Is a major oil price rally coming?

Commodities

More vaccine news and lighter US lockdowns could help oil stage a major rally in the coming months.

Oil trading

WTI and Brent is already holding steady at above $40 per barrel. Oil futures have risen 8% on their January levels so far.

Further price increases could be coming, primarily driven by major progress on finding a Covid-19 vaccine.

Monday 16th November saw American firm Moderna announce its vaccine is 95% successful in preliminary trials. And, unlike Pfizer’s, Moderna says its vaccine can be stored in regular refrigeration temperatures too.

A number of other pharmaceutical companies, including GlaxoSmithKline, Sanofi, CureVac, and Johnson & Johnson, are making headway on their own vaccines.

With mass vaccination, the pandemic, it is hoped, can be halted. Broad-market vaccination is forecast for mid-2021.

All the above could be good news for oil demand as long as progress remains constant.

OPEC predictions will be potentially validated by this news. According to the group’s predictions dating from July, demand could spike 25% by 2021.

That would mean oil demand would hit 29.8m barrels per day – higher than 2019’s volumes.

Speaking of OPEC, it is considering extending its production cuts to help stabilise oil prices. Currently, OPEC plans to taper production by 2m barrels per day in January. Now, it is considering no taper until the spring, with an extended timeframe of 3-6 months.

However, with the last round of OPEC cut compliance standing at 96%, commentators believe lower compliance for its proposed three-month production cut extension could happen.

The US is also looking at lighter lockdown measures as it battles its second Covid-19 wave.

Latest US oil inventory data says stocks stand at 488m barrels as of November 12th. New data will be published on Wednesday 18th November.

Natural gas

US natural gas storage rose by 8m cubic feet last week as reports of a bearish market roll in.

Warmer November temperatures in the coming two weeks are expected to keep reserves high and demand middling.

US citizens are using less gas-based heating as temperatures continue to stay warm this month, which in turn is keeping prices low.

The EIA forecasts that U.S. dry natural gas production will average 91.0 Bcf per day in 2020, down from an average of 93.1 Bcf per day in 2019.

Could natural gas prices follow WTI and go negative?

Commodities

Natural gas prices could follow oil into negative territory, according to Wang Yusuo, the chairman of ENN Energy Holdings, one of China’s largest distributors. According to a Bloomberg report, he said a lack of storage could send prices negative for a short while.

Natural gas has traded weaker all year, at or around record lows because of oversupply and lack of demand. The dynamics are very similar to oil markets. Last month, the May WTI contract went negative as expiry approached because of a lack of capacity to store the oil.

“For natural gas, I have heard about the possibility of negative prices. I also think it could happen,” Wang was reported as saying. “That’s because natural gas has even more limited storage capacity and its production is also more rigid. So it may happen. But I don’t think it will be a dominant or long-lasting scenario.”

Read the latest natural gas news in the Marketsx online trading platform.

Chart: Nat gas prices are testing the Apr 24th low and briefly plunged below this level, which may open up path to 1.60 again.

Oil tumult worries investors as equities retreat

Morning Note

Gyrations and anomalies in the crude oil market grabbed all the attention yesterday, Rightly so, as West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude – the US benchmark – tumbled into negative territory for the first time ever. Prices plunged at one stage to -$40, before climbing back into positive territory.  It was a staggering event.

A few things need to be considered. First this only related to the May contract which was about to expire and had become very illiquid as major trading desks had given up on it several days prior. CME Group data indicated volume of 122k for May contract vs 780k for Jun. Two, the Jun contract remained much firmer, albeit it too was dragged lower towards $20.

You need to bear in mind that Nymex WTI is a physical contract – if you hold it expiration you need to take delivery. Normally as you approach expiration of a futures contract, traders simply roll their positions over to the next month without any fuss. What we saw yesterday was very much a roll over problem – traders holding the May contract couldn’t find any buyers because no one with the ability to take delivery wanted it.

This is because of the collapse in physical demand for crude products like petrol and jet fuel, which means the storage capacity at hubs like Cushing, Oklahoma is near to ‘tank tops’. So, what we got was a severe dislocation as paper traders found they had to offload positions without any liquidity or bid in the market. A unique event, but one that reflects how financial markets can become very dysfunctional very quickly when things go bad.

And whilst it wasn’t a good day for the oil majors, Chevron and Exxon Mobil fell around 4%, hardly the meltdown suggested by the front month implosion. The kind of dislocation witnessed yesterday, however much some may downplay it, points to a fundamental problem in oil markets, namely a lack of storage capacity and demand. But it also shows the market trying to do its job, forcing the price down enough to shut production. The problem is closing down production sites is not that easy and not cheap, so producers are desperately trying to avoid it.

Donald Trump says he will add 75m barrels to the US SPR – always one for a deal. OPEC is said to be looking at cutting oil output immediately, rather than waiting until next month. You should note that Brent is much more stable, albeit still pressured to the downside, as OPEC+ cuts are due to take effect and storage constraints are less pronounced.

WTI – for Jun – was down testing the $20. It’s hard to see how it can hold up against the immense pressure from the lack of storage.

Equities are only 15% from their February all-time highs, but the world seems ‘more than 15% screwed up’. That’s how Howard Marks, the co-founder of Oaktree Capital Management, summed up the current state of the bear market rally whilst talking to CNBC yesterday.

The S&P 500 finished the day lower by 1.8%, with futures pointing lower again today and now under the 50-day moving average. European markets are softer, with the FTSE 100 trading under 5700 but remains in the bullish channel, with support coming in at 5600. The DAX is testing trend support around 10,500.

Germany 30 Cash, 1-Hour Chart, Marketsx – 08.16 UTC+1, April 21st, 2020

In FX, the pound retains its bearish bias with GBPUSD making fresh lows overnight before bouncing back into the horizontal channel that has dominated since last Wednesday. The 1-hr MACD may be about to show a positive move. Price action is anchored on the lower Bollinger band.

GBP/USD, 1-Hour Chart, Marketsx – 08.20 UTC+1, April 21st, 2020

UK unemployment figures were a lot better than expected, with the claimant count change up just 12k vs 170k expected. Unemployment emerged at 4%, up from the 3.9% before while average earnings fell to +2.8% vs 3% previously. There will be a lot of hope that the furlough scheme is working, and the UK government support is enough to prevent an unemployment crisis. But a lot depends on how quick you end the restrictions.

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