Opinion

Why oil rebounded last week despite coronavirus doom

Why oil rebounded last week despite coronavirus doom

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Last week proved once more that markets often react on sentiment and perceived outlook rather than to cold, hard facts.

The coronavirus outbreak severely impacted oil demand, a situation underlined by forecasts released last week by both the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and the International Energy Agency (IEA).

The IEA downgraded its demand predictions for this year by 365,000 barrels per day (bpd) to 825,000 bpd, the lowest since 2011. It even expected oil demand to fall by 435,000 bpd during the first quarter of 2020.

OPEC’s downward revisions were less hefty. The organization predicted oil demand to grow by 990,000 bpd in 2020, which included a downward revision of 230,000 bpd.

The two reports were published amidst negative news of the coronavirus. Its impact on Chinese oil demand has been severe, reducing the run rates of refineries by as much as 3 million bpd. The impact of the virus will take 1.1 million bpd out of the market during the first quarter of this year and 344,000 bpd during the second in China – all according to the IEA.

The situation has become so grave that several suppliers are willing to discount the oil price for their eastbound cargo in order to retain market share. According to S&P Global, this mainly affected Brazil, Russia and Angola.

These numbers make sense when looking at the impact the spread of coronavirus has had on global supply chains, especially in the automotive and technology sectors. Hyundai closed factories in Korea, and Chrysler Fiat in Serbia. General Motors is worried about its production lines in the US and several factories in the UK have shortened their hours due to a lack of parts.

Apple has been particularly impacted, with several of its factories in China manufacturing parts or assembling iPhones having been slow to reopen after the lunar new year — if at all.

The outlook on the global economy is bleak. In January the International Monetary Fund (IMF) downgraded global economic growth for 2020 by 0.1 percent to 3.3 percent. That was before worries about the coronavirus emerged.

On Sunday the IMF’s managing director, Kristalina Georgieva, floated a further reduction in the growth rate by 0.1 – 0.2 percentage points. At the same time, she warned about making hasty predictions, because too little was known at this point about how the virus would develop.

Depending how the economic impact of the coronavirus unfolds, the 600,000 bpd might well do the trick and balance markets.

Cornelia Meyer

The impact of the virus is twofold, one lasting and the other one resulting in a rebound after the worst is over. The former is the loss in consumption, travel and tourism during the Chinese lunar new year, constituting a one-time hit, which cannot be recovered.

The second effect is the loss of production in the global supply chain. Industry will, over time, make up for the backlog that creates. Down the line it will probably even result in greater-than-expected demand for oil – the premier fuel for transport – because shipments will resume, and factories will need to compensate for the backlog.

So why then was there a hike in the oil price while the short-term outlook was so bleak? The development ran against what was seen in most other commodities, especially copper. Brent was up by more than $3.60 per barrel or close to 7 percent on the week. The price has dropped a little bit since then, reaching $57.39 per barrel for Brent in early Asian trading on Monday.

The answer is simple. While the short-term outlook is negative, analysts and traders pin great hopes on the upcoming meeting of OPEC+, a grouping of the OPEC member countries and their 10 allies lead by Russia.

Ministers will gather in Vienna on March 5 and 6 and most analysts expect them to follow the recommendations of a technical meeting held earlier this month, which stipulated that the grouping should cut production by an additional 600,000 bpd. That would go beyond the 1.7 million bpd by which OPEC+ reduced production in December of last year. The full 2.3 million bpd should remain off the market until June, when another meeting is scheduled.

Depending how the economic impact of the coronavirus unfolds, the 600,000 bpd might well do the trick and balance markets. There are, however, other factors that could influence developments.

For one, political and internal tensions in Libya have grinded to a halt the country’s oil exports. If the Berlin process achieves its desired results later this quarter, Libyan production, and with it exports, could resume adding to the supply glut.

Secondly, analysts will observe how OPEC+ interacts in March. Saudi Arabia wanted to bring the March meeting forward, but Russia denied the urgency. Russia has so far, many times talked tough ahead of OPEC+ meetings. In the end Moscow relented and consented to play its part in doing what was required to balance markets.

The odds are that the March meeting will be no different and that is clearly what traders anticipate. Should that not be the case, expect the price of oil to slide after March 6.

• Cornelia Meyer is a business consultant, macroeconomist and energy expert. Twitter: @MeyerResources

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News' point-of-view

Singapore Airlines to cut flights as coronavirus epidemic hits demand

Besides visitors to the city-state, Singapore Airlines relies heavily on transit traffic. (Reuters)
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Updated 18 February 2020

Singapore Airlines to cut flights as coronavirus epidemic hits demand

  • Affected destinations include Frankfurt, Jakarta, London, Los Angeles, Mumbai, Paris, Seoul, Sydney and Tokyo
  • Rival Cathay Pacific Airways has said it is cutting 40 percent of capacity across its network

SYDNEY: Singapore Airlines will temporarily cut flights across its global network in the three months to May, it said on Tuesday, as a coronavirus epidemic hits demand for services to the Asian city state, as well as through the key transit hub.
Key affected destinations include Frankfurt, Jakarta, London, Los Angeles, Mumbai, Paris, Seoul, Sydney and Tokyo, the airline said on its website.
“Singapore Airlines and SilkAir will temporarily reduce services across our network due to weak demand as a result of the Covid-19 outbreak,” the carrier said.
“We will continue to monitor the situation and make further adjustments as necessary.”
It declined to say what percentage of capacity it had cut in response to a query from Reuters, citing commercial sensitivity.

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The cuts follow major reductions already announced in services to mainland China and Hong Kong. In the Dec. quarter, flights to mainland China made up 11 percent of capacity for the airline, and more than that for budget arm Scoot.
“It’s not a surprise to see some cuts in flights, given the weak forward bookings that can be expected from the current environment,” said DBS analyst Paul Yong.
Demand on flights to South Korea and Japan had been hit hardest after China, Yong quoted Singapore Airlines’ management team as having told analysts at a results briefing on Monday.
Those were the areas of the biggest cutbacks in Tuesday’s announcement.
Singapore’s tally of 77 cases of the virus is one of the highest outside mainland China, where more than 1,800 people have been killed in the epidemic.
Last week, the Asian tourism and travel hub said it expected visitor numbers to drop by a quarter or more this year, hit by the virus outbreak.
Besides visitors to the city-state, Singapore Airlines also relies heavily on transit traffic. Premium travel has suffered after many business events were canceled across Asia because of the virus.
Hong Kong-based rival Cathay Pacific Airways has said it is cutting 40 percent of capacity across its network, up from 30 percent earlier, due to weak demand.


Oil-rich wealth funds seen shedding up to $225 billion in stocks

Updated 30 March 2020

Oil-rich wealth funds seen shedding up to $225 billion in stocks

  • Risking more losses is not an option for some funds from oil-producing nations

LONDON: Sovereign wealth funds from oil-producing countries mainly in the Middle East and Africa are on course to dump up to $225 billion in equities, a senior banker estimates, as plummeting oil prices and the coronavirus pandemic hit state finances.

The rapid spread of the virus has ravaged the global economy, sending markets into a tailspin and costing both oil and non-oil based sovereign wealth funds around $1 trillion in equity losses, according to JPMorgan strategist Nikolaos Panigirtzoglou.

His estimates are based on data from sovereign wealth funds and figures from the Sovereign Wealth Fund Institute, a research group.

Sticking with equity investments and risking more losses is not an option for some funds from oil-producing nations. Their governments are facing a financial double-whammy — falling revenues due to the spiraling oil price and rocketing spending as administrations rush out emergency budgets.

Around $100-$150 billion in stocks have likely been offloaded by oil-producer sovereign wealth funds, excluding Norway’s fund, in recent weeks, Panigirtzoglou said, and a further $50-$75 billion will likely be sold in the coming months.

“It makes sense for sovereign funds to frontload their selling, as you don’t want to be selling your assets at a later stage when it is more likely to have distressed valuations,” he said.

Most oil-based funds are required to keep substantial cash-buffers in place in case a collapse in oil prices triggers a request from the government for funding.

A source at an oil-based sovereign fund said it had been gradually raising its liquidity position since oil prices began drifting lower from their most recent peak above $70 a barrel in October 2018.

In addition to the cash reserves, additional liquidity was typically drawn firstly from short-term money market instruments like treasury bills and then from passively invested equity as a last resort, the source said.

It’s generally a similar trend for other funds.

“Our investor flows broadly show more resilience than market pricing would suggest,” said Elliot Hentov, head of policy research at State Street Global Advisers. “There has been a shift toward cash since the crisis started, but it’s not a panic move but rather gradual.”

The sovereign fund source said the fund had made adjustments to its actively managed equity investments due to the market rout, both to stem losses and position for the recovery, when it comes.

Exactly how much sovereign wealth funds invest and with whom remain undisclosed. Many don’t even report the value of the assets they manage.

On Thursday, the Norwegian sovereign wealth fund said it had lost $124 billion so far this year as equity markets sunk but its outgoing CEO Yngve Slyngstad said it would, at some point, start buying stocks to get its portfolio back to its target equity allocation of 70 percent from 65 percent currently.

Slyngstad also said that any fiscal spending by the government this year would be financed by selling bonds in its portfolio.