Crude oil prices have rebounded from their lows of below $30 per barrel earlier this week. At the same time, copper prices rallied from less than $2 per pound to more than $2.10 per pound. Some traders may call it a simple relief rally after such a steep fall in prices, but others believe that market fundamentals may be changing sentiment as supplies start to fall and demand could show signs of picking up.
The United States Oil Fund (USO) rallied more than 4% on Monday before giving up those gains and more on Tuesday. Copper prices fared a little better with the iPath Copper ETF (JJC) jumping more than 1.4% on Monday, although BHP Billiton Limited (BHP) gave up most of its gains from Monday by Tuesday’s session. This volatility is likely to continue over the coming weeks as global uncertainty persists.
Crude Oil Supplies Seen Falling
The International Energy Agency (IEA) announced that it expects U.S. shale production to decline by 600,000 barrels per day this year and by an additional 200,000 barrels per day in 2017. In addition, the organization reported a 24% fall in investment in 2015 and expects to see a further 17% reduction in 2016. The result could be a sharp increase in oil prices by 2020 that could potentially be as destabilizing as the sharp fall in oil prices.
The market is also questioning whether or not OPEC members can afford low oil prices for much longer. After recording aggregate revenue of $1.2 trillion in 2012, the cartel has seen these figures fall to $500 billion in 2015. An ongoing decline in crude oil prices could produce revenues of just $320 billion by 2016, which would make it difficult for many member countries to balance national budgets that were approved with higher revenue estimates.
That said, the IEA report suggests, “Today’s oil market conditions do not suggest that prices can recover sharply in the immediate future – unless, of course, there is a major geopolitical event.” The falling cost of production could prove a long-term driver of low oil prices, while OPEC’s decision to maintain output has been the short-term driver. U.S. shale production could also turn out to be more resilient than OPEC may think when resuming production.
Politics and Supply Boost Copper
China is rumored to be considering unconventional monetary policy over the coming year to jumpstart the economy after a series of failed attempts. After cutting interest rates six times and reducing reserve requirements, the People’s Bank of China has become increasingly desperate to ignite growth in its economy. The ousting of Xiao Gang as head of the China Securities Regulatory Commission could also pave the way for improved policymaking.
Investors believe that these positive changes could be effective in reigniting Chinese demand for the commodity. While China has clearly focused on services and consumption to drive its economy, these moves could also help boost its struggling manufacturing sector as well as infrastructure and property development that helps drive demand. These are, after all, still the primary drivers behind the nation’s growing economy.
Thomson Reuters estimates that around 50% of mines are losing money on a total cost basis with copper prices trading around $2 per pound. With cutbacks of 185,000 tons expected this year, many of these producers are opting to shut down production rather than run at a loss. Analysts still expect a surplus of 150,000 tons this year, however, with about one million tons of new capacity coming online from mining projects starting up.
The Bottom Line
Crude oil and copper prices rallied higher early this week, driven largely by supply factors and politics in China. With prices hovering near multiyear lows, some traders have dismissed the moves as a simple short-lived relief rally, but others believe that market fundamentals may be shifting and the commodities may be worth a second look. The truth may lie somewhere in between, but a lot of uncertainty remains in the market.