Oil slides on China trade slump, but crude imports remain high

OPEC and some non-OPEC allies have been cutting supply since late 2018, providing oil prices with some support. (Reuters)
Updated 14 January 2019

Oil slides on China trade slump, but crude imports remain high

  • China’s December overall exports fell by 4.4 percent from a year earlier, the biggest monthly drop in two years
  • In the US, drillers cut four oil rigs in the week to January 11

SINGAPORE: Oil prices fell by almost 1 percent on Monday, with Brent crude slipping below $60 per barrel, after Chinese data showed weakening imports and exports in the world’s biggest trading nation and second-largest crude oil consumer.
International Brent crude oil futures were at $59.91 per barrel at 0403 GMT, down 57 cents, or 0.9 percent from their last close.
US West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures were down 47 cents, or 0.9 percent, at $51.12 a barrel.
China’s December overall exports fell by 4.4 percent from a year earlier, the biggest monthly drop in two years, official data showed on Monday, pointing to further weakening in the world’s second-largest economy. Imports last month also contracted, falling 7.6 percent, the biggest decline since July 2016.
“Crude futures were back in the red as trading began for a fresh week in Asia, in tandem with most of the region’s stock markets ... (as) China early Monday reported $351.76 billion trade surplus in dollar terms for 2018, the lowest since 2013,” said energy consultant Vandana Hari of Vanda Insights in a note on Monday.
The weak trade figures confirm a raft of indicators that have been pointing to an economic slowdown since the second half of 2018.
“Producer price inflation has decelerated for six consecutive months, adding to other signs of cooling industrial activity (in China) amid weakening global demand,” rating agency Moody’s said in a note.
Traders said the data pulled down crude oil futures and Asian stock markets alike, which had both posted modest gains earlier on Monday.
Economic research firm TS Lombard said oil prices were capped as “the world economy is now slowing ... limiting the scope for positive surprises in oil demand and hampering inventory reduction.”
Ole Hansen, head of commodity strategy at Denmark’s Saxo Bank, said “the deterioration seen recently in forward-looking economic data from the US to Europe and China” meant that the upside for crude oil futures was likely limited to $64 per barrel for Brent and for $55 for WTI.
Despite the weak Chinese trade data, the country’s oil imports remained sky-high in December at 10.31 million barrels per day (bpd), holding above the 10 million bpd mark for the second month in a row, on stockbuilding by small independent refiners who were trying to use up annual quotas.
Amid this strong demand from the world’s biggest oil importer, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and some non-OPEC allies, including Russia, have been cutting supply since late 2018, providing crude prices with some support.
In the United States, drillers cut four oil rigs in the week to Jan. 11, bringing the total count down to 873 energy services firm Baker Hughes said in a weekly report on Friday.


Japan’s households tighten purse strings as sales tax and typhoon hit

Updated 06 December 2019

Japan’s households tighten purse strings as sales tax and typhoon hit

  • Falls in factory output, jobs and retail add to fears of worsening slowdown after Tokyo unveils $122bn stimulus package

TOKYO: Japanese households cut their spending for the first time in almost a year in October as a sales tax hike prompted consumers to rein in expenses and natural disasters disrupted business.

Household spending dropped 5.1 percent in October from a year earlier, government data showed on Friday.

It is the first fall in household spending in 11 months and the biggest fall since March 2016 when spending fell by 5.3 percent. It was also weaker than the median forecast for a 3 percent decline.

That marked a sharp reversal from the 9.5 percent jump in September, the fastest growth on record as consumers rushed to buy goods before the Oct. 1 sales tax hike from 8 percent to 10 percent.

“Not only is the sales tax hike hurting consumer spending but impacts from the typhoon also accelerated the decline in the spending,” said Taro Saito, executive research fellow at NLI Research Institute.

“We expect the economy overall and consumer spending will contract in the current quarter and then moderately pick up January-March, but such recovery won't be strong enough.”

Household spending fell by 4.6 percent in April 2014 when Japan last raised the sales tax to 8 percent from 5 percent. It took more than a year for the sector to return to growth.

Compared with the previous month, household spending fell 11.5 percent in October, the fastest drop since April 2014, a faster decline than the median 9.8 percent forecast.

Analysts said a powerful typhoon in October, which lashed swathes of Japan with heavy rain, also played a factor in the downbeat data. Some shops and restaurants closed during the storm and consumers stayed home.

Separate data also showed the weak state of the economy.

The index of coincident economic indicators, which consists of a range of data including factory output, employment and retail sales data, fell a preliminary 5.6 points to 94.8 in October from the previous month, the lowest reading since February 2013, the Cabinet Office said on Friday.

It was also the fastest pace of decline since March 2011, according to the data.

Real wages adjusted for inflation, meanwhile, edged up for a second straight month in October, but the higher levy and weak global economy raise worries about the prospect for consumer spending and the overall economy.

While the government has sought to offset the hit to consumers through vouchers and tax breaks, there are fears the higher tax could hurt an economy already feeling the pinch from global pressures.

Japan unveiled a $122 billion fiscal package on Thursday to support stalling growth and as policymakers look to sustain activity beyond the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

A recent spate of weak data, such as exports and factory output, have raised worries about the risk of a sharper-than-expected slowdown. The economy grew by an annualized 0.2 percent in the third quarter, the weakest pace in a year.

Analysts expect the economy to shrink in the current quarter due to the sales tax hike.