Spike in tensions but no oil market shock, says IEA

Spike in tensions but no oil market shock, says IEA
The global oil market is well placed to withstand any escalation in geopolitical tensions, according to the IEA. (Shutterstock)
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Updated 17 January 2020

Spike in tensions but no oil market shock, says IEA

Spike in tensions but no oil market shock, says IEA
  • Strategic reserves play key role in minimizing disruption to global supply amid US-Iran face-off, agency says

PARIS: The brief spike in Middle East tensions as the US and Iran faced off has served as a reminder of the havoc disruptions in supply from the key oil-producing region could wreak on the global economy, the International Energy Agency (IEA) said on Thursday.

But it said ample stocks and production elsewhere mean the world is relatively well placed to react to a crisis.

Washington and Tehran are currently in a standoff after tit-for-tat military actions over the past two weeks that had sparked fears of a large-scale confrontation that could choke off the Strait of Hormuz through which 20 percent of global oil supplies flow.

“We cannot know how the geopolitical situation will play out over time, but for now the risk of a major threat to oil supplies appears to have receded,” the IEA said in its latest monthly report on oil markets.

It noted that oil prices have receded after jumping $4 per barrel, much as they did in September when a series of attacks on Saudi oil facilities briefly knocked out part of the production of the key exporter.

“Today’s market where non-OPEC production is rising strongly and OECD stocks are 9 million barrels above the five-year average, provides a solid base from which to react to any escalation in geopolitical tension,” said the Paris-based organisation, which advises industrial nations that are members of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development on energy policy.

“As a back-up resource, the value of strategic stocks has once again been confirmed.”

The IEA was created in the wake of the 1973 oil shock provoked by an embargo imposed by OPEC and IEA members now hold reserves worth three months of net imports.

The oil market has been driven in recent years by a surge of non-OPEC production that has outstripped demand, with OPEC and its allies moving to restrain production to support prices.

The IEA’s forecasts see faster growth in demand for oil this year thanks to expectations that global growth will pick up as trade tensions diminish.

However, the 2.1 million barrels per day (mbd) growth in non-OPEC supplies will far outpace the increased demand of 1.2 mbd, putting further pressure on OPEC and its allies to further cut production.

During 2019, falls in OPEC production nearly completely offset a rise in production from countries outside the group.

Jack Ma video reappearance fails to soothe all investor concerns

Jack Ma video reappearance fails to soothe all investor concerns
Updated 51 min 42 sec ago

Jack Ma video reappearance fails to soothe all investor concerns

Jack Ma video reappearance fails to soothe all investor concerns
  • Ma had not appeared in public since Oct. 24, after he blasted China’s regulatory system
  • Chinese regulators have set about reining in Ma’s financial and e-commerce empires

HONG KONG: Billionaire Jack Ma’s 50-second video reappearance has done little to resolve Alibaba Group’s troubled relationship with regulators that is making some investors hesitate about owning the Chinese e-commerce giant’s stock.

Relief at Ma’s first public appearance added $58 billion in market value on Wednesday as Alibaba’s Hong Kong-listed stock soared, though doubts crept in a day later and the stock fell more than 3 percent as the broader market steadied near two-year highs.

Ma had not appeared in public since Oct. 24, when he blasted China’s regulatory system. That set him on a collision course with officials and led to the suspension of Alibaba fintech affiliate Ant Group’s blockbuster $37 billion IPO.

A source familiar with the matter said Ma cleared his schedule late last year to keep a low profile, prompting discussion at Alibaba about when and how he should reappear to assure investors.

It was decided he should do something that would appear as part of his normal routine, rather than anything overt that could irk the government.

While Ma has stepped down from corporate positions, he retains significant influence over Alibaba and Ant, and the regulatory crackdown on his business empire coupled with his absence was a concern for some investors.

There was skepticism that Ma’s brief reappearance meant all was well with his businesses.

“The coast is not all clear for Alibaba and it is a judgment call whether you believe the company can still thrive in the changing environment,” said Dave Wang, a portfolio manager at Singapore’s Nuvest Captial, which owns Alibaba stock.

“Without some skepticism, the price would be a lot higher,” he said, adding his firm had increased exposure to China and with it Alibaba, which he believes can prosper over the medium to longer term.

Two of the company’s investors in the US who have sold out or reduced positions in Alibaba said they needed more reassurance about the company and the regulatory environment before reconsidering the stock.

“One of our top criteria is leadership and we were investing in Alibaba because I really respect Jack Ma as a leader,” said William Huston, founder and director of institutional services at independent investment advisory firm Bay Street Capital Holdings in Palo Alto, CA, with assets under management of $86 million.

“We all know that just because he showed up ... doesn’t necessarily explain what is going on.”

Huston, whose firm cut its holding in the Chinese firm last year from 8 percent of its portfolio to less than 1 percent, said the halting of the Ant IPO in November had caused uncertainty, and that Alibaba was “not a prudent investment” for it going forward.

David Kotok, chairman and chief investment officer at Cumberland Advisers, Florida, which has about $4 billion in assets, said he held Alibaba last year but also sold as the Ant IPO was pulled.

“When you don’t know what to do in an evolving situation like this you can’t use traditional securities analytics to reach decisions. We are standing aside and watching,” Kotok said.

Chinese regulators have set about reining in Ma’s financial and e-commerce empires since the Ant IPO suspension, which has weighed on its stock that remains below levels prior to the cancelation of the Ant IPO.

“What his actual state is will be completely up to Beijing to reveal to us,” Leland Miller, CEO of US-based consultancy China Beige Book.

“What we do know is whether Jack is running around, Jack is hiding or something else, Alibaba is not in the clear. There is a lot more of the story still to see.”

Some investors are, however, betting on long-term potential for Alibaba in the world’s second-largest economy.

Dennis Dick, a proprietary trader at Bright Trading, who holds Alibaba shares, said he had protected against a potential fall when speculation about Ma’s whereabouts began by buying put options.

He covered those puts earlier in January on a report that Ma was OK and retains a long position in the stock.

“We have been investors for many years ... there’s a very strong team of executives and Alibaba is bigger than just one person,” said a Hong Kong based long-only investor, declining to be named as he was not authorized to speak to the media.