Oil prices stable amid OPEC supply cuts, but US-China trade war drags

Markets remained tense amid concerns the Sino-US trade war could trigger a broad economic slowdown. Above, a China National Offshore Oil Corporation oil refinery in China’s southern Guangdong province. (Reuters)
Updated 27 May 2019
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Oil prices stable amid OPEC supply cuts, but US-China trade war drags

  • Producers, known as OPEC+, have been withholding supply since the start of the year to tighten the market and prop up prices
  • But Monday’s gain could not make up for falls last week

SINGAPORE: Oil prices were stable on Monday amid ongoing supply cuts by producer club OPEC, although markets remained tense amid concerns the Sino-US trade war could trigger a broad economic slowdown.
Front-month Brent crude futures, the international benchmark for oil prices, were at $68.79 per barrel at 0247 GMT, up 10 cents, or 0.2 percent, from their last close.
US West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures were at $58.54 per barrel, 9 cents below their last settlement.
“The relative strength of the very short-end of the (price) curve likely reflects the market pricing in a known variable of lower supplies from OPEC+,” said Edward Bell, commodity analyst at Emirates NBD bank.
A group of producers led by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), known as OPEC+, has been withholding supply since the start of the year to tighten the market and prop up prices.
But Monday’s gain could not make up for falls last week, when both crude futures contracts registered their biggest price declines this year amid concerns that the US-China trade dispute could accelerate a global economic slowdown.
“Sentiment remains fragile and vulnerable to any deterioration in US-China trade frictions,” said Jeffrey Halley, senior market analyst at futures brokerage OANDA in Singapore.
Money managers cut their net long US crude futures and options positions in the week to May 21, the US Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) said on Friday.
“Some signs of low confidence are creeping into positioning data,” Bell said.
In oil futures markets, the trade war effect is better seen beyond the spot market.
“The impact from a trade war is a more medium- to long-term issue and December spreads weakened sharply over the last week,” he said.
Beyond financial markets, there are also signs on the ground of a slowdown in growth in oil demand.
Amid the trade disputes between the United States and China, profits for China’s industrial firms dropped in April on slowing demand and manufacturing activity, according to data published by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) on Monday.
China’s automobile sales, a key driver of global oil demand growth, will reach around 28.1 million units this year, unchanged from levels seen in 2018, when the country’s auto market contracted for the first time in more than two decades, state news agency Xinhua reported on Sunday.
The outlook for flat car sales may be too optimistic still, as monthly sales have so far declined for 10 consecutive months.
A bright spot for carmakers, although not for the oil industry, is that sales of new energy vehicles are likely to grow by about 27 percent to hit 1.6 million units, from 1.26 units in 2018, the report said.


After one year in office, Pakistan's economy remains government’s biggest challenge

Updated 20 August 2019
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After one year in office, Pakistan's economy remains government’s biggest challenge

  • Pakistan’s stocks declined by 32 percent and its currency lost its value by 29 percent in a year
  • Economist say Pakistan has got major support from the Arab world due to its new political leadership

KARACHI: Pakistan’s ongoing economic turmoil has overshadowed the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party’s first anniversary celebrations, as analysts and traders point out that the country’s stock market has witnessed a decline of 32 percent, the national currency has lost its value by 29 percent and the bullion market price has escalated by 60 percent within the last one year.
Prime Minister Imran Khan assumed the country’s top political office on August 18, 2018, promising wide-ranging reforms and economic turnaround. However, his administration found itself struggling against tough economic challenges that included mounting current account and fiscal deficits.
The situation triggered tremendous uncertainty in the stock exchange, making it one of the worst performing markets in Asia. The bench mark KSE 100 index declined from 42,446 points on August 17, 2018, to 28,764 points on August 16, 2019, recording a staggering decline of 32 percent.
“The situation of the market became worse as it remained in the grip of negative sentiments in the backdrop of economic conditions fueled by current account deficit, interest rate hike, and currency devaluations,” Muhammad Faizan Munshey, head of foreign institutional sales at Next Capital, told Arab News.
The stock market on Monday rebounded and gained 798 points to close at 29,562. “The worst condition is almost over and the market is expected to rebound in the future as well,” he added.
Analyst believe that the country’s bourse has bottomed out and the prices are expected to rebound, provided that the growth drivers remain in place. “The government must focus on growth drivers, such as exports, job creation and tax collections, for economic recovery,” Samiullah Tariq, director research at Arif Habib Limited, told Arab News.
During the PTI’s first year in office, the country devalued its currency by almost 29 percent from Rs123.50 against a dollar to Rs159.10 in the interbank market.
Analyst believe the rupee devaluation was done to fulfil the conditions of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) before Islamabad could avail $6 billion bailout package. “There were two reasons cited for the rupee devaluation: the first was the IMF’s free-float requirement and the second was that the Pakistani rupee was overvalued and needed stabilization,” Zafar Paracha, general secretary of Exchange Companies Association of Pakistan, told Arab News.
Pakistan’s central bank governor in June this year tried to dispel the impression that the state bank was reluctant to intervene in the currency market due to the IMF conditions, saying that the country had “adopted a market-based exchange rate system.”
According to Paracha, however, the policy shift took place after the Pak rupee hit a high of 165 against the dollar, saying “it was only then that they [the State Bank and the IMF] realized that free float was not suitable for our market and decided to adopt the market-based exchange rate mechanism instead.”
He added that the lull in the currency market was due to Eid al-Adha related foreign currency inflows. “I don’t see any steps taken to stabilize the economy. Pakistan’s economy does not need ad hoc measures. The change of finance ministers also resulted in a complete shift in policies earlier this year. What the country requires at the moment, however, are carefully crafted stabilization policies that are kept in place for five to ten years.”
Much like the stock and currency markets, the bullion market also experienced volatility as the rate of gold hit Rs89,000 per tola – or approximately 12 grams – on Saturday before cooling down to Rs88,000 on Monday. This rate stood at Rs54,750 a year earlier.
Bullion traders expect the volatility to continue in the market, saying that there has also been a decline in the purchasing power of consumers. “We expect that gold would hit Rs100,000 in the foreseeable future,” Haji Haroon Rasheed Chand, president of All Sindh Saraf Jewelers Association, told Arab News.
Under the circumstances, senior economist say that the country will have to take tough measures with harsh economic and political implications. “Last year, around one million people lost their jobs, poverty increased because the prices of goods jacked up and the growth rate of our economy slowed down,” Dr Hafeez Pasha, former finance minister, told Arab News, adding that “hard times are going to end.”
“Due to our new leader, we have got major support from the Arab world,” he said. “The good thing is that our Arab friends supported the country when it was in dire need and we must thank them for what they have done for us.”
“We received $3 billion from Saudi Arabia and they also extended us the deferred oil payment facility that began in July this year. The United Arab Emirates also deposited $2 billion and Qatar extended $500 million as well,” he added.