Investing.com – After much hesitation, money managers finally found the nerve to push Brent crude beyond $70 a barrel, delivering Saudi Arabia’s first target for global oil prices this year.
Gold, meanwhile, finished its second-straight week in the negative and needs to return to the $1,300 per ounce level if it is to push it into new upward ranges.
Yet, imminent price action for both commodities is far from assured based on developments through last week.
The bullish streak that gave oil a phenomenal 33% gain in the first quarter – the best for any quarter in 10 years – extended at Monday’s open on strong OPEC and Chinese industrial data.
Output from OPEC’s 14 members fell for a fourth straight month in March, sliding by 295,000 barrels per day to 30.385 million bpd. Saudi Arabia itself slashed production to a four-year low of 9.82 million bpd, according to a Bloomberg survey of officials, analysts and ship-tracking data.
In China, manufacturing activity measured by the Caixin index expanded more than expected in March, easing concern over a slowdown in the world’s second-largest economy, data showed.
Oil’s stride was unbroken even after the American Petroleum Institute, in its regular Tuesday snapshot of what weekly supply-demand numbers could be, reported a crude build instead of draw expected by the market.
But Wednesday’s affirmation by the U.S. Energy Information Administration that crude stockpiles rose by 7.2 million barrels for the week ended March 29 – after the previous week’s climb of 2.8 million – momentarily stopped oil bulls in their tracks. While much of the inventory surge could be attributed to shipping issues at the Houston Ship Channel, it raised questions about demand for crude.
Still, on Thursday, Brent breached $70.03 the first time in nearly five months and reached $70.47 before the week ended. U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude got to $63.34 on Friday, a high not seen since November, riding the wind of resurgent U.S. jobs data in March and optimism that there could be a U.S.-China trade deal soon. Countervailing data showing U.S. oil drillers adding 15 rigs last week, the first such rise in seven weeks, was ignored.
So, while the path of least resistance in oil seems higher, the coming week’s play will be decided by whether hedge funds and others with long positions take some cash off the table after five-straight weeks of profits. Another substantial build in U.S. crude stockpiles or oil rigs could also unravel the oil rally.
Phil Flynn, senior energy analyst at the Price Futures Group brokerage in Chicago, described the fundamental picture in oil as “still very bullish” but added that “the market wants more information before they take prices to the next level”.
Petromatrix, an oil consultancy in Zug, Switzerland, said the technicals for crude also looked suspect after the race in Brent prices this week to the 200-Day Moving Average.
“We actually find the current technical action too clean and that does not play in favor of holding open interest. Money managers are holding a considerable amount of length in crude oil futures and will be disappointed if they cannot find fresh buying interest above $70 Brent.”
Gasoline remained the star of the energy complex, up 49% on the year as the week ended. Heating oil, a proxy for diesel and other transportation fuels, gained 22% year-to-date.
Natural gas ended the week up 0.6% at $2.678 per million British thermal units after the first gas injection into storage this year and the advent of milder spring weather that indicated little immediate need for gas-fired heating nor cooling.
Gold began the week lower after the Caixin index reading on Monday that suggested China’s manufacturing sector was recovering from a sharp slowdown. Investors piled into the yellow metal in recent months partly on worries that Beijing could announce the smallest economic growth in three decades.
The back-and-forth trade under $1,300 continued through Thursday amid reports that Washington and Beijing have resolved most of the issues in their long-running trade dispute but were still haggling over how to implement and enforce a trade agreement. President Donald Trump, who’s never shy to talk up the slightest breakthrough by his administration on China, was unusually restrained last week when commenting on the prospects of a deal.
Finally, the resurgent U.S. nonfarm payrolls data on Friday had gold bugs wondering whether the Fed will continue withholding interest rates for more of such encouraging growth or go on a dovish overdrive, launching a quantitative easing that Trump was pressuring the central bank to do. Spot gold was little changed on the week, hovering just under $1,292 per ounce.
Spot palladium fell 0.8% on the week but stayed in the $1,400-per ounce zone to remain the world’s priciest metal.