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Commodities Week Ahead: Oil Bears, OPEC In Game Of Dare; Gold To Drift

By Investing.com (Barani Krishnan/Investing.com)CommoditiesMar 29, 2021 03:53AM ET
www.investing.com/analysis/commodities-week-ahead-oil-bears-opec-in-game-of-dare-gold-to-drift-200570013
Commodities Week Ahead: Oil Bears, OPEC In Game Of Dare; Gold To Drift
By Investing.com (Barani Krishnan/Investing.com)   |  Mar 29, 2021 03:53AM ET
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The big question in oil is who’ll win as this week closes: the bears or OPEC+? 

The 13-member Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and its ten non-member allies—collectively known as OPEC+—won this year’s first two rounds when it managed to surprise short sellers in oil, first with a deep output cut for February-March, then with its pledge to withhold that until April.

Those two rounds produced an extraordinary win for the producer alliance. US crude benchmark West Texas Intermediate and UK-based global oil gauge Brent both jumped around 40% between Jan. 4 (a day before the first OPEC+ meeting of 2021) and Mar. 8 (the peak reached after the second meeting on Mar. 4).

Oil Daily
Oil Daily

But since those highs, both benchmarks have given back 10% of their gains in just 10 days.

Now, as the third OPEC+ meeting looms on Apr. 1, bets are on the alliance to once again withhold an output hike for May; maybe even double down with a cut. 

If history is a guide, then this round should go to the alliance too.

Yet, if the recent volatility in crude holds any relevance—and it should by any measure—then there’s every chance that crude prices will take a renewed dip—even plunge—this week. 

With The Suez Canal Unblocked, Oil Has One Less Reason To Rally 

There’s good reason to suspect the price swings of the past 10 days in oil are not over. With the Ever Given container tanker finally freed from the Suez Canal after blocking one of the most important paths for crude shipments for almost a week, oil prices have one less reason to rally.

The recent swings in oil moreover have been uncharacteristic for a market that in the four previous months went almost in one direction—up. The roller-coaster ride began on Mar. 18 with a 7% plunge that was partially recovered in the next two sessions. Since Tuesday though, the market has gyrated like a yoyo, falling 6% and recovering nearly all of that on Wednesday; then taking another 4% tumble on Thursday, before recouping almost the entire lot by Friday.

By 1:30 AM ET (05:30 GMT) on Monday though, WTI hovered at just under $60 per barrel, down 2.3% on the day. On Mar. 8, it hit a high of almost $68, rising from an Oct. 30 low of just under $36.  

Brent’s latest trade was just above $63 per barrel, down 2.2%. On Mar. 8, it hit peaks of just above $71, rising from a low of around $38 on Oct. 30.

The end-October to mid-March rally in oil was driven by OPEC+ production cuts and optimism over economic reopenings from COVID-19 lockdowns, driven by the global vaccination drive against the virus.

Since April, the 23-nation OPEC+ has withheld between nine and seven million barrels per day of supply from the market. 

The most critical component of the OPEC+ cuts has been the Saudi portion—which has accounted for anywhere between one and two million barrels per day since April. 

In January, when oil bears were betting on the alliance hiking production amid signs of strengthening demand, the Saudis doubled down with an additional one million-barrel cut for February and March, sending crude prices soaring. Saudi Oil Minister Abdulaziz bin Salman had boasted then that he would make life "hell" for short-sellers in oil.

When OPEC+ met again earlier this month to decide on April production levels, the Saudis again announced a one million-barrel cut for next month instead of a production hike. The difference, though, was the tone of Oil Minister Abdulaziz, who seemed genuinely concerned about demand. 

In this week’s meeting for May quotas, the smart money is on the Saudis trying to clamp down on output again.

OPEC+ Will Find It Hard to Surprise

But some—like John Kilduff, partner at New York energy hedge fund Again Capital—think the kingdom’s propensity to surprise is over. Referring to Riyadh’s actions in the past two OPEC+ meetings, Kilduff explained:

“You do it once, it’s a surprise. Twice maybe. Third time? I wouldn’t think so. I think another cut is already baked into the cake and the market is beginning to get a little desensitized to the OPEC show.”

Jeffrey Halley, co-head of Asia-Pacific research for online broker OANDA, concurs with Kilduff that the chance of an OPEC+ production hike—the only thing that could surprise the market, given the circumstances—was virtually nil: 

“With Asian importers on refinery maintenance cycles and content to use oil in storage, no solace is likely for oil prices from that direction this week. In this scenario, OPEC+ has almost zero chance of loosening the production cut targets. Of course, OPEC+ has surprised us before, but that is tilted towards supporting prices, and not forcing them lower.”

Oil Swings, Particularly To Downside, Likely To Continue

Halley also believes the market swings seen over the last 10 days in oil will continue, with a bias to the downside. He bases his assumption on how the market sank on Monday on news that the Ever Given tanker had been refloated from where it had run aground in the Suez Canal.

“If the Suez Canal situation is correct, oil’s recovery pre-OPEC+ may well be over. Given the volatility (of) last week, Brent looks set to move to the lower end of its $60 to $65 a barrel range. Similarly, WTI is likely to drop to the lower side of its $57.50 to $62.50 a barrel weekly range.”

Gold Continues With Target To Exceed $1,750

Gold, meanwhile, is expected to continue its positive-but-still-anemic run of the past two weeks as bulls try to find a way to break beyond the mid-$1,700 level that’s critical for a return to $1,800 pricing.

Gold Daily
Gold Daily

In last week’s trade, the gold price went through several hoops before settling at a slightly lower level than where it was a week ago. Most, importantly, the market did not crack the key ceiling of $1,750 per ounce, despite coming within less than $4 of meeting that test.

As is the norm, what stands in gold’s way are yields on the US 10-year Treasury note, which look likely to get beyond the 1.75% level next, and a Dollar Index that could set new 92 highs.

Both US gold futures and spot gold hovered at just under $1,730.  

Long associated with tags such as safe-haven, store of value and inflation-hedge, gold has debunked such connotations for at least six months now, plunging particularly when market hype over inflation sent Treasury yields soaring instead.

The yellow metal demonstrated the faith placed on it by investors through the height of the pandemic, rising from March 2020 lows of under $1,500 to reach a record high of nearly $2,100. It has plunged since, briefly turning into a bear market early month when it lost as much 20% to hit lows under $1,675. 

While gold has crawled out of that hole, it's been stuck under $1,750, behaving more like a patient on life support than one on the clear path to recovery.

Disclaimer: Barani Krishnan uses a range of views outside his own to bring diversity to his analysis of any market. For neutrality, he sometimes presents contrarian views and market variables. He does not hold a position in the commodities and securities he writes about.

Commodities Week Ahead: Oil Bears, OPEC In Game Of Dare; Gold To Drift
 

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Commodities Week Ahead: Oil Bears, OPEC In Game Of Dare; Gold To Drift

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Comments (6)
Mohammad Atif
Mohammad Atif Mar 29, 2021 5:14PM ET
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he is long on gold.. clear path of recovery!! when ?? after threshold of trading acct when gold touch 200ema at 1540 & 1430..
Heine Pedersen
Heine Pedersen Mar 29, 2021 9:53AM ET
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The yield goes up because the bonds can't find buyers, right? Why is this bad for gold???
Barani Krishnan
Barani Krishnan Mar 29, 2021 9:53AM ET
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Because, unfortunately, it's also a reflection of rising interest rates, although the Fed is keeping down the actual monthly rates that it sets.
Arno Pfohl
JackR3acher Mar 29, 2021 7:06AM ET
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OPECs future is doomed due to market share loss. Eventually they will be wiped out by the monopolists.
Barani Krishnan
Barani Krishnan Mar 29, 2021 7:06AM ET
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OPEC has been a figurative cat with (more than) nine lives. It has hung around by surviving every crisis and prediction of doom thrown at it over the last 40 years. This is a bunch held together by common interests of survival dependent on one commodity. But you're right that its interest is waning with each crisis, though the latter part of this pandemic has given it a sway over prices beyond what many thought. We'll just have to see how this plays out.
Larayna Aelin
Larayna Aelin Mar 29, 2021 7:06AM ET
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I think that the total repercussions of the canal blockage have yet to be felt. Im usually not doom and gloom so i hope im wrong....
Barani Krishnan
Barani Krishnan Mar 29, 2021 7:06AM ET
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Larayna Aelin  Ha ha .. indeed. According to reports so far, "80%" of the vessel is free and that the "easy part" of the refloat has been done -- whatever that means. Yes, that's another one to watch.
Arno Pfohl
JackR3acher Mar 29, 2021 7:06AM ET
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I would not be surprised if ship is salvaged just before the OPEC meeting. aka Trojan Horse"
Barani Krishnan
Barani Krishnan Mar 29, 2021 7:06AM ET
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Arno Pfohl  Already sir: https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/middle_east/suez-ship-canal-ever-given-stuck/2021/03/29/0dd5babe-9017-11eb-aadc-af78701a30ca_story.html
Mr Doodl
Mr Doodl Mar 29, 2021 5:23AM ET
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Dont expect gold to rally while USD and the yields are rising.
Barani Krishnan
Barani Krishnan Mar 29, 2021 5:23AM ET
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Mehmet, that's essentially true.
Rosta Pilny
Raasta Mar 29, 2021 4:39AM ET
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remember the war for market share last year? I wonder how long OPEC+ will hold in this game of chicken.
Barani Krishnan
Barani Krishnan Mar 29, 2021 4:39AM ET
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Raasta, it's an interesting question. Trump came to OPEC'S rescue the last time, despite constantly tweeting against it in the pre-pandemic days to keep pump prices down before the 2018 midterms. This time, OPEC is very much on its own.
Shane Gg
Shane Gg Mar 29, 2021 4:01AM ET
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I won't be surprised is OPEC+ does increase output. Especially considering they are already making exemptions for Russia. They might need the price higher, but they don't have many other domestic products that bring revenue. Nearly all of OPEC+ nations are Banana Republics and they have to stay afloat.
Barani Krishnan
Barani Krishnan Mar 29, 2021 4:01AM ET
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Shane, if there's a production hike, it will be a surprise on the downside. The Saudis have kept the recovery game going for a year but something had to give with the insane end Oct to mid March rally. You're finally seeing some common sense creep back into the market. It's essentially the Saudis who need $80 and above oil. The rest, especially the Russians, can get by with sub $50 even.
Shane Gg
Shane Gg Mar 29, 2021 4:01AM ET
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Barani Krishnan  Yes, that's true they need the higher price. But keep in mind they've lost market share twice because didn't increase output meaningfully when prices were rallying. After 60-65 a barrel, shale production becomes attractive and then the Saudis lose market share... which was what happened. The only reason we haven't heard a lot about increased shale production thus far is because oil companies over-shot their investments into shale just to have to slow it back down. Companies are near term focusing on investor's share prices... which have rallied greatly. I'm not arguing production will be raised, I'm only saying it won't be a shock to me because I expected it to be raised at the last OPEC+ meeting and it didn't besides the Russia exemption for 170k BPD or whatever it was.
Barani Krishnan
Barani Krishnan Mar 29, 2021 4:01AM ET
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Shane Gg  Spot on. It's nice to hear consensus for something I had been screaming about for months: Lost market share. There IS a price for all these cuts. It was the Saudis who held out in the last round and somehow forced the Russians and Kazakhs to take another incremental increase. Compliance to the Saudis has been too good -- OPEC is seldom a bunch that's THIS disciplined, pandemic notwithstanding -- and we should see the unity fraying soon, with their disparate states of economic recovery and unique challenges within. Case in point, Libya: With its new unified government that's super focused on getting oil out of the ground.
John Brannon
John Brannon Mar 29, 2021 4:01AM ET
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Barani Krishnan  The Iran to China oil trade and the 25 year partnership are surely needling the Saudis. It's somewhat entertaining, watching the Clint Eastwood quoting Saudis lose market share to Iran. I doubt they are willing to tolerate that for too long.
Barani Krishnan
Barani Krishnan Mar 29, 2021 4:01AM ET
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John Brannon  Ha ha ... "Go ahead, make my day!" ... What was AbS even thinking of then? (I bet you could hear muffled voices behind him even then, muttering "Every bear has its day!" :))) But seriously, he thought just shifting to a monthly meeting format instead of half-yearly will always keep him a step ahead of the market? He also promised never to divulge what the group would do. But there isn't much to figure out in OPEC: It's a one-trick pony -- cut, cut and cut. That works splendidly at times -- not always.
 
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