prices would rise. Then these same traders shorted natural gas, assuming that with a warmer winter, prices of that fuel would fall. Unfortunately for the traders, Trump’s sanction waivers on Iranian crude oil exports and cold weather on the US East Coast, caused exactly the reverse to take place. Oil prices fell and natural gas prices rose. Traders were therefore forced to sell their assets to cover margins, pushing oil prices lower. It is expected that some hedge funds and investment funds will also be moving away from going long on oil futures and this will cause further selling.
Lurking on the horizon is the massive US budget deficit and increasing rumbling that the US economic boom is over. The US federal budget deficit rose 17 percent in the 2018 fiscal year. It is now larger than in any year since 2012. Federal spending is up and amidst US President Donald Trump’s tax cuts, and federal revenue is not keeping pace. To make matters worse, the strong US economy and interest rate hikes by the US Federal Reserve have boosted the dollar.
A strong dollar makes commodities such as crude oil more expensive in international markets and reduces demand. Trump wants oil to be priced as low as possible to help bolster the US economy, which is clearly under strain, and to facilitate sales of crude abroad. But with a looming global oil shortage just a few years away due to a lack of upstream investment, it is incumbent on global oil producers to consider the long term in their output decisions.

* Faisal Mrza is an energy and oil market adviser. He was formerly with OPEC and Saudi Aramco. Reach him on Twitter: @faisalmrza


India names Modi demonetization backer as cenbank head

Visitors are seen standing next to a logo of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) at the bank's head office in Mumbai on December 5, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 12 December 2018
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India names Modi demonetization backer as cenbank head

  • Das — a high-profile backer of Modi’s controversial 2016 move to scrap high-value currency notes, known as demonetization

MUMBAI: Ex-finance ministry official Shaktikanta Das took charge of the Reserve Bank of India on Tuesday, in a swift appointment expected to ease a dispute with the government as it pushes for looser credit rules ahead of a general election.
The announcement by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s administration came just a day after Urjit Patel resigned from the post, following months of clashes between the two institutions over lending curbs and how to deploy the central bank’s surplus reserves.
Pressure on the RBI to take immediate steps to boost the economy, including a transfer of the excess reserves to the government, could well rise after Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) suffered likely election losses in three key states on Tuesday.
Das — a high-profile backer of Modi’s controversial 2016 move to scrap high-value currency notes, known as demonetization — will serve a three-year term as governor, effective immediately.
RBI watchers said they expected the 61-year-old, who retired last year as secretary of the department of economic affairs having previously served on the RBI’s board, to put relations between the Mumbai-based bank and the finance ministry in New Delhi on a stabler footing.
Investors will also look closely at his ability to hold up against outside influences after recent efforts by the Modi government to gain greater control over the central bank’s regulatory powers.
“The incoming governor will have to work hard to prove that he has his own independent mind,” said Deepak Jasani, head of retail research at Hdfc Securities.
Investors said any openly political appointee with little macro-economic experience, would not sit well with financial markets that already sold off following the BJP’s election setbacks.
But Ashish Vaidya, executive director and head of trading at DBS Bank in Mumbai, said he expected India’s debt and currency markets to react positively.
“He is a bureaucrat...We expect the RBI to take a pragmatic approach under him, be pro-growth and change its stance going ahead given that inflation has come off sharply,” he said.
Finance Minister Arun Jaitley told Reuters partner ANI that the government acknowledged the bank’s independence.
“Government will fully support the RBI and coordinate with it in areas where consultations of government are required to make sure India’s economy benefits from both government policy decisions and areas which fall within domain of the RBI,” ANI tweeted, quoting Jaitley.

SWIFT APPOINTMENT
Pronab Sen, India’s former chief statistician, said he was surprised by the speed of Das’s appointment.
“If you have a situation where a position as important as the governor of the RBI is filled within 24 hours of the resignation of the incumbent, that will raise eyebrows,” Sen told Reuters.
“People are going to say, clearly this guy had already been identified. And, the situation was created where Urjit Patel had to quit.”
Das — widely seen as a contender for the top RBI job after Raghuram Rajan’s term ended in 2016 — did not answer calls from Reuters to his mobile phone.
RBI officials who have worked with him closely said Das was likely to be more inclusive in the decision-making process than Patel.
“He has a balanced approach and is good at consensus building,” said a former deputy governor. .”..We have had our fair share of differences. But he has always been solution-centric rather than festering on those differences.”
Das worked in the finance ministry under both Modi’s government and the previous coalition led by the main opposition Congress party and was also involved in drafting the Insolvency and Bankruptcy code aimed at protecting small investors.
He came under fire for his pro-demonetization stance and was the most vocal bureaucrat at the time Modi withdrew the high-value bank notes to fight tax evasion.
Das last year criticized the methodology of global rating agencies and sought a sovereign rating upgrade for India.