Futures trading

Futures markets, US shale, the big winners from OPEC meeting

There were only two winners from the past 3 months of OPEC’s “Will they?, Won’t they?” debate on output cutbacks. Iran wasn’t one of them – although the talks did emphasise its renewed ability to control the OPEC agenda.  Nor was Saudi Arabia, forced to accept the lion’s share of the proposed cutbacks. Instead, the […]

China has burst the commodities superbubble

China’s New Normal policies are taking global commodity markets in a new direction, as I describe in my latest post for the Financial Times, published on the BeyondBrics blog Commodity prices could well have further to fall, now China’s business model has changed. It is no longer aiming to achieve high levels of economic growth by operating […]

Oil markets begin to slide as Great Unwinding resumes

Oil prices have fallen around $5/bbl, since my suggestion last week that a “New oil price fall was a matter of “when”, not “if”“.  It thus seems increasingly likely they are resuming their fall back towards $30/bbl, as we discussed in last week’s pH Report webinar. Financial players clearly misread the market when they assumed […]

Markets pause for breath as oil traders enjoy upstream volatility

There are some signs of a recovery in some markets, but the overall picture is still very quiet for what should be the seasonally strongest quarter of the year for the West.  Markets should also have been strong in Asia, in the run-up to this week’s Lunar New Year (LNY), but they have remained relatively […]

Oil prices jump 20% in 2 days in SuperBowl weekend coup

An astonishing coup appears to have begun 10 days ago, in the last 45 minutes of trading in US oil markets.  Yet we still don’t know who master-minded it, or their full objectives.  . What happened to oil prices?  Prices jumped 8% in the last 45 minutes of trading on Friday 30 January, taking Brent to $53/bbl and […]

August highlights

Many readers have been taking a well-earned break over the past few weeks.   As usual, therefore, the blog is highlighting key posts during August, to help you catch up as you return to the office. Economic outlook:  Great Unwinding of stimulus underway.  Q2 results show slowing growth.  US retail sales decline in line with incomes, […]

Oil prices break out of their triangle – downwards

The Great Unwinding of the central banks stimulus policies is underway, as discussed last week.  Oil markets have been one of the first to feel the change, as the chart shows, with prices finally falling out of the ‘triangle’ shape built up since 2008.  The value of the US$, interest rates and the S&P 500 […]

US oil inventories hit record high as supply increases

Imagine that 5 years ago, you had been asked by your Board to forecast future oil prices.  And suppose you had prepared a forecast which said: Oil demand growth will slow in the West, as cars become more fuel-efficient and ageing populations drive less Demand growth in the emerging economies will be supported temporarily by real estate […]

Oil prices vulnerable to China property market fall

Oil futures markets are a wonderful thing, in theory.  They are supposed to enable price discovery, whilst their liquidity is meant to enable companies to reduce inventory levels.  Instead of tying up working capital, they can simply go to the market and buy what they need, when they need it. But the chart above, of US oil […]

Cotton prices slip as US supply rises and China’s imports fall

It seems that cotton prices are about to return to normal levels again.  The blog’s detailed discussion of the issues last September highlighted how current Chinese government policies seemed doomed to fail, at enormous cost to the wider world.  It now looks as though China’s new leadership agrees with this conclusion. Since late 2008, the previous leadership’s […]

Oil markets pressured by copper price falls

Whisper it quietly to your friends in the oil business.  But oil prices are looking very vulnerable.  Producers and the central banks have done a great job in creating the myth of imminent shortages – these have always been ‘just about to happen’ as a result of supply disruptions or the long-promised recovery in global […]

High-frequency trading continues to take markets higher

The blog was very pleased to see the Nobel Prize awarded jointly to Robert Shiller, whose words of wisdom on housing and stock markets it has cited many times. Shiller’s key insight, in his book Irrational Expectations and since, has been to confirm Ben Graham’s famous saying: “In the short term, the market is a […]

Aluminium warehouse changes threaten caustic soda sales

Strong aluminium markets have provided great support to caustic soda producers in recent years.  PVC and construction markets have been weak, but volumes into aluminium mining have kept prices and overall chloralkali margins strong. Now this may be about to change.  As the blog noted in March, aluminium prices have been supported by the behaviour of […]

Oil markets risk rapid repricing – Part 1

Since 1900, as the chart shows, oil prices have never been so high for so long as now. Until 2003, they had only been above $30/bbl for 4 years between 1979-1982, during the OPEC production cuts in the Iran crisis. But since 2004, they have been cont…

High frequency trading causes another mini-crash

Do any blog readers routinely trade on the basis of Twitter comments? Or more specifically, do any trade within milliseconds of receiving a tweet? The answer of course is “no”, as readers have no ability to trade in milliseconds.

But last week the c…

Aluminium prices rise as stocks reach record levels

The blog was with the mining industry last week, when giving the keynote speech on The Impact of the ‘Demographic Cliff’ on Demand Patterns at the annual Metal-Pages conference. Mining is seeing similar demand patterns to those in chemicals, whilst th…

Commodities supercycle myth enters the end-game

If something seems to be ‘too good to be true’, then it usually is. This may be the learning for the world’s largest pension funds, as they plan their next moves in commodity investment.

Their involvement jumped from 2009 after central banks began st…

Polyester markets head for crisis as cotton prices crash

Cotton prices, as the chart shows, have returned to the 50c-70c/lb range that has dominated since 1982. This proves, once again, that ‘reversion to the mean’ is usually the best investment strategy. Sadly, however, it is the people who did not belie…

US oil inventories remain near record levels

Once upon a time, financial markets reflected supply and demand balances. Some players, the speculators, would use them to try and anticipate changes in these balances. Some players, the producers and consumers, used them to help stabilise their marg…

Q3 results show companies cautious over the outlook

6 months ago, when reporting Q1 results, the blog strongly disagreed with the rosy outlook being offered by most analysts. It warned then that:

“The history of the past 40 years shows high oil prices have always led to:

• An initial boom in volume…

EU’s PE industry could benefit from cluster strategy

Europe’s polyethylene (PE) trade presents a fascinating patchwork, based on its geographic and historical trading position, overlaid with its multi-ownership structure.

This is highlighted in the above chart (based based on trade data for the January-…

"This is far worse than the banking crisis of 2008"

Long-standing readers will remember that then-UK Finance Minister Alastair Darling was the first Western politician to recognise in August 2008 the disaster that was about to hit financial markets.

Now out of office, his warning today therefore deserv…

The Downturn arrives

It is 5 months since the blog launched its IeC Downturn Alert, using prices from 29 April. It wrote then that:

“They don’t ring bells at market turning points. Otherwise, we could all retire to the Bahamas.”

But its argument was that a peak was li…

Bayer, Shell and Styrolution to speak in Amsterdam

Our 10th European Aromatics and derivatives conference will take place on 22-23 November.

Co-organised with ICIS, it provides an excellent opportunity for delegates to meet up and exchange views in the critical end-of-year period.

It features the …

Political, Social concerns drive non-Western companies

Last week’s New Normal seminar in Houston continued the success of the Singapore and Frankfurt events. It sparked lively debate about the major opportunities for future growth in the New Normal. These include:

• The over-55 age group in the West …

EU’s plan to borrow from the poor boosts S&P 500

The brave new world of modern finance continues to amaze the blog.

It still has problems with the idea that the answer to having too much debt is to borrow some more. But last week’s Eurozone summit not only did this (as noted by the German central b…

US financial markets defy gravity

Blog readers can choose their favourite leading indicator this week.

In financial markets, the US S&P 500 index continued its recent rally. If you believe the bullish analysts; a Greek default, lengthy arguments between Germany and France, and the ne…

Lower earnings, pensions, hit US consumers

Wall Street analysts have their bonuses to consider at this time of year. So it is no surprise that they are talking up the prospects for the Christmas season – the peak shopping period of the year in the West.

But those involved in shipping goods do…

2012 Budgets

The blog will publish its fifth annual Budget Outlook next weekend. As usual, it is therefore time to review last year’s Outlook. Past performance may not be a perfect guide to future outcomes. But it is one of the best that we have.

The blog’s 2008 O…

Groundhog Day again as Quarter 4 starts

The great film comedy Groundhog Day saw Bill Murray doomed to repeat the same day in his life, until he learnt to become a better person. Sadly, financial markets have yet to learn from his example.

Every quarter, the investment banks produce new sto…

Critical Success Factors in the New Normal

Yesterday’s Scenarios hopefully provided valuable insight into the challenges ahead for companies and individuals. They also suggest some Critical Success Factors for achieving a successful transition to the New Normal, as set out in the chart above:

Scenarios for the transition to the New Normal

The transition to the new Normal is likely to be painful and long-lasting.

Future demand growth will be slower as the ageing Boomers spend less and save more.

More regular and deeper recessions are likely to become a feature of the global economy o…

A 4-point Action Plan for chemical companies

Today’s economic situation is getting worse, not better. The blog believes this is because most policymakers still refuse to accept the wisdom contained in the Beatles’ ‘When I’m Sixty-Four’ song on their iconic Sgt Pepper album.

The Western BabyBoo…

‘Computers say buy….sell….buy….sell…’

Petchem markets are continuing to act as leading indicators for the global economy. The IeC Downturn Alert shows there was no September rebound in orders after the holiday period.

October will have to bring a sudden, and powerful reversal of the do…

Time for leadership at EPCA

The chemical industry has a turnover of $3.4trn, and is the world’s 3rd largest industry. It matters to the global economy.

Many of its leaders are about to meet next weekend in Berlin for the annual European Petrochemical Association (EPCA) meeting….

‘Peak oil’ a theory, not a statement of fact

Oil supply is critical to today’s global economy.

Now a new book by oil expert Daniel Yergin, author of ‘The Prize’, suggests that the outlook may be more promising than most believe.

Pessimists such as Marion King Hubbert have argued that the world…

Financial markets worry about new downturn

An abrupt change of direction is never a pleasant experience in global financial markets. Yet unfortunately, the blog’s regular 6 monthly review suggests this has started to occur since March.

Investors are beginning to fear we may not be be entering…

China’s lending continues to tighten

Financial bubbles are like balloons. Only instead of air, they need to be constantly pumped up with new lending. Otherwise they begin to deflate, and the Minsky Moment occurs.

The above chart of China’s bank lending shows, as discussed last month, t…

Brent’s premium to WTI hits Europe’s energy users

Europe is at the eye of the storm when it comes to energy pricing. This is the last thing required by its struggling economy.

As the chart shows, Brent in euros (green line, RHS) is now back at the same level as June 2008, whereas WTI is 35% cheaper …

Budgeting and the New Normal

Companies are now starting the Budget process for 2012-14.

As always, the blog will present its own view next month. It will also review last year’s Budget Outlook, presciently titled ‘Budgeting for Uncertainty’.

In the meantime, companies might l…

September key for wider economic outlook

Chemical markets are traditionally 6 months ahead of the wider economy, as they are so focused on consumer demand. September may therefore provide a ‘moment of truth’ for the IeC Downturn Alert, launched in April:

• The petchems downturn since Ap…

August highlights

Many readers have been taking a well-earned break over the past few weeks. The blog also continues to gain large numbers of new readers, as the financial crisis intensifies. As usual, therefore, it is highlighting key posts during August, to help you…

Boom, Gloom and the New Normal goes mainstream

Readers will no doubt be pleased to see that Bloomberg have today published a major article on the likely changes in demand patterns due to the ageing of the Western babyboomers.

Its title, ‘Aging Baby Boomers Shrinking Labor Force May Curb U.S. Growt…

US polymer demand slows as consumers cut back

The above chart, from the invaluable American Chemistry Council (ACC) weekly report, highlights the scale of Q1’s inventory build in N American polymer markets (polyethylene, polypropylene, PVC).

This build took place as consumers down the value chain…

The New Normal World in 2021

All of us would love to be able to see into the future.

Chapter 4 of our new free eBook, ‘Boom, Gloom and the New Normal’, does just this.

It offers 10 predictions about how the world will look in 2021:

1. Young and old will be focused on ‘needs’…

Recession may now be very close

German Chancellor Merkel’s recent comment that “I don’t see anything which signals a recession in Germany” is just one sign of the current complacency about the global economy within the Western political elite.

Long-standing readers will remember Pro…

Towards a New Normal, not a new Supercycle

The blog was in a minority of one when it launched its IeC Downturn Alert at the end of April.

But today, only a very few diehard optimists are still arguing the issue. GDP reports in Europe and the USA have shown virtually no growth in Q2, whilst Ch…

Downturn continues as financial markets sink

ICIS pricing is a very valuable resource, particularly at market turning points. It highlighted the start of the current downturn in April, when reporting that buyers had moved to operating on a ‘hand to mouth’ basis.

Now, its market editors are high…

Policymakers remain in the Denial phase

A year ago, the blog feared we were “still towards the beginning of the crisis”, not at its end. Sadly, its judgement seems to have been correct.

2 weeks after that post, the US Federal Reserve launched its now infamous $600bn QE2 programme. The aim…

US Fed policy may be going Back to the Future

Today’s 419 point fall on the Dow Jones Average, and $6/bbl fall in WTI crude oil prices, may not be just another example of the wild volatility that has come to seem normal in financial markets.

It may also mark the end of an era.

Since 1994, the …

High Frequency Trading dominates as markets crash

The blog was almost alone at the end of April, when it launched the IeC Downturn Alert. Today, its fear that we are close to a global downturn has become mainstream.

As the American Chemistry Council report, “fears of another global recession are …

Chrysler warns of China threat

Chrysler CEO, Sergio Marchionne, has issued a wake-up call to Western auto companies about the growth of China’s exports. He warns that they “can’t count on dramatic growth in Asia to drive prosperity”, and suggests that China’s plans to increase auto…

Markets fall as politicians argue

The blog’s IeC Downturn Alert is now 3 months old. The aim was to provide enough time for readers to develop robust contingency plans, as a new global downturn became more and more likely.

A key issue is that dysfunctional political systems in the eu…

Q2 chemical results raise concerns about the outlook

The blog’s quarterly review of company results shows a considerable shift in mood since May.

Then, many analysts were completely fooled by the short-term support provided to margins by higher oil prices. And only Peter Huntsman warned about the risks…

BASF warns on the outlook

Last month, the blog suggested that CEOs might want to warn investors of the threat to earnings from high oil prices, unemployment and economic fragility. BASF, the world’s largest chemical company, have done exactly this today. New Chairman, Dr Kurt …

BASF warns on the outlook Read More

Petchem markets stabilise

Petchem markets have moved into an interesting phase. Optimists will point to the recovery in crude oil and financial markets, plus higher prices for naphtha and benzene. They will see these as signs that we are just in the middle …

Petchem markets stabilise Read More

Bernanke says no QE3 planned

The chairman of the US Federal Reserve, Ben Bernanke, has issued a sober update on the current state of the US economy. Expressing his disappointment that growth this year “has been somewhat slower than expected“, he then listed a number …

Bernanke says no QE3 planned Read More

Boom, Gloom and the New Normal

The blog is delighted to announce the title of its new eBook, jointly authored with fellow blogger, John Richardson. It explains how Western BabyBoomers are changing chemical demand patterns, again. We believe it will become vital reading for all those …

Boom, Gloom and the New Normal Read More

Anecdotal evidence

ICIS pricing reports are a treasure trove of information for buyers and sellers. They can also provide an interesting insight into the overall mood of the chemical industry. This might be one of those times. My blogging colleague, John Richardson, …

Anecdotal evidence Read More

Aromatics markets stumble

The aromatics market is a very liquid market compared to other chemical markets. It is an excellent leading indicator for industry pricing and volume trends, and forecast the current rally in April 2009. The chart above shows how Brent crude …

Aromatics markets stumble Read More

Boom/Gloom Index at a crossroad

The blog’s Boom/Gloom Index presents a fascinating picture this month. The main Index (blue column) remains strongly positive, in keeping with the solid performance of most stock markets. It confirms evidence from other sentiment indices that investors are optimistic about …

Boom/Gloom Index at a crossroad Read More

Oil producers hedge their bets

The obvious is rarely a winning strategy in commodity markets. Too many players have inside knowledge to allow anyone to profit from their own position. But now and again, interesting trends do emerge from following how the major players are …

Oil producers hedge their bets Read More

Budgeting for Uncertainty

When elephants fight, those around them need to be cautious. And this is the prospect for 2011-13, as the Western countries try to force the BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India and China) to export less and import more, the so-called ‘rebalancing’ …

Budgeting for Uncertainty Read More

2011 Budgets

The blog will publish its annual Budget Outlook for 2011 next weekend. And so as usual, its now time to review last year’s Outlook. Past performance may not be a perfect guide to future outcomes. But it is one of …

2011 Budgets Read More

Oil markets draw a triangle

Peter Lynch, who managed Fidelity’s Magellan Fund in its great days, once remarked that “the futures and options markets are a giant transfer payment from the unwary to the wary“. This has certainly been the case in oil markets over …

Oil markets draw a triangle Read More

August highlights

Many readers have been taking a well-deserved break over the past few weeks. As usual, therefore, the blog is highlighting key posts during August, to help you catch up as you return to the office. August has been surprisingly busy: …

August highlights Read More

Interpreting trader talk

Current financial and chemical market volatility is a bonanza for good traders, as it gives them more opportunity to take positions, up or down. However, having traded on behalf of a chemical major in Houston, Texas, the blog knows from …

Interpreting trader talk Read More

Oil Markets Quote of the Day

Yesterday, the blog worried that oil prices were well out of line with fundamentals. It argued that momentum trading, highlighted by MF Global’s energy VP, Mike Fitzpatrick, had created a speculative mania. Today, it looks as though Fitzpatrick might agree. …

Oil Markets Quote of the Day Read More

ACS and ISM feature the blog

The latest in the American Chemical Society’s 6 monthly ‘Chemicals and the Economy’ webinar series took place last week. It was moderated by former ACS President, Bill Carroll, of Occidental Chemical, and again proved very popular. ACS reported high levels …

ACS and ISM feature the blog Read More

A Year of Two Halves

Two months ago, on 8 May, the blog suggested that ‘Sell in May and Go Away” was likely to prove good advice this year. Since then, most major stock markets have fallen dramatically, with the S&P 500 down by 9%. …

A Year of Two Halves Read More

Q3 may see seasonal weakness

6 months ago, the blog suggested that normal seasonal demand patterns could resume in 2010. And it optimistically forecast “a strong H1“, on the basis that “consumers should need to restock ahead of the usual Q2 demand peak in autos/construction“. …

Q3 may see seasonal weakness Read More

Volcker returns

Sometimes, a picture is worth 1000 words. That’s the case with this photo (used by most of the world’s major news media), showing President Obama with former US Fed Governor Paul Volcker by his side. Volcker’s re-emergence is the first …

Volcker returns Read More

Top 10 posts in 2009

Blog readers have a wide range of interests. That is clear from the list below of the Top 10 posts in 2009. It also confirms the complexity of the chemical industry, and its fascination. In alphabetical order, it is as …

Top 10 posts in 2009 Read More

The 2010 Outlook

Extended downturns, of the type that we are now suffering, generally mark a transition period from one set of business conditions to another. I look at what might be in store for us during this transition, in this week’s edition …

The 2010 Outlook Read More