Oil prices gain, but set for first yearly drop since 2015

Oil prices have been tracking equity markets during volatile trading for both asset classes last week. (Reuters)
Updated 31 December 2018
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Oil prices gain, but set for first yearly drop since 2015

  • Hints of progress on a possible US-China trade deal helped bolster sentiment
  • US shale production levels would be one of the primary drivers of crude markets going forward

SINGAPORE: Oil prices climbed on the last trading day of the year on Monday, mirroring gains in stock markets, but were on track for the first yearly decline in three years amid lingering concerns of a persistent supply glut.
Hints of progress on a possible US-China trade deal helped bolster sentiment, which has been battered by concerns over a weaker global economic outlook.
Brent crude futures — the international benchmark for oil prices — rose 56 cents, or 1.1 percent, to $53.77 a barrel by 0420 GMT. Brent declined nearly 20 percent in 2018 following two years of growth.
US West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures were at $45.77 a barrel, up 44 cents, or 1 percent, from their last close. WTI is down about 24 percent this year.
Crude prices have been closely tracking equity markets during volatile trading for both asset classes last week.
“Investors are looking for bargains in an illiquid market (today) ... If Trump gets over trade issues with China expect economic demand to surge,” said Jonathan Barratt, chief investment officer at Probis Securities in Sydney.
US President Donald Trump said he had a “very good call” with Chinese President Xi Jinping and that a possible trade deal between the United States and China was progressing well.
“China is still the best bet for global economic growth. Anything that severely pinches China will inevitably hurt global growth and, as a consequence, oil consumption,” said Sukrit Vijayakar, director of energy consultancy Trifecta.
The current downward pressure on oil prices should likely taper off from January, when OPEC-led supply cuts commence, analysts said.
Earlier this month, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and its allies including Russia, agreed to curb output by 1.2 million barrels per day starting in January to clear a supply overhang and prop up prices.
The group of producers “may hold out on supplies longer than reasonable in order to see if they can effect a rally similar to September-October this year,” Vijayakar said.
Brent hit a four-year high of $86.29 a barrel on Oct. 3 and has fallen about 38 percent since then.
While a gentle recovery is expected for prices in the first quarter 2019, the market might still remain under pressure from swelling production in the United States, which has emerged as the world’s biggest crude producer this year.
US shale production levels would be one of the primary drivers of crude markets going forward, said Benjamin Lu Jiaxuan, commodities analyst at Singapore-based brokerage firm Phillip Futures.
The market direction might get dictated if US shale producers disregard bearish signals in oil prices and push for higher output next year, Jiaxuan said.
Energy companies in the United States added two oil drilling rigs in the week to Dec. 28, bringing the total count to 885. That was up from 747 a year ago.


As worries about populism in Europe rise, investors bet on stock market volatility

Updated 16 min 49 sec ago
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As worries about populism in Europe rise, investors bet on stock market volatility

LONDON: Investors are betting on heightened political uncertainty and greater volatility in European stock markets ahead of European Parliament elections in May amid growing concerns about rising populism.
In one of the first concrete signs in financial markets that investors are bracing for political instability, VSTOXX futures , which reflect investor sentiment and economic uncertainty, have jumped in recent weeks.
While the classic gauge of fear — known as implied volatility, which tracks demand for options in European stocks — is currently at 15.68, futures that bet on the same thing over the coming months show a pronounced jump.
That’s because investors have piled on trades that bet on big swings in stocks as election day nears.
Implied volatility for futures contracts expiring in May show a pronounced jump to 16.8, compared with 15.35 in April. The contracts measure the 30-day implied volatility of the euro zone STOXX 50 index.
“We are seeing a bit of a kink around May when we have European elections and we have this wave of populism,” said Edmund Shing, head of equities and derivatives strategy at BNP Paribas.

Looming elections
More than 350 million EU citizens will head to the polls between May 23 and 26 to elect a new Parliament, a vote that will shape the future of the bloc amid a backlash against immigration and years of austerity.
Mainstream center-left and center-right lawmakers may lose control of the legislature for the first time, as euroskeptic and far-right candidates build support.
Herve Guyon, Societe Generale’s head of European equity derivatives flow strategy and solutions, said the rise of populism had triggered a recent flurry of speculative trades.
“Political uncertainty might be coming from the EU rather than the United States. We’ve seen investors doing very large trades to benefit from an increase in volatility around these events,” he said.
“We as a bank don’t expect the elections to be a massive game-changer. The populists won’t get enough to disrupt the political system, but we do note some investors did take some positions on this event.”
The implied volatility is still well below levels seen in late 2018 when global stock markets were routed amid worries about rising interest rates, slowing economic growth and the trade war between Beijing and Washington.
In late December, it shot to above 26, its highest since February.
But the flurry of activity suggests investors are seeking out new opportunities after a slide in implied volatility across major asset classes.
Edward Park, deputy chief investment officer at asset manager Brooks MacDonald, said some of the activity may also be due to persistent uncertainty about Britain’s exit from the European Union as the Brexit date of March 29 nears.
This year, volatility across currency, fixed income and stocks markets has plunged as the US Federal Reserve and European Central Bank have taken dovish policy stances.
The Deutsche Bank currency volatility indicator hit multi-year lows this week, while the proxy for fixed income volatility is languishing at all-time lows.
In stocks, the Cboe volatility index, Wall Street’s so-called “fear gauge,” fell to its weakest in six months this week.
“There’s been a cross-asset volatility crash — in euro-dollar, US rates and equities — in the aftermath of (ECB President Mario) Draghi’s and (Fed Chairman Jerome) Powell’s comments and the expectation of lower rates for longer,” said Guyon.