Oil hits three-month high as trade and Brexit fog lift

Global stocks and sterling gained amid relief at the UK election result and progress in resolving the US-China trade war. The 18-month dispute and uncertainty around Brexit have weighed heavily on the world economy. (AFP)
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Updated 14 December 2019

Oil hits three-month high as trade and Brexit fog lift

  • Investor hopes on the rise after US-China progress and UK poll result ‘remove layer of uncertainty for global economy’

LONDON: Oil rose on Friday to its highest price in nearly three months as progress in resolving the US-China trade dispute and Britain’s general election result appeared to lift two clouds that have been dampening investor appetite for risk.

US sources said on Thursday that Washington has set its terms for a trade deal with Beijing, offering to suspend some tariffs on goods and cut others in exchange for Chinese purchases of more American farm goods.

Brent crude, the global benchmark, climbed to the highest since Sept. 23. It was up 45 cents at $64.65 in mid-afternoon trade in London as West Texas Intermediate crude gained 21 cents to $59.39.

The 18-month trade war has been a dampener for oil prices, while uncertainty around Brexit has also weighed. Britain’s ruling Conservative Party won a large majority in Thursday’s general election, giving it the power to take the country out of the EU.

“An eventful past 24 hours has removed a layer of uncertainty for the global economy,” said Stephen Brennock of oil broker PVM.

“Yet it remains to be seen whether the return of the feelgood factor is enough to set oil prices on a definitive northerly trajectory.”

A drop in the US dollar against the backdrop of a strong pound helped boost commodities. 

“Risk appetite among financial investors is now likely to remain high thanks to the deal between the US and China and the forthcoming end to the Brexit cliffhanger,” said Eugen Weinberg, an analyst at Commerzbank.

“This will also benefit the oil price,” he added.

Brent has rallied by almost 21 percent in 2019, supported by efforts by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and allies including Russia to cut production.

The alliance, known as OPEC+, agreed last week to lower supply by a further 500,000 barrels per day as of Jan. 1. They have been limiting supply since 2017, helping to clear a glut that built up in 2014-2016.

OPEC’s own research indicates that the oil market in 2020 may see a small supply deficit, although the International Energy Agency sees global inventories rising despite the further step by OPEC+. 

Global stocks and sterling also gained on Friday as the double dose of relief around US-China trade and the UK election undercut safe-haven sovereign bonds and the Japanese yen, and led markets to scale back expectations of more interest rates cuts around the world.

“Global investors have been given two of the biggest gifts on their Christmas list and should be appreciative for a while at least,” said Sean Callow, a senior forex analyst at Westpac.

“Global equity indices such as MSCI World should set more record highs and sterling could push above $1.36.”

The pound reached its highest since mid-2018 as exit polls and then UK election results wiped out any chance of a victory by the left-wing Labour opposition or a hung parliament, which had been a worry for investors.

Prime Minster Boris Johnson won a commanding majority in Britain’s Parliament, giving him the power to deliver Brexit, though trade talks with the EU are set to drag on for months yet.


Saudi Arabia calls ‘urgent’ meeting of oil producers

Updated 59 min 31 sec ago

Saudi Arabia calls ‘urgent’ meeting of oil producers

  • Crude prices jump after move, which Kingdom says is part of efforts ‘to support global economy in these exceptional circumstances’

DUBAI: Saudi Arabia has called an urgent meeting of the Organization of Oil Exporting Countries and other oil exporters, to discuss restoring the “desired balance” in global energy markets.

The move — which prompted a big jump in the price of oil on global markets — is part of the Kingdom’s “constant efforts to support the global economy in these exceptional circumstances, and in appreciation of the request of the President of the USA, Donald Trump, and the request of friends in the USA,” according to a statement published by the official Saudi news agency.

Global oil prices reacted immediately. Brent crude, the Middle East benchmark, increased by 20 percent, taking it back above $30 a barrel.

The price of crude has been under pressure as a result of collapsing demand due to the coronavirus crisis, and Saudi Arabia’s determination to win market share from American and Russian producers.

During an OPEC meeting in Vienna last month, the Kingdom offered to implement further cuts in oil production but Russia refused to participate.

“Saudi Arabia would like to underscore its efforts during the past period to restore balance in the oil market, as it drew support for that from 22 counties of the OPEC+, but it was not possible to reach an agreement or get consensus,” according to the official Saudi statement.

Oil industry expert Daniel Yergin said: “This represents a recognition of how much the world has changed for oil in a single month as demand falls away so dramatically, and the impact of Donald Trump becoming personally engaged.”

The Saudi call for talks came after a hectic round of communications between the US, Russia and the Kingdom.

In a message posted on Twitter after the Saudi announcement, Trump wrote: “I just spoke to my friend Mohammed bin Salman, crown prince of Saudi Arabia, who spoke with President Putin and I expect and hope that they will be cutting back approximately 10m barrels, and maybe substantially more, which will be great for the oil and gas industry.”

However, officials in Riyadh downplayed any suggestion of a commitment to specific reductions in the levels of oil output. There is no indication yet of when the “urgent” meeting of OPEC and others might happen, nor what will be on the agenda, they said.

President Vladimir Putin denied that he had spoken to the crown prince about the price of oil. Novosti, the official Russian news agency, said there was no such conversation, but added that the president had discussed falling oil prices with other OPEC members and with the US.

“The Americans are worried because of their profitability for shale oil production,” said Putin. “This is also a difficult test for the American economy.”

This week, Saudi Arabia produced more oil in a single day than at any time in its history, with 12 million barrels flowing from pumps at Saudi Aramco, the world’s biggest oil company.