Oil Jumps

By Glenn Dyer | More Articles by Glenn Dyer

Just as the International Energy Association and others forecast, it's July and world oil prices are straining upwards.

But the drivers are not a petrol shortage in the US, hurricanes off America's South East coasts,surging use in China, or a Middle East war. It's really a combination of all those, plus the sharp upturn in instability in Nigeria, one of OPEC's major producers.

The IEA warned several months ago that world oil prices would come under pressure from a combination of factors, but the major one would be the seasonal surge in demand for petrol in the US, coupled with low stocks and a shortage of operational refining capacity in America.

On top of this, stocks held by OPEC countries were low as were stocks in Europe and Asian markets, and OPEC was cutting production to try and keep prices firm.

But the acceleration of instability in Nigeria, coupled with a declining level of production for various reasons (security, theft, poor facilities, corruption) means the supply situation is stretched, so when there were more kidnappings and other disruptions in the Niger delta last week, prices jumped to 11 month highs.

The surge in prices again emphasised the way the Brent crude contract on the ICE has become the marker price at the moment because of supply pressures and other problems in the area of the US centre of Cushing, where the US marker crude, West Texas Intermediate, is deliverable under US futures contracts (on Nymex).

This oversupply around Cushing means the Nymex oil price is again badly lagging the London Brent price, after almost catching it the week before.

Friday saw the London Brent crude price jump to an 11-month high of $US76.01 a barrel on Friday, before closing up 87 USc at $US75.62 a barrel. The Brent price all time high was $US78.65 hit last August during the Israel-Hezbollah war.

The current Nymex WTI crude ended up $US1.00 to $US72.81, the highest close since August 22, 2006.

More than 610,000 barrels per day (bpd) of Nigerian crude production is shut in after 18 months or so of attacks by dissidents, mostly in the Niger Delta, on the region's oil infrastructure and exploration and production efforts. That's more than a quarter of Nigeria's nominal oil production.

The month-long truce by the rebel group responsible for much of the violence has just ended with no settlement. In the latest activity, rebels attacked an oil rig and kidnapped a 3-year-old British girl in Port Harcourt in the oil producing Niger Delta.

Now some analysts see a similar pattern emerging to last year where volatility and sharp rises in demand in some commodities, (copper and oil in 2006) spread to others by hedge funds and other financial investors.

There was some evidence of that late last week with copper touching a seven-week peak and lead hitting yet another record high.

Copper and lead are being driven partly by worries about mine closures, production shortfalls and industrial activity in South America, especially Peru and Chile.

Hedge funds love this rising volatility and are back in commodities after copping a fright in other markets from the sharp rise in US interest rates (which resumed last week).

New York copper was little changed on Friday but still had a second straight weekly rise. The price has jumped 6.2 per cent in those two weeks in New York.

Workers have started or threatened strikes in Chile, Peru and Mexico and stockpiles administered by the LME have dropped 42 per cent, but remain 15 per cent above their levels this time in 2006.

September Comex copper rose to $US3.5945/lb on Friday, that was the highest closing price since May 11.

Strikes in Latin America pushed copper prices to an eight-week high of $US 7,888 a tonne on the London Metal Exchange, up 3.7 per cent higher to $7,840 a tonne at the close.

Lead also touched an all-time high of $US2,900 a tonne and closed 7.4 per cent ahead over the week at $US2,857.

Gold and silver rose in New York. August futures rose $US4.20, or 0.6 per cent to $6US54.80 an ounce on Comex, for the first weekly rise in three weeks.

The metal was up 0.6 per cent for the week and is just 2.6 per cent ahead this year.

September silver rose 17.7 USc to $US12.757 an ounce on Comex. The metal rose 2.3 per cent last week but is down 1.4 per cent so far this year.

Agriculture commodities were volatile, with wheat, corn and soybean suffering sharp price swings, while cocoa hit a four-year high amid unrest in a key producing country.

Cocoa hit a four-year high on fears of unrest in Ivory Coast, the world's largest producer, after an attack against the country's prime minister.

Soybeans ended the week strongly, rising 9.5 USc on Friday on the Chicago Board of Trade to hit $US8.96 a bushel. Wheat was up 6 USc at $US6.10 a bushel and corn rose 9.5c to $US3.52 a bushel.

Weather, ranging from heavy rains and floods to intense heat and record high temperatures, have hit growing areas across the entire Midwest region of the US.

About Glenn Dyer

Glenn Dyer has been a finance journalist and TV producer for more than 40 years. He has worked at Maxwell Newton Publications, Queensland Newspapers, AAP, The Australian Financial Review, The Nine Network and Crikey.

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