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Oil’s Comeback Is Lifting Commodity Prices

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After taking a beating over the past few weeks, oil prices have been surging on rising demand optimism, a major production outage in Mexico, and the first full U.S. regulatory approval of a COVID-19 vaccine. 

October crude and Brent were up 3% to $67.47/bbl and $70.83/bbl, respectively, a day after a 5% surge by both benchmarks snapped a seven-day losing streak after China claimed to have brought its coronavirus cases down to zero and opened up the Ningbo port, one of the busiest in the world, after a two-week shutdown.

About two weeks ago, China—once the epicenter of the virus—took an uncompromising approach by imposing widespread travel restrictions and new lockdowns. Authorities in Beijing curtailed public transport and taxi services in 144 of the worst-hit areas nationwide, including train service and subway usage in Beijing.

That seemed like overkill, with less than 1,000 cases of the delta virus reported nationwide and a good 61% of the population already fully vaccinated. However, Beijing opted to employ its tried-and-tested method of targeted lockdown that has been successful in stopping no less than 30 Covid-19 flare-ups in the past. The capital city of Beijing implemented a two-week quarantine for visitors from high-risk areas, halted the use of community spaces for entertainment, and also limited the number of visitors allowed at parks and scenic areas.

Chinese authorities also urged people to cancel vacations and business trips, especially those from high-risk areas, and also advised college students to delay their return to school for the new semester.

Well, it appears that Beijing has come out on top, once again.

"The developments out of China are reigniting expectations that oil demand would start to rise again," said Phil Flynn, senior market analyst at Price Futures Group Inc. has told Bloomberg.

Meanwhile, a major fire on a Mexican oil platform has wiped out more than 400,000 barrels a day of the nation's output, a development that has calmed nerves with OPEC+ expected to add a similar amount to the market beginning September.

Bullish for commodities

The latest oil price rally also comes with further signals that demand is strengthening.

Over the past two days, the difference between the nearest two December Brent futures contracts jumped by $1 a barrel, while the global benchmark increased its premium to WTI to the widest since April. 

Meanwhile, the American Petroleum Institute (API) has reported a 1.622 million decline in U.S. crude stockpiles, accompanied by a nearly 1 million drop in gasoline stocks. API has also reported a 245,000 barrel dip in distillate stocks last week, which unfortunately marks the smallest drop since January.  

The turnaround in demand sentiment has also helped boost other commodities, with iron ore prices jumping 10%.

Shares of iron miners Vale (NYSE:VALE), Rio Tinto (NYSE:RIO), and BHP (NYSE:BHP) are all trading higher as iron ore prices bounce off a spectacular collapse that saw prices crash ~25% over the past 30 days.

Iron ore futures in Singapore have rebounded as much as 10% to $149.65/metric, thanks in large part to the improved sentiment across all asset classes stemming from China's improved situation as well as a potential boost to the U.S. vaccination drive.

China's central bank has said it will try and stabilize the supply of credit and increase the amount of money supporting smaller businesses. There are expectations for further stimulus targeting the infrastructure sector, manufacturing, and real estate after the July slowdown left the economic situation looking bleak.

All eyes will now turn to the Jackson Hole symposium—being held virtually from Thursday—which is expected to offer important insights into how the Federal Reserve plans to scale back stimulus.

The dollar has lately hit a nine-month high, weighing heavily on dollar-priced commodities, including oil, due to a surge in safe-haven demand. The dollar's multi-faceted strengths have been on display once again following the release of weak U.S. retail sales data that underwhelmed against consensus estimates; Yet, the greenback has been gaining ground against its international peers due to expectations of the Fed to begin its taper program in September.

However, Jeff Gundlach (aka the bond king) says not to worry too much about the taper because the Fed intends to keep rates near zero for years to come.

By Alex Kimani for Oilprice.com

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