Volatility in oil prices casts shadow over 2019 outlook 

Speculators have cut back their previous short positions in Brent futures and extended their long positions(AFP file photo)
Updated 13 January 2019

Volatility in oil prices casts shadow over 2019 outlook 

  • The change in speculative flows marks a reversal from last month’s gloomy activities

RIYADH: Oil prices rebounded to their highest level in a month, the Brent crude price rose back above the psychological level of $60 per barrel in the longest rally since 2017, and WTI increased to $52.59 per barrel. The Brent / WTI spread narrowed to $7.41 per barrel. 

Oil market sentiment went from extreme bearishness to extreme bullishness in less than a month. This short cycle disconnects the oil market from earlier bearish sentiments driven by other commodity markets, which had broader support from equity markets. Noticeably, equity markets are still down from a year ago but are steadily clawing back gains.

Speculative short positions over the past two months that took the Brent crude price down to a 16-month low at $50 per barrel amid bearish momentum, and neglected bullish sentiments, proved a huge disconnection from the physical market fundamentals. 

Market sentiments have changed lately, with banks and hedge funds trading oil futures and options while removing new bets from falling oil prices, changing back into rising oil price bets. Consequently, speculators have cut back their previous short positions in Brent futures and extended their long positions. 

This change in speculative flows marks a reversal from last month’s gloomy activities, after tireless efforts to exit bullish oil positions with limited buying interest. Yet some speculators are still cautious in betting on prices’ upward movement. 

Apparently crude oil is back to a bull market, with prices on an upward momentum since the start of 2019. However, the World Bank expects trade tensions to slow global economic growth to 2.9 percent in 2019 from 3 percent in 2018. The divergence from any possible global economic slowdown and oil demand growth has been widely realized by market participants. 

The potential end of the US-China trade war is not adding to oil’s momentum, as demand growth is still upbeat and bull market confidence grows over the global economy and the upcoming tight oil market amid signs of OPEC+ compliance to the new output cuts. The first signs of supply/demand tightening are nonetheless starting to filter in, with dwindling oil tanker freight rates.

The impact of low oil prices in 2015-2016 on upstream investment, which resulted in huge CAPEX cuts, has eventually shown its first signs in the lowest forecasts for Norway’s oil output in three decades.

Extreme oil price volatility in late 2018 has also cast some doubt on oil producers’ capital spending plans in 2019, with Brent now hovering around $60 per barrel after reaching $86 in October.

Norway’s oil output decline was expected to start from mid-2020. But its oil production continues to decline faster than expected due to matured oil fields that caused uncertainty in production forecasts, led by lower upstream investments and a lack of new discoveries to offset any output fall. Norway’s crude oil production currently stands at around 1.3 million barrels per day (bpd), down from 1.5 million bpd a year ago.

  • Faisal Mrza is an energy and oil marketing adviser. He was formerly with the OPEC and Saudi Aramco. Twitter:@faisalmrza

 


Saudi finance minister reassures public on taxes

Updated 10 December 2019

Saudi finance minister reassures public on taxes

  • Mohammed Al-Jadaan: There will be no more fees and taxes until after the financial, economic and social impacts have been considered carefully
  • The government expects to generate about SR203 billion in taxes this year – more than 20.5 percent higher than the previous year

RIYADH: Saudi finance minister Mohammed Al-Jadaan pledged that there would be no more taxes or fees introduced in the Kingdom until the social and economic impact of such a move had been fully reviewed.

He was speaking at the 2020 Budget Meeting Sessions, organized by the Ministry of Finance and held in Riyadh on Tuesday, where a number of ministers and senior officials gathered following the publication of the budget on Monday evening.

“There will be no more fees and taxes until after the financial, economic and social impacts have been considered carefully, especially in terms of economic competitiveness,” said Al-Jadaan.

The government expects to generate about SR203 billion in taxes this year – more than 20.5 percent higher than the previous year and more than 10 percent higher than the expected budget for this year. 

Most of that increase has come from taxes on goods and services which rose substantially as a result of the improvement in economic activity over the year.

The reassurances from the minister come as the Saudi budget deficit is estimated to widen to about SR187 billion, next year, or about 6.4 percent of GDP.