Showing posts with label Commodities. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Commodities. Show all posts

Friday, January 18, 2013

On finite resources and China’s urges

We constantly debate about the world’s finite and fast depleting natural resources; that everything from fossil fuel to farmable acreage is in short supply. Some often take the line that the quest for mineral wealth would be a fight to the death. Others, like academic Dambisa Moyo take a more pragmatic line on resource scarcity and rationally analyse what is at stake as she has done in her latest book Winner Take All: China’s race for resources and what it means for us.

That the Chinese are in town for more than just a slice of the natural resources cake is well documented. Yet, instead of crying ‘wolf’, Moyo sequentially dissects and offers highly readable conjecture on how China is leading the global race for natural resources be it via their national oil companies, mergers, asset acquisitions, lobbying or political leverage on an international scale.

While cleverly watching out for their interests, the author explains, in this book of just over 250 pages split by two parts containing 10 chapters, that the Chinese are neck-deep in a global resources rush but not necessarily the causative agents of perceived resource scarcity.

However, that they are the dominant players in a high stakes hunt for commodities from Africa to Latin America is unmistakable. For good measure and as to be expected of a book of this nature, the author has examined a variety of tangents hurled around in a resource security debate. The Dutch disease, geopolitics, risk premium in commodities prices, resource curse hypothesis have all been visited versus the Chinese quest by Moyo.

The Oilholic found her arguments on the subject to be neither alarmist nor populist. Rather, she has done something commendable which is examine how we got to this point in the resources debate, the operations of commodity markets and the geopolitical shifts we have seen rather than sensationalise the subject matter. China, the author opines may be leading the race for resources, but is by no means the only hungry horse in town.

Overall, it is a very decent book and well worth reading given its relevance and currency in today’s world. The Oilholic would be happy recommend it to commodities traders, those interested in international affairs, geopolitics, financial news and resource economics. Finally, those who have made a career out of future projections would find it very well worth their while to absorb it from cover to cover.

To follow The Oilholic on Twitter click here. 

© Gaurav Sharma 2013. Photo: Front cover - Winner Take All © Allen Lane / Penguin Group UK.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Is "assetization" of Black Gold out of control?

Crude oil price should reflect a simple supply-demand equation, but it rarely does in the world of oil index funds, ETFs and loose foresight. Add to the mix an uncertain geopolitical climate and what you get is extreme market volatility. Especially since 2005, there have been record highs, followed by record lows and then yet another spike. Even at times of ample surpluses at Cushing (Oklahoma) - the US hub of criss-crossing pipelines - sometimes the WTI ticker is still seen trading at a premium defying conventional trading wisdom. The cause, according to Dan Dicker, author of the book Oil’s Endless Bid, is the rampant "assetization" of oil.

The author, a man with more than 20 years of experience on the NYMEX floor, attributes this to an influx of "dumb money" in to the oil markets. Apart from introducing and taking oil price volatility straight to the consumers' wallets, this influx has triggered a global endless bid for energy security. Via a book of just under 340 pages split by three parts containing 11 chapters, their epilogue and two useful appendices, Dicker offers his take on the state of crude affairs.

While largely authored from an American standpoint, Dicker throws up some unassailable truths of global relevance. Principal among them is the fact that visible changes that have taken place in the oil markets over the past 20 years. Go back a few decades, and everyone can recollect the connection between price volatility and its association with a major economic or geopolitical crisis (economic woes, Gulf War I, OPEC embargo, etc.)

Presently, there is near perennial volatility as the trading climate and instruments of trade available place an incessant upward pressure on black gold. Reading Dicker's thoughts one is inclined to believe that at no point in history was the phrase "black gold" more appropriate to describe the crude stuff than it is now; particularly in the last six years, as investment banks, energy hedge funds and managed futures funds have come to dominate energy trading and wreak havoc on prices.

In his introduction to the book, Dicker makes a bold claim - that we've lost control of our oil markets and it has become the biggest financial story of the decade. When the Oilholic began reading it, he was sceptical of the author's claim, but by the time he reached the ninth chapter the overriding sentiment was that Dicker has a point - a huge one, articulated well and discussed in the right spirit.

Ask anyone, even a lay man, a non-technical question about why the price of oil is so high - the answer is bound be China and India's hunger for oil. A more technical person might attribute it to the US Dollar's weakening and perhaps investors playing with the commodities market as the equities markets take a hit.

But are these reasons enough to explain what caused prices to soar 600% from 2003 to 2008, only to take a massive dip and soar again over the next couple of years? Something is fundamentally wrong here according to the author and the latter half of his book is dedicated to discussing what it might mean and where are we heading.

Whether you agree or disagree is a matter of personal opinion, but the author's take on what broke the oil markets, and how can they be fixed before they drag us all down into an economic black hole, strikes a chord. He also uses part of the narrative to reflect on his life as a trader before and after passage of the US Commodities Futures Modernization Act opened up the oil markets to a flood of "dumb money."

Sadly, as Dicker notes, the biggest victim of oil markets frenzy is the average consumer, who pays the price at the pump, and in the inflated costs of everything - from food and clothing to electric power and even lifesaving medications. The Oilholic is happy to recommend this book to those interested in crude oil markets, the energy business, US crude trading dynamic, petroleum economics or are just plainly intrigued about why getting a full tank of petrol has suddenly lost the element of predictability in the last half decade or so.

© Gaurav Sharma 2011. Photo: Cover of ‘Oil’s Endless Bid’ © Wiley Publishers, USA 2011.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Crude Dips but Total Warns of Year-end Price Spike

Crude prices dipped yet again last week, especially towards the end of the week, as bearish trends witnessed in the wider financial markets clobbered commodities. Additionally, the US Department of Energy reported a 1.9 million barrel peak-to-trough decline of crude oil inventories (gasoline and distillate inventories both rose).

The drawdown was above expectations and NYMEX WTI August contract fell 30 cents to US$75.64 a barrel in New York following publication of the report. In fact, crude prices, instead of being the exception, were following the norm as commodities in general suffered their first negative quarter since 2008, if the past three months are anything to go by.

Problem these days is that higher institutional investor participation in commodities markets has without a shadow of doubt, at least in my mind, increased the connection between forex carry trade and stock market fluctuations with commodity assets. Still, most oil market commentators I have spoken to forecast crude prices as well as commodities prices to reverse last week’s losses as the supply and demand scenario has not been fundamentally altered. In fact, it remains strong.

However, Christophe de Margerie, CEO of oil major Total believes crude prices could spike on account of an entirely different reason – the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. Speaking to the Wall Street Journal, he said that while it remained necessary to drill in deep waters to meet global demand for fuel, tougher safety rules could result in higher crude price.

"Total’s policy is clearly towards zero risk. All this means potential additional costs," de Margerie said, adding that oil prices could reach US$90 a barrel by end-2010.

© Gaurav Sharma 2010. Photo courtesy © Cairn Energy Plc

Contact:

For comments or for professional queries, please email: gaurav.sharma@oilholicssynonymous.com

To follow The Oilholic on Twitter click here
To follow The Oilholic on Google+ click here
To follow The Oilholic on Forbes click here