Oil Bull Is Bearish

One of oil’s most prominent bulls is starting to sound like a skeptic.

The global crude market has “materially worsened” and prices may be stuck around $50 a barrel or below, storied hedge fund manager Andy Hall said in an investor letter this week, reversing the optimistic tone he’d taken for months.

Crude prices are down 16 percent for the year, amid signs that rising U.S. output will undercut production cuts ordered by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allies. After a rally last week, futures for West Texas Intermediate oil slipped 4.1 percent on Wednesday after Russian officials said they were opposed to deeper reductions.

“When the facts change … ” Hall wrote to investors in his Stamford, Connecticut, hedge fund, Astenbeck Capital Management LLC, in a July 3 letter obtained by Bloomberg News. “Not only did sentiment plumb new depths but fundamentals appear to have materially worsened.”

U.S. shale drilling is expanding “at a surprisingly fast rate, thus raising the odds for significant oversupply in 2018, even if OPEC maintains its production cuts.”

Hall’s career stretches back to the 1970s, including stints at BP Plc and legendary trading house Phibro Energy Inc., where he was chief executive officer. This year, he’s consistently pushed against the bearish tide, arguing in investor letters that data showing rising oil supplies was incompleteand that a sustained rally was on its way.

‘Rangebound’

U.S. producers have ramped up output and lowered their own costs faster than expected and growth in demand seems set to be lower than anticipated going forward, Hall wrote in the latest letter. While oil prices may recover somewhat in 2017, they look to be “rangebound for some time to come.”

“At the start of the year, the anchor was thought to be about $60″ for Brent crude “and rising over time,” Hall wrote. “Today, it appears to be closer to $50 (and possibly still falling.)”

A message seeking comment from Hall wasn’t immediately returned. Astenbeck managed $2.4 billion as of the end of 2016, according to a previous investor letter reviewed by Bloomberg. The most-recent letter doesn’t mention the size of the Astenbeck fund or its latest performance.

The Pinstripe and Bowler Club shares information with MF Solutions Ltd

 

South Africa’s Colour Divide Affecting Mining

South Africa’s latest mining overhaul could be mired in a long legal battle after producers vowed to stop the changes even as the government said it’s time the black majority benefits from the country’s mineral wealth.

Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane unveiled new rules for so-called black economic empowerment, including tougher ownership requirements, a community-development tax equal to 1 percent of revenue, and expanded quotas for buying goods and services from black-owned companies.

The Chamber of Mines, which represents South Africa’s biggest producers, plans to start fighting the plan in court as soon as next week.

“This charter’s not going to see the light of day anytime soon,” Peter Leon, the Africa co-chair at law firm Herbert Smith Freehills LLP, said by phone on Thursday. “We’re looking at years of protracted litigation.”

 

Producers are fuming after having been kept in the dark on the details of the updated Mining Charter and the chamber refused to attend a last-minute meeting with Zwane’s department earlier Thursday, saying it wouldn’t be coopted into lending support.

The new rules, which don’t give credit for deals already concluded and from which black shareholders have since divested, will deter investment and serve as a “nail in the coffin” for the industry, said Steve Phiri, the chief executive officer of platinum producer Royal Bafokeng Platinum Ltd.

Court Battle

“We’re confident of our prospects in court,” he told reporters in Johannesburg. “I would not rule out the possibility of this matter being decided by the highest court in the land.”

Miners would still prefer to reach a negotiated solution but are prepared to fight the changes if needed, Chamber of Mines President Mxolisi Mgojo told reporters.

Under the new rules, companies must ensure that their South African assets are 30 percent black-owned within 12 months, up from a previous level of 26 percent. If upheld, several of the country’s biggest mining companies would have to sell new stakes, raising the risk of dilution for existing investors.

“The value destruction is hard to quantify and the uncertainty will persist,” Liberum Capital Ltd. analysts including Ben Davis said in a note. “What is certain is that South Africa continues to be a terrible destination for mining investment and assets in South Africa will continue to trade at a discount.”

South Africa holds the biggest reserves of platinum, chrome and manganese and mining companies operating in the country include Anglo American Plc, Glencore Plc and AngloGold Ashanti Ltd.

White Male

The push for increased black ownership of the industry is part of an effort to address the legacy of apartheid and, with its highly paid, mainly white, male executives overseeing hundreds of thousands of workers laboring in some of the world’s deepest and most dangerous operations, the mining industry is starkly symbolic of the country’s persisting inequalities. Yet critics say many deals have mainly benefited the politically connected elite and deter foreign investors.

Mining companies may also be getting caught in the cross hairs of local politics and posturing ahead of the ruling African National Congress’s leadership conference in December, said Theo Venter, a political analyst at North West University’s business school in Potchefstroom, west of Johannesburg.

The party will seek an urgent meeting with Zwane on the charter and is concerned about potential job losses as a result of the new charter, it said on Thursday.

“Given the fact that the mining industry has shed about 60,000 jobs in the last five years, we don’t want legislation that will add to that bloodbath,” ANC spokesman Zizi Kodwa said by phone.

The ANC conference will pit rival factions, including one led by President Jacob Zuma, against each other.

“This is part of an effort by the Zuma faction to provide hard evidence that they are trying to put radical economic transformation into practice,” Venter said. “They are saying: ‘We are not only talking, we are doing something.’”

Cheerio

The Pinstripe and Bowler Club shares information with MF Solutions Ltd

Low Oil

Oil traded near the lowest closing level in seven months as U.S. gasoline supplies unexpectedly rose for a second week.

Futures were little changed in New York after slumping 3.7 percent Wednesday, the first drop in four sessions. Motor-fuel stockpiles expanded by 2.1 million barrels last week, the Energy Information Administration reported. Most analysts surveyed by Bloomberg had forecast a decline. Crude output climbed while nationwide inventories fell less than predicted.

Oil has declined almost 8 percent this month amid speculation that rising U.S. supplies will offset output curbs by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allies, including Russia. New production from OPEC rivals will be more than enough to meet demand growth next year, the International Energy Agency said Wednesday in its first forecast for 2018.

“Any build in U.S. commercial stocks gives us an indication of the uphill battle OPEC is facing,” said Tamas Varga, an analyst at PVM Oil Associates Ltd. in London. “Although last week the big bearish surprise came in the form of significant builds across the board, this time around gasoline was responsible for the consequences.”

West Texas Intermediate for July delivery was at $44.70 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, down 3 cents, at 10:01 a.m. London time. Total volume traded was about 46 percent above the 100-day average. Prices dropped $1.73 to $44.73 on Wednesday, the lowest close since Nov. 14.

Brent for August settlement was up 10 cents at $47.10 a barrel on the London-based ICE Futures Europe exchange. Prices slid $1.72, or 3.5 percent, to $47 on Wednesday. The global benchmark crude traded at a premium of $2.14 to August WTI.

U.S. crude stockpiles dropped by 1.66 million barrels last week, the EIA reported Wednesday. Inventories were forecast to decline by 2.45 million, according to the median estimate in a Bloomberg survey. Production rose by 12,000 barrels a day to 9.33 million barrels a day.

Oil-market news:

  • The Qatar crisis is reverberating in Libya, inflaming political divisions in the war-torn oil exporter and dragging commodity-trading giant Glencore Plc into a dispute over crude sales.
  • Iraq is driving up crude-oil exports to the U.S., the world’s second-biggest import market, just as there are signs Saudi Arabia is honoring a pledge to restrict such deliveries, according to tanker-tracking data.

Cheerio

The Pinstripe and Bowler Club shares information with MF Solutions Ltd.

Russian Grain Gain

Russia’s wheat fields are expected to see warm, dry weather in the next two weeks, a relief for farmers that have struggled with a cold and soggy planting season.

Wet fields of winter wheat will start drying out, which would benefit the crop to be harvested next month, according to Commodity Weather Group. Later in June, most models show rain will return, which would replenish soil moisture and keep the crop in good shape, said David Streit, a forecaster for the Bethesda, Maryland-based firm.

“Russia has a good soil moisture supply in place going into this drier spell that the wheat can tap into,” Streit said, adding that the dry weather will help prevent disease.

Bad weather has lowered expectations for Russia’s total grains production, and traders are closely watching weather forecasts ahead. Earlier this month, the Agriculture Ministry cut production estimates to as low as 100 million metric tons from a previous forecast of 110 million tons, according to a report from Tass news service, which cited an interview with the minister.

Cold, Wet

Earlier in the year, cold weather in central and southern Russia, the main areas for winter wheat, raised the risk of delays to the wheat and barley harvest. It’s also possible that central and eastern Ukraine, and central portions of Russia’s North Caucasus could see lower yields, said Kyle Tapley, a senior agricultural meteorologist at MDA Weather Services.

“I don’t see major problems for the winter wheat except for some falling behind with vegetation, but it is not the major issue,” said Dmitry Rylko, director general of Institute for Agricultural Market Studies in Moscow.

The weather could be a bigger problem for spring crops, such as wheat, barley and corn, which are falling behind in planting and development, he said.

In the spring-wheat areas of Volga region and the Urals, the fields will likely remain cold and wet over the next 10 days, which could slow planting and early crop growth, said Tapley of MDA. However, conditions could improve later in the season, he said.

Sowing of spring wheat, the smaller of the two main wheat harvests in Russia, are lagging behind last year’s pace. Plantings account for 12.5 million hectares (30.9 million acres) as of June 2, compared with 13.3 million hectares a year before, according to the Agriculture Ministry.

Spring wheat, mainly grown in Siberia, usually accounts for a third of Russia’s total harvest.

Cheerio

The Pinstripe and Bowler Club shares information with MF Solutions Ltd.

Global Round Up

Here are some of the key events coming up:

  • More Fed officials will be speaking as the FOMC’s June 13-14 meeting approaches. Robert Kaplan will be in New York on Wednesday.
  • The U.S. jobs report Friday may bolster the case for a rate hike, with a gain of 180,000 positions expected.
  • Brazil’s central-bank decision Wednesday will probably see a cut of 75 to 100 basis points from the current 11.25 percent, according to economists.
  • The EIA is due to release its monthly supply reports Wednesday.

Here are the main movers in markets:

Stocks

  • The MSCI Asia Pacific Index dropped less than 0.1 percent, paring its advance for May to 2.6 percent. The Stoxx Europe 600 Index fell 0.1 percent, trimming a monthly gain to 0.8 percent.
  • The Shanghai Composite rose 0.2 percent, after nearly wiping out an earlier gain of 1.1 percent. The manufacturing purchasing managers index remained at 51.2 for a second straight month in May, compared with a median estimate of 51 in a Bloomberg survey of economists.
  • Hong Kong’s Hang Seng was flat, heading for a fifth straight monthly gain, the longest winning streak since 2013, as improving earnings outweighed concerns about China’s campaign to cut leverage.
  • Japan’s Topix fell 0.3 percent, following two days of gains.
  • Futures on the S&P 500 rose 0.1 percent. The benchmark index slipped 0.1 percent Tuesday, retreating for the first time in eight days. The Nasdaq 100 Index advanced for an eighth day to an all-time high.

Currencies

  • The pound dropped 0.3 percent to $1.2817. The euro was little changed, heading for a monthly gain of 2.7 percent, its best performance in more than a year.
  • The yen weakened 0.1 percent to 110.93 per dollar after rising 0.4 percent Tuesday. The South African rand strengthened 0.4 percent, after tumbling for two days.
  • The onshore yuan climbed 0.4 percent, poised for its highest closing level since November.
  • The Bloomberg Dollar Spot Index was little changed for a third straight day. The gauge is down 1.3 percent for the month.

Commodities

  • Iron-ore futures in Dalian fell 5.4 percent to 429.5 yuan a ton, the lowest since Nov. 7.
  • Gold was little changed at $1,262.69 an ounce, extending a 0.4 percent loss Tuesday.
  • Oil dropped 0.6 percent to $49.35 a barrel after retreating 0.3 percent in the previous session. OPEC and Russia’s deal last week to extend output limits through March was met with a selloff as it didn’t include deeper cuts, a plan for the rest of 2018 or a new ally.

Bonds

  • The yield on 10-year Treasuries rose two basis point to 2.23 percent, after declining four basis points in the previous session.
  • Benchmark yields in the U.K. rose one basis point, after a drop of two basis points Tuesday.
  • Australia 10-year yields fell less than one basis point to 2.39 percent.

Cheerio

The Pinstripe and Bowler Club shares information with MF Solutions Ltd

Sugar Not So Sweet.

It’s not this year’s price crash that haunts the $150 billion sugar industry. It’s the fear of worse to come.

Raw sugar’s 16 percent drop ranks it bottom of the 22 raw materials on the Bloomberg Commodity Index. Shocks to demand in top consumer India and prospects of more European supply are helping shift the market to a surplus, hurting prices. Yet beyond such market dampeners, hang darker clouds.

After decades of stable demand growth, almost doubling per person since 1960, the world is heading for a tipping point as shoppers turn against the cola and candy blamed for an obesity epidemic in the rich world. At the same time, sugar has to compete with cheap syrups increasingly used in processed food.

Demand is rising by some estimates at the slowest since at least the global financial crisis as companies like Coca-Cola Co., consuming about 14 percent of all sugar traded, and Nestle SA, the world’s biggest food company, react to such trends. Group Sopex and Green Pool Commodity Specialists see growth in 2017-18 below the average 2 percent a year of the past decade or so. The U.S. Department of Agriculture sees the first drop in demand in a quarter century.

“Growth is not what it’s been,” Tom McNeill, managing director of Green Pool, said in an interview. “There is undoubtedly a move by global bottlers and by a lot of global food manufacturers to reduce the sugar content in their products.”

Consumption may sink below 1 percent for a second year in the 2016-2017 season, less than half the average pace in the previous decade, Sopex figures show. The slowdown may mark a turning point for an industry that’s seen near linear growth for half a century on an expanding world population and rising wealth, concentrated most recently in dynamic economies like China.

Indeed, food giants are only just beginning to respond to noisy calls from customers, lobby groups and lawmakers to cut empty carbs from products.

Coca-Cola has 200 reformulations of products in the works to lower sugar content, Chief Executive Officer James Quincey said in October. PepsiCo Inc. has vowed that at least two-thirds of the company’s volume will have no more than 100 calories from added sugars per 12-ounce serving by 2025.

Coca-Cola’s Biggest Challenge Under Next CEO: Cutting Calories

Nestle said late last year it had found a way to reduce sugar in chocolate as much as 40 percent and would lower sugar in the chocolate and confectionery it sells in the U.K. and Ireland by 10 percent. Globally, companies curbed ingredients that raise health concerns such as sugar and salt in about a fifth of their products in 2016, says the Consumer Goods Forum, a retailing lobby.

“We are hearing from right, left and center all the intentions of the industrial users — food and beverage companies — to reformulate their products,” said Sergey Gudoshnikov, senior economist at the International Sugar Organization, representing producing nations. “Sooner or later it will work.”

U.S. cities such as Philadelphia and San Francisco and countries such as France and Mexico have added “sin taxes” previously reserved for tobacco or alcohol to sugary sodas, with others lining up to join them. The World Health Organization says its research shows that a 20 percent increase in the retail price of fizzy drinks results in a proportional drop in demand.

The industry is now having to adapt to what some have dubbed a war on sugar.

Cutting sugar alone won’t solve obesity concerns, according to Courtney Gaine, president and CEO of the Sugar Association, a Washington-based lobby group. Replacing sugar with starches or fat doesn’t reduce total calories, she said.

Blame Game

“It’s very important that the sugar industry preaches moderation and doesn’t say, ‘Hey, it’s not our problem’ because it’s the whole food and beverage industry’s problem to try and help the world be a healthier place,” Gaine said. “I would like for sugar not to be blamed as the sole cause, but we are also not innocent.”

Beyond the developed world, consumption of sugar isn’t going to fall off a cliff as long as the world’s population is still expanding and there are burgeoning middle classes in Asian and African cities, according to Rabobank International.

Trends in richer countries with more money to spend are significant, nevertheless. Demand is set to sink in Germany, France and the U.K., according to Tropical Research Services data for the season that starts in October.

Some middle-income nations are also hurting from weak economies. Brazilian demand has dropped by about 1 million metric tons over the past three to four seasons, according to Sopex. It’s also down in Argentina.

More significantly, sugar is losing out to cheaper sweeteners as food manufacturers protect profit margins. Soda makers in China and the Philippines are using more high-fructose corn syrup. The processed sweetener, made from corn starch, is about 3,680 yuan ($534) a ton cheaper than sugar, Sopex says.

“That’s seriously eroding demand,” said John Stansfield, an analyst at Sopex who has worked in the sugar industry for two decades.

High-fructose corn syrup displaced 3.3 million tons of sugar in China alone in 2016, according to the USDA.

The drop in raw-sugar futures prices this year in New York to 16.26 cents a pound can mostly be blamed on short-term problems such as the weak Brazilian economy and currency policies in India that disrupted demand.

But beyond such squalls, others hear distant thunder.

“Some of the changes are temporary, others are not,” said Sean Diffley, head of sugar and ethanol research at TRS, which advises hedge funds. “I suspect the food and beverage industry doesn’t go back to larger bars of chocolate or full-sugar Coca-Cola.”

Cheerio

The Pinstripe and Bowler Cub shares information with MF Solutions Ltd.

Commodity Rally – Maybe !

Commodity prices usually rally as the U.S. Federal Reserve heads into a hiking cycle, but it might be different this time, Goldman Sachs said in a note Monday.

Historically, “commodities perform the best when the Fed is raising rates,” Goldman said. “This makes intuitive sense because the reason why the Fed raises interest rates is that the economy displays signs of overheating. Strong aggregate demand and rising wage and price inflation are precisely the time when commodities perform the best.”

It added that rising interest rates in China also tend to coincide with better commodities performance, noting the mainland’s “outsized role” in demand.

That’s a driver of Goldman’s overweight call on commodities, with expectations for solid performance over the coming year as the Fed raises rates and the labor market runs at full employment.

But Goldman pointed to three risks that could derail its view.

Firstly, it noted that technology changes and U.S. shale oil production could have “a profound impact” on commodity returns.

“While conventional oil production takes time to ramp up, the response time for shale is much shorter,” it said. “This has increased the oil supply elasticity, which may contribute to lower commodities returns relative to historical experience even as demand strengthens.”

Secondly, Goldman said the China tailwind may be waning.

As an example, it cited China’s demand for refined copper, which rose to 10.2 million tons in 2015 from 660,000 tons in 1990, totalling 90 percent of the total global growth in copper demand.

“Going forward, the growth in the Chinese demand for industrial metals is likely to be much more muted, also contributing to lower commodities returns relative to historical experience,” Goldman said.

Finally, Goldman also pointed to a risk from the Fed’s hiking cycle itself, noting that the current pace has been much slower compared with previous cycles amid a gradual US and global economic recovery.

“While our U.S. economists expect three hikes this year and another four hikes in 2018, the fact that this hiking cycle has been different from previous hiking cycles imply that commodities returns may also differ from their historical performance,” it said.

Cheerio

The Pinstripe and Bowler Club shares information with MF Solutions Ltd.