Sunday 1st May 2016
NEWS TICKER: Central bank policy is still dominating the trading agenda, even though most analysts believe that the Fed will, if it does move, move only once this year and will raise rates by a quarter of a percent. The statement of the US FOMC was terse and most likely signals extreme caution on its part, though there is a belief that hawkish voices are rising in the committee. The reality is though that the US economic growth story is slowing. Many think the June meeting will spark the uplift. Let’s see. The US dollar is continuing to lose ground across the board after data showed the US economy expanded at its slowest pace since the second quarter of 2009, according to the BEA, which FTSE Global Markets reported on last Friday. GDP increased at a 0.5% annualised rate - versus an expected 0.7% - after rising 1.4% in the fourth quarter of 2015 as personal consumption failed to boost growth in spite of low gasoline prices. Central bank caution makes sense in that context, however timing will be sensitive. If the central bank moves in the autumn it threatens to unbutton the presidential elections; but the reality is that mixed data will emanate from the US over this quarter which will make a June decision difficult. It’s tough being an FOMC member right now. The Bank of Japan meanwhile signalled its intention to stay the course this week with current policy, which discombobulated the markets. The Japanese markets were closed today for a public holiday, so it won’t be entirely clear if the market will suffer for the central bank’s decision. Certainly if fell 3.61% yesterday and is down 5% on the week. so the omens aren’t great. Of course, the pattern that is well established of late is that as the market falls, the yen appreciates. The yen was trading at 107.14 against the dollar last time we looked, compared with 108 earlier in the session, having at times touched 111/$1 yesterday (the lowest point for more than 18 months) The month to date has seen a rise in both the short term and long term volatility gauges. Coinciding with the rise, Nikkei 225 Index Structured Warrant activity has also significantly picked up. Nikkei 225 Structured Warrants showed increased activity with daily averaged traded value up 33% month-on-month. The Nikkei 225 Index Structured Warrants had significant increase in trading activity year-on-year with total turnover up by 6.8 times. – ASIAN TRADING SESSION - Australia's ASX 200 reversed early losses to close up 26.77 points, or 0.51%, at 5,252.20, adding 0.3% for the week. The uptick today was driven by gains in the heavily-weighted financials sub-index, as well as the energy and materials sub-indexes. In South Korea, the Kospi finished down 6.78 points, or 0.34%, at 1,994.15, while in Hong Kong, the Hang Seng index fell 1.37%. Chinese mainland markets were mixed, with the Shanghai composite dropping 7.13 points, or 0.24 percent, at 2,938.45, while the Shenzhen composite finished nearly flat. The Straits Times Index (STI) ended 12.42 points or 0.43% lower to 2862.3, taking the year-to-date performance to -0.71%. The top active stocks today were SingTel, which gained 0.26%, DBS, which declined 1.03%, NOL, which gained closed unchanged, OCBC Bank, which declined 1.00% and CapitaLand, with a 0.63% fall. The FTSE ST Mid Cap Index gained 0.60%, while the FTSE ST Small Cap Index rose 0.49%. Structured warrants on Asian Indices have continued to be active in April. YTD, the STI has generated a total return of 1.3%. This compares to a decline of 4.9% for the Nikkei 225 Index and a decline of 6.3% of the Hang Seng Index. Of the structured warrants available on Asian Indices, the Hang Seng Index Structured Warrants have remained the most active in the year to date with Structured Warrants on the Nikkei 225 Index and STI Index the next most active – FUND FLOWS – BAML reports that commodity fund flows went back to positive territory after taking a breather last week, supported again by inflows into gold funds. “The asset class is currently the best performer, with year to date % of AUM inflow at 15%, far ahead of all other asset classes. Global EM debt flows reflected the bullish turn of the market on EMs, recording the tenth consecutive week of positive flows. On the duration front, short-term funds recorded a marginal inflow, keeping a positive sign for the last four weeks. The mid-term IG funds continue to record strong inflows for a ninth week. But it looks like investors have started to embrace duration to reach for yield, as inflows into longer-term funds have recorded a cumulative 0.8% inflow in the past two weeks,” says the BofA Merrill Lynch Global Research team – GREEN BONDS - Banco Nacional de Costa Rica is the latest issuer with a $500m bond to finance wind, solar, hydro and wastewater projects. The bond has a coupon of 5.875% and matures on April 25th 2021. Banco Nacional will rely on Costa Rican environmental protection regulations to determine eligible projects. This is the fourth green bond issuance in Latin America, according to the Climate Bonds Initiative (CBI). Actually, Costa Rica is one of the global leaders in terms of renewable energy use. In the first quarter of 2016 it sourced 97.14% of its power from renewables. Hydro's share alone was 65.62%. – SOVEREIGN DEBT - After coming to market with a 100 year bond last week, the Kingdom of Belgium (rated Aa3/AA/AA) has opened books on a dual tranche bond; the first maturing in seven years; the second in 50 years, in a deal managed by Barclays, Credit Agricole, JP Morgan, Morgan Stanley, Natixis and Société Générale. Managers have marketed the October 22nd 2023 tranche at 11 basis points (bps) through mid-swaps and the June 22nd 2066 tranche in the high teens over the mid of the 1.75% 2066 French OAT – LONGEVITY REINSURANCE - Prudential Retirement Insurance and Annuity Company (PRIAC) and U.K. insurer Legal & General say they have just completed their third longevity reinsurance transaction together, further evidence that longevity reinsurance continues to be a vehicle for UK insurers seeking relief from pension liabilities exposed to longevity risk. “This latest transaction builds on our relationship with Legal & General and solidifies the platform from which future business can be written,” explains Bill McCloskey, vice president, Longevity Risk Transfer at Prudential Retirement. “It's also a testament to our experience in the reinsurance space and our capacity to support the growth of the U.K. longevity risk transfer market.” Under the terms of the new agreement, PRIAC will issue reinsurance for a portion of Legal & General's bulk annuity business, providing benefit security for thousands of retirees in the UK. PRIAC has completed three reinsurance transactions with Legal & General since October 2014 – VIETNAM - Standard & Poor's Ratings Services has affirmed its 'BB-' long-term and 'B' short-term sovereign credit ratings on Vietnam. The outlook is stable. At the same time, we affirmed our 'axBB+/axB' ASEAN regional scale rating on Vietnam. The ratings, says S&P, reflect the country's lower middle-income, rising debt burden, banking sector weakness, and the country's emerging institutional settings that hamper policy responsiveness. Even so, the ratings agency acknowledges these strengths are offset by Vietnam's sound external settings that feature adequate foreign exchange reserves and a modest external debt burden. The country has a lower middle income but comparatively diversified economy. S&P estimates GDP per capita at about US$2,200 in 2016. “Recent improvements in macroeconomic stability have supported strong performance in the sizable foreign-owned and export-focused manufacturing sector (electronics, telephones, and clothing). This strength will likely be offset by weaker domestic activity as the impetus to growth stemming from low household and company sector leverage is hampered by weak banks and government enterprises, and shortfalls in infrastructure. We expect real GDP per capita growth to rise by 5.3% in 2016 (2015: 5.6%) and average 5.2% over 2016-2019, reflecting modest outlooks for Vietnam's trading partners. Uncertain conditions in export markets and the slow pace in addressing government enterprise reforms, fiscal consolidation, and banking sector resolution add downside risks to this growth outlook – RUSSIA - Russia's central bank held interest rates steady at 11% today, in line with expectations, although it hinted that if inflation kept on falling it would cut soon. Last month, the bank held rates steady, warning that inflation risks remained "high" and that the then oil price rise could be "unsustainable." However, the decision came at a time of renewed hope for Russia's beleaguered economy and the country's oil industry with commodity prices showing tentative signs of recovery. The central bank noted that it "sees the positive processes of inflation slowdown and inflation expectations decline, as well as shifts in the economy which anticipate the beginning of its recovery growth. At the same time, inflation risks remain elevated." Yann Quelenn, market analyst at Swissquote explains: "The ruble has continued to appreciate ever since it reached its all-time low against the dollar in early January. At that time, more than 82 ruble could be exchanged for a single dollar note. Now, the USDRUB has weakened below 65 and even more upside pressures on the currency continue as the rebound in oil prices persists. The outlook for Russian oil revenues is more positive despite the global supply glut. Expectations for increased oil demand over the coming years and the fear of peak oil are driving the black commodity’s prices higher – MARKET DATA RELEASES TODAY - Other data that analysts will be looking out for today include Turkey’s trade balance; GDP from Spain; the unemployment rate from Norway; mortgage approvals from UK; CPI and GDP from the eurozone; CPI from Italy; and South Africa’s trade balance – FTSE GLOBAL MARKETS – Our offices will be closed on Monday, May 2ndt. We wish our readers and clients a happy and restful May bank holiday and we look forward to reconnecting on Tuesday May 3rd. Happy Holidays!

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Commodities, prices and the crisis after this Photograph © Kirsty Pargeter/ Dreamstime.com, supplied October 2013.

Commodities, prices and the crisis after this

Tuesday, 29 October 2013
Commodities, prices and the crisis after this With Syria dominating the headlines commodities, especially oil and gold, are yo-yoing in sync with the news. Though this makes fertile trading ground for short term investors, for long term investors it is harder to separate the “noise” generated by the sabre-rattling from where long term commodities prices could realistically be. What’s the solution? By Vanya Dragomanovich. http://www.ftseglobalmarkets.com/media/k2/items/cache/e3e43e64ef51c1e045494b824af806e9_XL.jpg

With Syria dominating the headlines commodities, especially oil and gold, are yo-yoing in sync with the news. Though this makes fertile trading ground for short term investors, for long term investors it is harder to separate the “noise” generated by the sabre-rattling from where long term commodities prices could realistically be. What’s the solution?
By Vanya Dragomanovich.

The last few years have been thick with crises and conflict situations in the Middle East: Syria, Libya, Egypt and Iran, while Europe and the US have dished out their own market-moving contributions in the form of the Greek debt crisis, US debt ceiling negotiations and quantitative easing. All of the above will move commodities markets (mostly oil and gold) in the short term, typically up to 10% and occasionally, and then very short term, up to 20%.


Société Générale Investment Bank analysts have dissected the factors that influence the price of 22 com­modities and found that a crisis will increase the degree to which the fundamentals of supply and demand will influence markets.




In a normal situation, that is, a market not driven by geopolitical or important financial news or fundamentals (such as barrels of oil produced versus oil consumed by cars; or ounces of gold mined versus ounces of jewellery bought) will play the biggest role in price variations. Before the collapse of Lehman Brothers supply and demand accounted for about 80% of the price variation for commodities and the rest was made up from macroeconomic data, currency strength and market liquidity.


The financial crisis disrupted this pattern and after Lehman the average percentage of the price move explained by underlying fundamentals fell to 71%. However, as the global economic outlook is beginning to improve fundamentals are starting to play a bigger role again.  “Our analysis shows a clear regime change this summer in terms of what is driving commodities,” claims Michael Haigh, SGIB analyst in New York. Fundamentals now account for 83%, the highest level in the last seven years. News like that from the Middle East will tip the balance even further in favour of fundamentals, not only because there is an actual disruption in supply of oil but also because there is a threat of future disruptions.


“A couple of serious supply constraints in recent years confirm what we are seeing as a result of the Syrian crisis and uncertainty—the explanatory power of fundamentals because of geopolitics, for example, picks up when there is supply uncertainty,” says Haigh.


Before the chemical attacks in Syria in late August 2013, fundamentals explained 55% of Brent crude’s price movements but by late August, at which stage the Syrian conflict threatened to take on international proportions, fundamentals drove a highly significant 95% of the price. There was a similar pick-up for Brent crude during the Arab Spring in 2011 and for the grains markets in 2012 when the drought in the US was in full flow.


For instance, for gold, the role of supply and demand on average constitutes 81% of the price variability but can spike as high as 95%, according to SGIB. For Brent crude oil fundamentals make up on average 65% of the price and for copper 69%. For aluminium and silver this number is around 80% while for soft commodities such as coffee and cocoa, or grains and livestock, fundamentals account for over 90% of the price.


Other influencers are the dollar exchange rate, macroeconomics and market liquidity. The on-going normalisation of the global financial system after the 2008 meltdown suggests that the dominant role of fundamentals will stay in place for the foreseeable future. “If so, commodities should trade mainly on their respective fundamentals, allowing for significant dispersion between individual commodities and between commodities and other asset classes,” adds Haigh.


Gold & black gold
When it comes to oil the fundamentals are driven beyond anything else by national interest. 


The two top producers, Saudi Arabia and Russia, each producing around 13% of the global oil supply, have their national budgets linked to the price of oil and both are for similar reasons happy to have the oil price trade between $110 and $150 a barrel. Russia’s budget depends heavily on the country’s exports of gas and oil and as long as the country is careful with its domestic spending the budget breaks even when oil prices are around $100/bbl.


In Saudi Arabia the cost of oil production is not far from $20 a barrel, yet because of heavy domestic spending the country as the lead producer of OPEC polices the price of oil so that it is never far from $110/bbl. If oil prices start falling Saudi Arabia (and potentially the rest of OPEC) can cut production by one million barrels a day in a relatively short period of time. Equally, if prices start to rise too fast, the country can release another one million barrels into the global market.


In addition, both the US and Europe hold large strategic oil reserves which would be released in the case of either a significant shortage or prices rising so high that they hurt the macro economy in those countries. “One natural stabiliser for global oil markets is strategic petroleum reserves. Low commercial inventories could prompt a coordinated release of these government stocks just as we saw in the aftermath of the Libya crisis in 2011. At 1.6bn barrels (of OECD crude oil reserves excluding the US) this safety valve remains ample,” says Francisco Blanch, commodities strategist at Bank of America Merrill Lynch.


In addition the Arab Spring has resulted in the Saudi government pumping billions of pounds into social projects and welfare in order to prevent domestic unrest, “which means that it is now no longer happy with oil prices at $100/bbl or below but at $110/bbl, says Haigh. With political decision makers battle ready when it comes to oil, there is not much scope for prices to move below $100/bbl. That doesn’t mean that prices will not continue to gyrate in reaction to crises like Syria but it does mean that those moves are not likely to be long lived.


Bank of America Merrill Lynch’s Blanch estimates that oil could rally to $120/bbl, not just in reaction to Syria but also because of workers’ protests and port closures in Libya, pipeline attacks in Iraq and oil theft and pipe vandalism in Nigeria. If the Syrian conflict spread into the rest of the region, Turkey and Iraq, then prices could even spike to $150/bbl.


“However, you would only see such a large spike in prices if there was a major escalation of conflict. Otherwise it is much more likely that the price will move up some $10/bbl and that for a short period,” says SGIB analyst Jesper Dannesboe.


When it comes to gold, financial crises will play a much bigger role than geopolitics because demand is spread across the globe in very different ways. For instance demand in the US stems to a large extent from ETF investors, in Europe key buying is roughly evenly distributed between ETF investors and bar and coin buyers, while in India and China jewellery is the main reason to buy gold.


Financial crisis
David Lamb, managing director, Jewellery, at the World Gold Council says that although demand for physical gold rose sharply in the second quarter of this year, particularly demand for jewellery, bars and coins, “overall uptake of gold was down 12% on the year.”


Signs of economic recovery in the US followed by a sparkling rally in equities and bonds meant that ETF investors were no longer looking for safe-haven assets and have been pulling out of gold.

According to the latest quarterly report by the World Gold Council jewellery demand, bar and coin demand and ETF purchases accounted for inflows of $26m, $23m and an outflow of $18m, respectively, in the last quarter. Interestingly, at 110,000kg (3,536,582 troy ounces), US gold production was 8% lower in the first half of 2013, compared to the first half of last year, according to a US Geological Survey  (USGS) report. Nevada mines produced less gold during the first half of this year compared to the second half of 2012 “as a result of lower grades and recoveries in Mill 5 and Mill 6 and lower grade at the Twin Creeks autoclaves,” said the USGS. “Some of the losses were offset by new production at the Emigrant Mine and higher throughput at the Phoenix Mine.”


Since the conflict in Syria started making the headlines gold prices have risen 20% to just over $1,400 an ounce, but the bigger factor has been the Federal Reserve and its plans about quantitative easing and bond buying which has meant that ETF speculators, already negative about gold, are continuing to pull out of the yellow metal.


What then outside of a conflict situation can investors use as a reliable indicator in the sea of information about supply and demand? For oil, this would be weekly inventory data such as the change of inventory levels reported by the US Department of Energy. Analysts will typically look at the year-on-year change to remove seasonal influences, such as spikes in demand during the summer holiday season when more people travel and petrol consumption goes up. A rise in inventory level will point to either oversupply or lack of demand and either way will result in a decline in prices.


Similarly in base metals a reliable indicator is the level of stocks held in London Metal Exchange warehouses or cancelled warrants—stocks which are due to leave warehouses in the near future. Although this number does not explain how much copper or aluminium is produced or consumed globally at any given time it is a very good indicator if there is spare material in the system.


This should provide a good enough idea of where the base-line price for commodities should be and allow for adjusting for a crisis situation. At present all eyes are on Syria, but the crisis in the pipeline is likely to be cause by weakening of emerging markets currencies. If, for instance, the Indian rupee weakens significantly it would stifle the buying of not only gold and oil but of a whole host of metals and raw materials. The only question is will Europe and the US have enough time to recover by then to counteract a drop in demand.

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