Commodities markets summary

Reported by AAP
Friday, January 30, 2015
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A summary of trading in key commodities markets overseas:

ENERGY

Oil prices have closed higher after a volatile session that saw the New York price drop below $US44 a barrel for the first time since March 2009.

While the market remained worried about the global glut of crude, the US benchmark futures contract, West Texas Intermediate for March delivery, finished up eight US cents to close at $US44.53 a barrel on Thursday, after falling as low as $US43.58.

Brent North Sea crude for March, the key European contract, also swung sharply before settling at $US49.13 a barrel in London, a gain of 66 US cents from Wednesday's closing level.

The sharp swings followed Wednesday's stiff losses, which came on another surge in US crude stockpiles.

"Yesterday's inventory reports continue to fuel fears, (with) excessive supplies on the market," said Gene McGillian of Tradition Energy.

"We saw that huge growth in US inventories and new records in production levels."

According to the Department of Energy, US crude-oil stockpiles last week surged to the highest level in weekly data tracked since 1982. US production, meanwhile, rose to the highest level since at least 1983.

Since the report, "there hasn't been anything new that seems able to change the direction of the market", McGillian said.

The slight rebound in prices on Thursday was partly because market volatility encouraged speculators to snap up crude at lower prices, said James Williams of WTRG Economics.

"The only glimmer of hope in yesterday's inventory report were the sharp falls in gasoline and distillate stocks on the back of robust demand. That said, this will hardly be sufficient to prevent crude oil stocks from swelling even further," Commerzbank said in a market note.

Daniel Ang, investment analyst at Phillip Futures in Singapore, said the US stockpiles surge came as "no surprise" as refinery utilisation rates in the world's top crude consumer have been low.

However, "what is really shocking is that US production still continues to increase despite low crude prices", Ang said. "Without a drop in US crude production, it is going to be an uphill battle for oil bulls," he added.

Oil prices have fallen about 60 per cent since June amid a supply glut, boosted largely by robust US shale-oil production, and weak global demand.

PRECIOUS METALS

Gold prices have had their sharpest drop in more than a year Thursday, as investors interpreted the Federal Reserve's comments from a day before to be on the hawkish side, denting the case for owning the precious metal.

Gold for April delivery, the most actively traded contract, closed down $US31.30, or 2.4 per cent, at $US1,255.90 a troy ounce on the Comex division of the New York Mercantile Exchange, its steepest decline since December 19, 2013.

Silver for March delivery also skidded, ending down 7.3 per cent at $US16.773 a troy ounce.

It was the most actively traded silver contract's biggest tumble since June 20, 2013.

The Fed's comments pushed the dollar to fresh 11 and a half highs against other currencies, making dollar-denominated gold more expensive to foreign buyers.

The looming interest rate increase also hurts gold, which pays its holders no dividend and struggles to compete with yield-bearing investments when credit costs rise.

Prices for gold and other precious metals have climbed since the beginning of the year while other commodities and equities tumbled, as some investors became convinced that flagging global growth may cause the Fed to delay raising rates in the US for the first time since 2006.

Now, investors are starting to believe the pace of rate hikes will largely depend on US economic data, which has shown steady growth in recent months.

"Gold investors have had an unpleasant awakening," said George Gero, a senior vice president with RBC Capital Markets Global Futures.

"The digestion of Wednesday's statement tells you the Fed will be data driven, and that helps the hawkish cause."

Gold prices have rallied 6.1 per cent this year as a bumpy ride in equity markets and volatile swings in global currencies spurred demand for haven assets like Treasuries and precious metals.

Investors have also flocked to gold after the European Central Bank announced plans to buy 60 billion euros in private and public debt each month starting in March, in a move aimed to spur business activity and inflation.

Some investors buy gold during times of political or economic uncertainty, believing the precious metal will hold its value better than growth-sensitive assets like stocks. With conflicts flaring in Ukraine and the Middle East and a new, anti austerity Greek government now in power, some market watchers said gold remains an attractive option.

BASE METALS

Copper prices fell to a new five-and-a-half-year low Thursday, brought down by a stronger dollar and investor concerns that China's slowing economy would hamper demand for the industrial metal.

Copper for March delivery, the most actively traded contract, closed down 1.1 per cent at $US2.4515 a pound on the Comex division of the New York Mercantile Exchange, the lowest level since July 21, 2009.

Prices have plumbed five-year lows in recent months amid fears that a slower pace of global growth, combined with ample mine output, would lead to a copper supply surplus.

The metal is widely used in manufacturing and construction, making copper sensitive to economic shifts.

On Wednesday, the Federal Reserve signalled it would keep short-term interest rates near zero at least until midyear, while providing a relatively upbeat assessment of current US growth and labour market conditions.

At the same time, the central bank also hinted at wariness about low inflation, slow global growth, a stronger US dollar and international market turbulence.

Investors, however, construed the comments as mildly hawkish, sending the dollar higher and weighing on copper, which is priced in the US currency and becomes more expensive to foreign buyers when the greenback appreciates.

At the same time, China reported that steel consumption didn't expand in 2014 for the first time in 14 years, a sign that the country's economic slowdown may be hindering demand for raw materials. China is the world's largest consumer of copper, which is used extensively in manufacturing and construction.

"In terms of the metals outlook, it seems that the path of least resistance is lower still, with copper being the weak link in that it is exerting spillover pressure on the others," said Edward Meir, a strategist at INTL FCStone.

01/02/2015 19:36Sydney, Australia. 1 February,2015
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