Crude oil is expected to rise further over the coming months as rising fuel demand will allow OPEC+ to further reign back the dramatic production cuts from last April, which one year later has seen the price fully recover. However some challenges remain, not least given the risk that a tight supply-led rally as opposed to a demand-driven one may slow the return to demand trend growth.
Part of the gamble in allowing prices to rally this far before demand has fully recovered is based on the assumption that US shale oil producers have turned their focus away from “pump, baby, pump” to creating value for shareholders while bringing down debt. With the price of WTI well above breakeven levels, the coming months will tell whether that discipline can and will be maintained.
Based on the assumption they will, it is clear that OPEC+ has embarked on a tight oil market strategy. It is one that will succeed as long as global fuel demand recovers by the 5.4 million barrels/day currently being projected by the International Energy Agency, and non-OPEC supply growth remains muted at less than one million barrels/day.
While Brent is likely to end 2021 somewhere in the $70s we remain sceptical about the timing as we watch a market that increasingly needs time to cool off and consolidate. Whether it will be given such a break depends on the speed with which OPEC+ adds barrels back into the market, as well as a continued vaccine-led recovery in global mobility.
Precious metals, the most responsive metals to changes in rates and the dollar, had a troubled first quarter as both gold and silver struggled to find a defence against rising US bond yields, and with that a stronger dollar. Rising yields as such are not a major obstacle as long they’re driven by rising inflation expectations. This is not what happened during the first quarter as rising real yields accounted for half the nominal yield spike towards 1.5%.
Looking ahead to the second quarter we base our belief in a recovery on the prospects for inflation starting to rise by more than the market has priced in. It will be slow-moving development which will only accelerate once momentum reach a positive pace strong enough to force hedge funds, who have cut exposure to a near two-year low, back into the market. We maintain the view that gold can reach $2000/oz this year while silver may do even better to reach $33/oz. This is based on the additional tailwind from an in-demand industrial sector driving the gold-silver ratio lower towards 60.
Copper remains one of the commodities with the strongest fundamentals, something that has already driven a doubling of the price since the Covid-driven bottom in 2020. Demand, both investment and physical, is likely to remain strong and an accelerating decarbonisation drive could see the annual supply deficit reach the highest level in many years. With Joe Biden in the White House the green transformation has gone global, and the process towards a more electrified world will require enormous amounts of copper at a time where the future supply funnel looks relatively weak. We see HG copper trade in a wide range with the uptrend from the 2020 lows capping the downside while the upside focus will initially be the $4.65/lb record high from 2011.
Agriculture: The strong rally and with that a record investor involvement look set to cool as we enter the planting and growing season across the northern hemisphere. The last year has seen several food commodities, especially grains and oilseeds, move from ample to much tighter conditions. Weather worries in South America during the first quarter, together with last year’s strong buying from China, has left projected ending stocks for the 2020-21 season at the lowest level in years. With this in mind the focus during the coming months will be planting and growing conditions, especially in the US and the Black Sea region.
Given a highly elevated speculative long, a strong beginning to the planting season could leave the most elevated positions in corn and soybeans exposed to a correction. Demand from China will also be watched closely with renewed outbreaks of African swine fever potentially reducing overseas demand, especially for those two crops.