LONDON - Commodity markets struggled this week, with Brent oil approaching a 17-month low, as traders balanced demand fears and the fragile economic outlook against China’s surprise interest rate cut.
“Macro fears, attitudes to risk and perceptions of the health of the global economy remain in the driver’s seat for now,” said Barclays Capital analyst Sudakshina Unnikrishnan.
“Prices have been choppy and, at the end of the week, are well below the week’s highs.
“A dominant view in the market has been that there is a potential policy response from governments around the world that would take the edge off the more alarming economic possibilities.
“On that score, the ECB and the Bank of England left policy unchanged, while the Fed chairman (Ben Bernanke) struck a balanced tone and avoided making direct overtures to further accommodation.”
However, some commodities won a boost after the People’s Bank of China sprang a surprise interest rate cut on Thursday to boost growth in the Asian powerhouse nation, which is a major consumer of many raw materials.
OIL: World oil prices fell sharply on Monday, plumbing new multi-month depths as the market was shaken by demand worries. Brent oil tumbled to $95.63 per barrel—the lowest level since January 26, 2011. New York crude slid to $81.21 a barrel, which was last seen on October 7.
Prices had slumped as demand worries weighed after recent dismal economic data from China, Europe and the United States. The market also fell as hopes dimmed for stimulus measures to re-energise the faltering US economy, which is the world’s top oil consumer.
“Oil prices have fallen along with equity markets after ... Bernanke tempered hopes that there would be more stimulus for the US economy,” said Victor Shum, senior principal at Purvin and Gertz international energy consultants in Singapore.
Bernanke’s failure to signal any new stimulus on the way for the world’s biggest economy, in remarks Thursday to a Congressional panel, dragged on equity and oil markets.
Worries are also mounting over Chinese demand after Beijing announced a cut in interest rates to boost the world’s second largest economy and biggest energy consuming nation.
Monetary easing had been expected in China following dismal economic figures in April and weak manufacturing numbers in May.
Adding to the gloom, Fitch slashed Spain’s credit rating by three notches on Thursday, from A to BBB—just above junk—and warned it would likely stay in recession this year and next.
The downgrade moved Madrid a step closer to needing an international bailout, following the path of Greece, Ireland and Portugal, as it grapples with a fiscal crisis as well as a struggling banking sector.
Next week, meanwhile, OPEC gathers in Vienna to discuss changing the cartel’s oil output levels, against the backdrop of the weak global economy, fragile energy demand, oversupply and simmering Iran tensions.
The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), whose 12 member nations pump one third of the world’s crude supplies, will meet Thursday.
Experts predict OPEC will keep its official output target at 24.84 million barrels per day (mbpd) — where it has stood for more than three years.
However, its actual output stands at 30.0 mbpd, including extra unofficial production from Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Kuwait and Libya. By late Friday on London’s Intercontinental Exchange, Brent North Sea crude for delivery in July dropped to $97.70 a barrel from $98.43 a week earlier.
On the New York Mercantile Exchange, West Texas Intermediate (WTI) or light sweet crude for July declined to $82.86 from $83.23.
PRECIOUS METALS: Gold fell in value but other precious metals eked out slender gains.
By late Friday on the London Bullion Market, gold reversed to $1,576.50 an ounce from $1,606 a week earlier. Silver rose to $28.17 an ounce from $27.38.
On the London Platinum and Palladium Market, platinum increased to $1,417 an ounce from $1,407. Palladium gained to $613 an ounce, from $607 an ounce.
BASE METALS: Aluminium, copper and nickel hit multi-month lows, but some prices finished the week in positive territory, boosted by the Chinese rate cut.
By late Friday on the London Metal Exchange, copper for delivery in three months fell to $7,291 a tonne from $7,363 a week earlier.
Three-month aluminium decreased to $1,979 a tonne from $1,983. Three-month lead firmed to $1,900.25 a tonne from $1,900.
Three-month tin rose to $19,699 a tonne from $19,290. Three-month nickel advanced to $16,533 a tonne from $16,174.
Three-month zinc gained to $1,882 a tonne from $1,875.
COFFEE: Arabica prices dived to 154.25 cents per pound, reaching a level last seen in June 2010, as analysts predicted a surplus.
By Friday on NYBOT-ICE, Arabica for delivery in July stood at 155.55 US cents a pound from 158.85 cents a week earlier.
On LIFFE, Robusta for delivery in July dipped to $2,095 a tonne from $2,130.
COCOA: Cocoa futures rebounded from the previous week’s losses as speculators ploughed into the market.
“Investors are heavily participating in speculative buying, waiting for demand to creep up before selling when demand is high enough,” said trade publication The Public Ledger.
By Friday on LIFFE, London’s futures exchange, cocoa for delivery in July advanced to £1,520 a tonne from £1,465 a week earlier.
In New York on the NYBOT-ICE, cocoa for July increased to $2,185 a tonne from $2,067.
SUGAR: Sugar also staged a slight rebound after tumbling the previous week to levels last seen in August 2010.
By Friday on LIFFE, the price of a tonne of white sugar for delivery in August rose to $572.20 from $554 a week earlier.
On NYBOT-ICE, the price of unrefined sugar for July increased to 19.83 US cents a pound from 19.27 cents.
RUBBER: Prices fell with production entering its peak period and global demand slowing due to the gloomy economic outlook.
By Friday, the Malaysian Rubber Board’s benchmark SMR20 dropped to 280.55 US cents a kilo from 311.15 cents the previous week.