WCU: Commodity correction may have exhausted itself – Saxo Bank

WCU: Commodity correction may have exhausted itself

By Ole Hansen, Head of Commodity Strategy at Saxo Bank

The correction that for some commodities already started back in March has since the end of July increasingly been showing signs of reversing. According to the Bloomberg commodity sector indices, the correction period triggered peak to bottom moves of 41% in industrial metals, 31% in grains and 27% in energy. The main reason for the dramatic correction following a record run of strong gains was the change in focus from tight supply to worries about demand.

Apart from China’s slowing growth outlook due to its zero-Covid policy and housing market crisis hitting industrial metals, the most important driver has been the way in which central banks around the world have been stepping up efforts to curb runaway inflation by forcing down economic activity through aggressively tightening monetary conditions. This process is ongoing but recent economic data strength, dollar weakness and signs inflation may have peaked have all helped support markets that have gone through weeks and in some cases months of sharp price declines, and with that an aggressive amount of long liquidation from financial traders as well as selling from macro-focused funds looking for a hedge against an economic downturn.

With the broad position adjustments having run their course, the focus has returned to supply which in many cases remains tight, thereby providing renewed support and problems for those who have been selling markets looking for even lower prices in anticipation of recession and lower demand.

The behaviour of spot commodity prices, as seen through first month futures contracts, rarely gives us the full fundamental picture with the price action often being dictated by technical price-driven speculators and funds focusing on macroeconomic developments, as opposed to the individual fundamental situation. The result of this has been a period of aggressive selling on a combination of bullish bets being scaled back but also increased selling from funds looking to hedge an economic slowdown.

An economic slowdown, or in a worst-case scenario a recession, would normally trigger a surplus of raw materials as demand falters and production is slow to respond to a downturn in demand. However, during the past three months of selling, the cost of commodities for immediate delivery has maintained a healthy premium above prices for later deliveries. The chart below shows the spread measured in percent between the first futures and the 12-month forward futures contract, and while the tightness has eased a bit, we are still seeing tightness across a majority, especially within energy and agriculture. A sign that the market has sold off on expectations more than reality, and it raises the prospect of a strong recovery once the growth outlook stabilises.

Crude oil: The downward trending price action in WTI and Brent for the past couple of months is showing signs of reversing on a combination of the market reassessing the demand outlook amid continued worries about supply and who will and can meet demand going forward. The recovery from below $95 in Brent and $90 in WTI this week was supported by signs of softer US inflation reducing the potential peak in the Fed fund rates, thereby improving the growth outlook. In addition, the weaker dollar and improving demand, especially in the US where gasoline prices at the pumps have fallen below $4 per gallon for the first time since March.

In addition, the International Energy Agency (IEA) lifted its global consumption estimate by 380 kb/d, saying soaring gas prices amid strong demand for electricity is driving utilities to switch from expensive gas to fuel-based products. Meanwhile, OPEC may struggle to raise output in the coming months due to limited spare capacity. While pockets of demand weakness have emerged in recent months, we do not expect these to materially impact on our overall price-supportive outlook. Supply-side uncertainties remain too elevated to ignore, not least considering the soon-to-expire releases of crude oil from US Strategic Reserves and the EU embargo of Russian oil fast approaching. With this in mind, we maintain our $95 to $115 range forecast for the third quarter.

Gold was heading for a fourth weekly gain, supported by a weaker dollar after the lower-than-expected US CPI and PPI data helped reduce expectations for how high the Fed will allow rates to run. However, rising risk appetite as seen through surging stocks and bond yields trading higher on the week have so far prevented the yellow metal from making a decisive challenge at key resistance above $1800/oz, and the recent decline in ETF holdings and low open interest in COMEX futures points to a market that is looking for a fresh and decisive trigger. We believe the markets newfound optimism about the extent to which inflation can successfully be brought under control remains too optimistic and together with several geopolitical worries, we see no reason to exit our long-held bullish view on gold as a hedge and diversifier. 

Gold has found some support at the 50-day moving average line at $1783, andneeds to hold $1760 in order to avoid a fresh round of long liquidation the short-term. While some resistance is located just above $1800 gold needs a decisive break above $1829 in order to trigger the momentum needed to attract fresh buying in ETFs and managed money accounts in futures.

Copper has rebounded around 18% since hitting a 20-month low last month, thereby supporting a general recovery across industrial metals, the hardest hit sector during the recent correction. Supported by a softer dollar, data showing the US economy remains robust, easing concerns about the demand outlook in China and not least disruptions to producers in Asia, Europe as well as South America potentially curtailing supply at a time when exchange-monitored inventories remain at a decade low. All developments that have forced speculators to cut back recently established short positions.

The potential for an improved demand outlook in China and BHP’s recent announcement that it has made an offer for OZ Minerals and its nickel and copper-focused assets, is the latest in a series of global acquisitions aimed at shoring up supplies of essential metals for the energy transition. With its high electrical conductivity, copper supports all the electronics we use, from smartphones to medical equipment. It already underpins our existing electricity systems, and it is crucial to the electrification process needed over the coming years in order to reduce demand for energy derived from fossil fuels.

Following a temporary recovery in the price of copper around the beginning of June when China began easing lockdown restrictions, the rally quickly ran out of steam and copper went on to tumble below key support before eventually stabilizing after finding support at $3.14/lb., the 61.8% retracement of the 2020 to 2022 rally. Since then, the price has recovered strongly but may temporarily pause after reaching finding resistance in the $3.70/lb area. We maintain a long-term bullish view on copper and prefer buying weakness instead of selling into strength.

The grains sector traded at a five-week high ahead of Friday’s supply and demand report from the US Department of Agriculture. The Bloomberg Grains Index continues to recover following its 28% June to July correction with gains this past week being led by wheat and corn in response to a weaker dollar and not least hot and dry weather in the US and another heatwave in Europe raising concerns about yield and production. Hot and dry weather at a critical stage for yield developments ahead of the soon-to-be-harvested crop has given the World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates report some additional attention with surveys pointing to price support with the prospect of lower yields lowering expectations for the level of available stocks ahead of the coming winter.

Cotton, up 8% this month has seen the focus switch from growth and demand worries, especially in China, to deepening global supply concerns as heatwaves in the US and China hurt production prospects. Friday’s monthly supply and demand report (WASDE) from the US Department of Agriculture was expected to show lower US production driving down ending stocks by around 10% to 2.2 m bales, an 11-year low.

Arabica coffee, in a downtrend since February, has also seen a steady rise since bouncing from key support below $2/lb last month. A persistent and underlying support from South American production worries has reasserted itself during the past few weeks as the current on-season crop potentially being the lowest since 2014. Brazil’s drought and cold curbed flowering last season and severe frosts in July 2021 led farmers to cut down coffee trees at a time of high costs for agricultural inputs, notably fertilizer. In addition, Columbia another top producer, has seen its crop being reduced by too much rainfall.

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