Commodity Weekly: April losses led by grains and industrial metals Commodity Weekly: April losses led by grains and industrial metals Commodity Weekly: April losses led by grains and industrial metals

Commodity Weekly: April losses led by grains and industrial metals

Ole Hansen

Head of Commodity Strategy

Summary:  The commodity sector was heading for its fifth consecutive monthly decline with the Bloomberg Commodity TR Index, which tracks the performance of 24 major commodity futures contracts, spread evenly between energy, metals and agriculture heading for the lowest monthly close since January 2022. During April we have seen broad losses across energy, grains and industrial metals in response to continued concerns about the global economic outlook and a recovery in China that has proven to be less commodity intensive than previous government supported growth sprints

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The commodity sector was heading for its fifth consecutive monthly decline with the Bloomberg Commodity TR Index, which tracks the performance of 24 major commodity futures contracts, spread evenly between energy, metals and agriculture heading for the lowest monthly close since January 2022. During April we have seen broad losses across energy, grains and industrial metals in response to continued concerns about the global economic outlook and a recovery in China that has proven to be less commodity intensive than previous government supported growth sprints. Instead, the acceleration in Chinese growth, potentially reaching 6% this year, has been led by consumer demand and the service sector, rather than infrastructure spending and construction.

Overall, the Bloomberg Commodity Index, as mentioned, traded down by 1.1% on the month with softs – especially sugar and coffee – as well as investment metals, led by platinum and silver, being the only two sectors trading higher. At the bottom of the table, we once again find EU TTF gas, which traded near a 21-month low at €38 a megawatt-hour ($12.3/MMBtu), the weakness being driving by strong LNG imports and inventories being 58% full compared with a long-term average around 38% for this time of year.

Iron ore futures in Singapore trades down 17% on the month having suffered from reduced demand from Chinese steel mills while wheat prices in Paris and Chicago have sunk to fresh cycle lows – thereby extending their longest run of losses since 2021, amid ample supply and optimism over the outlook for crop production in the major Northern Hemisphere production regions spanning from US and Canada to Europe and Russia. Failure to extend the Ukraine grain corridor deal, which Russia on several occasions has threatened to quit, may add some support but for now ships are still leaving Ukraine ports.

Iron ore slumps to $100 as China steel mills cut production

An example of how China’s changed growth focus has negatively impacted commodity prices is iron ore which following a 17% collapse on the futures exchange in Singapore during the past month touched $100 a tons before staging a small recovery as steel mills began restocking ahead of China’s Golden Week holiday in early May. The recent weakness has been driven by reduced demand from China’s steelmakers some of which, according to the China Iron & Steel Association, have been forced to curb loss-making output after a period of disappointing demand and falling prices. The impact of lower prices has been felt across the mining industry where iron producers in Australia and Brazil had spent recent months preparing for a strong rebound in demand from China where steel mills account for 70% of global demand. As a result, BHP, RIO, Vale and FMG have seen losses this past month of between 6% and 9%.

Crude oil has gone from “Mind the gap” to “Mind the crack”

Once again, it was the continued slump in crude oil prices which attracted most of the attention this past week. Four weeks after the surprise OPEC+ production cut helped send prices sharply higher, both Brent and WTI returned to levels that were seen prior to the cut announcement. Driven by global demand concerns as seen through lower refinery margins, not least diesel – the fuel that powers heavy machinery such as truck and construction equipment. As per the table below, we have seen some significant drops in refinery margins for diesel and gasoline across the key hubs this past month and, while some of the factors driving them lower may be of a temporary nature, it may still lead to lower refinery runs and with that lower demand for crude oil.

Do not make important production announcement on a weekend!

It is also becoming clear that OPEC’s increased willingness to micromanage oil supply in order to achieve the highest price possible in coming years, before demand start to slow as the energy transition gathers momentum, has increasingly helped influence the way traders behave and has become part of the current weakness that followed OPEC’s decision to announce an important production cut on a weekend when markets were closed. Let me explain: Following the weekend announcement on April 2, crude oil futures opened sharply higher the following day, without giving buyers and sellers a chance to react before the price had gapped by around five dollars.

Not only did the price jump leave a major price gap that for weeks, acting as a magnet for short sellers to close, but it also forced buyers looking for higher prices to enter longs around $85 in Brent and $80 in WTI. The subsequent price weakness driven by the mentioned drop in refinery margins amid weaker-than-expected demand as well as disappointment over the strength of the China recovery initially gave some tailwinds to short-sellers looking to close the gap, and during the past week that selling accelerated, as traders increasingly were being forced to sell their OPEC inspired long positions.

Where do we go from here?

Saxo keeps the view that Brent looks set to continue trading in the $80’s for the near future while we wait for the expected, albeit reduced, pickup in demand during the second half – as projected and reiterated by OPEC, IEA, and the EIA in their latest oil market reports. A development that will likely boost prices and aggravate an emerging supply deficit in 2H23. However, the recovery in demand is still very uneven with China and a pickup in airline travel so far accounting for the bulk of the expected increase. However, before calm can be restored, the recent downside breaks need to be reversed and, for that to happen, WTI must recover back above $76.50 and Brent above $80.50.

Source: Saxo

Gold and silver’s extended period of consolidation continue

Gold’s period of sideways trading following the March to early April surge extended to a second week, and during this time the yellow metal has continued to bounce well ahead of key support in the $1950-55 area. The developments that so far has supported consolidation instead of a correction has been growth concerns sending US rate cut expectations higher, softer bond yields and a continued lingering banking sector concern, the latter highlighted by the +60% two-day slump in First Republic Bank after it reported worse than expected earnings.

ETFs backed by bullion have following a small reduction seen renewed strength with total holdings reaching 2911.7 tons, and highest since January 10. Speculators in COMEX gold futures meanwhile have been net sellers during the latest two reporting weeks but the 1 million ounce reduction has so far been small change compared with the 12 million they bought in the previous four weeks. Ahead of the May 3 FOMC meeting, the market has priced in a near 75 bps cut before yearend, and almost 100 bps during 2H24. Any signal from the Fed that goes against this assumption may act as a short-term drag on prices.

Overall, Saxo maintains a bullish outlook for precious metals with the reasons highlighted in our recent Commodity Weekly, available here. Resistance in gold at $2012 and $2018 while silver maintains support in the $24.50 area, having so far retraced less than one-quarter of the recent strong gains, perhaps supported by the findings in the recently published World Silver Survey 2023. It said the silver market last year witnessed the largest deficit on record with another deficit being projected for 2023 amid lack of supply due to limited organic growth, project delays and disruptions.   

Copper trades lower as weak China demand offsets a tight long-term supply outlook  

HG copper trades down around 5% on the month with weakness emerging after another upside attempt ran out of steam around $4.2 a pound. It highlights an ongoing battle between short-term demand headwinds versus a long-term outlook pointing to tight market conditions as the electrification of the world gathers momentum and miners struggle to meet future demand. This is because miners will face challenges in the years ahead with lower ore grades, rising production costs and a pre-pandemic lack of investment appetite as the ESG focus reduced the available investment pool provided by banks and funds.

A development that will likely see the market turn into and remain in a deficit in the coming years, thereby underpinning prices to support mining companies' profitability and their appetite for embarking on new multi-billion multi-year projects to add supply. According to Goldman Sachs, regulatory approval for new copper mines has fallen to the lowest in a decade, a major challenge as it often takes 10 to 20 years to permit and build a new mine.

The challenges the sector faces were a key focus at the recently held World Copper Conference in the Chilean capital of Santiago. The main conclusion from the conference, as expected, was that the world’s rising demand for copper will exceed supply over the next decade unless new mines are built. For now, the lower commodity intensity of the China recovery is also having an impact on copper demand, not least considering weak demand from the property, power and automobile sectors which make up around two-thirds of copper consumption in China.

As per the chart below, the metal is currently looking for support, having initially found it around $3.82/lb., the March low. Additional weakness would bring the 200-day simple moving average, currently at $3.77/lb., back into play. A reminder that it was the break above the 200-DMA back in January which helped trigger strong momentum buying all the way up to $4.3550/lb., the current cycle peak from where the price has been drifting lower since. We maintain our long-held and long-term bullish outlook for copper, but with global growth concerns attracting a great deal of attention, the upside may take longer to materialize.

Source: Saxo

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