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The Week Ahead – 14 Mar 2022

This week, we saw commodities skyrocket then drop off. We saw crude oil hit levels not seen since 2008, with gasoline and home heating prices on everyone’s minds. The nickel market broke the LME. Chinese tech and real estate bloodbath. And – despite all of this – Janet Yellen assured us there will be no recession in the US. Quite a week.

As we said last week:

– Tracy called for commodity price volatility – across sectors

– Downside bias in equities with high volatility. Albert predicted 4200-4250 and pretty much nailed it.

– Sam said a Fed rate rise would become boring and talk of QT would disappear.

This episode we talked about mostly the energy commodities with the continuing Russia-Ukraine conflict. Can the US use other alternatives like the West African oil to replace Russian oil? What are the politics around Venezuelan oil and why is it the same as getting Russian oil?How about uranium — and can the US produce it and will the conflict affect rare earths? Is this war the reason for the US’s inflation? How will inflation actually play with voters in this year’s US election? Lastly, what’s happening in Chinese tech and real estate and why there’s a bloodbath and for how long will this continue?

This is the tenth episode of The Week Ahead in collaboration of Complete Intelligence with Intelligence Quarterly, where experts talk about the week that just happened and what will most likely happen in the coming week.

For those who want to listen on Spotify:

https://open.spotify.com/episode/35aHRd7oVfj7zPvgZjyQXg?si=d74bba8f8d094e29

Follow The Week Ahead experts on Twitter:

Tony: https://twitter.com/TonyNashNerd
Sam: https://twitter.com/SamuelRines
Albert: https://twitter.com/amlivemon
Tracy: https://twitter.com/chigrl

Transcript

TN: Hi, everyone, and welcome to The Week Ahead. My name is Tony Nash. I’m joined by Tracy Shuchart, Albert Marko, and Sam Rines. Before we get started, I appreciate if you could like and subscribe to our YouTube channel. And also please know that we have a special offer for Week Ahead viewers for CI Futures, which is our market data and forecast platform. CI Futures has about 800 assets across commodities, currencies and equity indices and a couple thousand economic variables. We track our error. We have very low error rates. So we’re offering CI Futures to Week Ahead viewers at a $50 a month promotion. You can see the URL right now. It’s completeintel.com/weekaheadpromo. That’s a 90% off of our usual price. So thanks for that.

So these week, guys, we saw commodities skyrocket and then drop off. We saw crude oil hit levels not seen since 2008. With gasoline and home heating prices really on everyone’s minds. The nickel market broke the LME, Chinese tech and real estate. We saw a blood bath there. And despite all of this, Janet yelling assured of us that there will be no recession in the US. So it was quite a week.

So let’s look at last week. Tracy called for commodity price volatility across sectors. So it wasn’t just an oil call, it was across sectors. And we saw that in spades. We talked about a downside bias in equities and high volatility. Albert predicted a 4242 50 range, and he pretty much nailed that. And then Sam said that a Fed rate rise would become pretty boring and talk of QT would kind of disappear. And we’ve really seen that happen over the past week. So, well done, guys. I think we need to really focus on inflation this week. Inflation and quantity prices are on everyone’s mind. Energy is the first kind of priority, but it’s really come across, like we said, nickel and other things.

So, Tracy, let’s start there. We have a viewer question from At Anton Fernandez, Russian oil, if you don’t mind helping us understand the environment for Russian oil and what’s happening there and some of the alternatives, which we’ve covered a little bit before, but also West Africa. Is West Africa viable within that? So if you don’t mind talking to us a little bit about what’s happening in the crude market and also help us with a little bit of understanding of the context of West Africa.

TS: Yeah. So if we look at the crude market in general, what we have been seeing, we’ve seen sanctions from Canada, which is basically political. They haven’t bought anything since 2019. We also saw Australia sanctioned oil, but they had only bought a million barrels over the last year. It’s nothing. The US only 600,000 bpd. That is nothing. And UK is going to take a year to get off oil because it’s 11% of their imports as opposed to 2% of our imports. That said, what we are seeing in this market is a lot of self sanctioning. Right.

So we’re saying we have nine Afromax Russian oil tankers basically sitting aisle because they can’t get insurance and nobody wants to pick up oil right from them. Actually, what is most surprising right now, I have to say, is that looking at Asian buyers, everybody thought that Asian buyers because it would be offered at such a discount, they would be buying this stuff up like crazy. But there was just an auction for SoKo, which is a very popular grade with South Korea, China, Singapore and Hawaii, and there was literally zero bids.

TN: Really? Wow.

TS: The next auction that we need to be looking for is ESPO, which is the most popular grade for China refiners. But if we see a zero bid there, that would be indicative of saying that we’re taking a lot of brush and barrels.

TN: Chinese we’re not seeing any interest there, at least so far.

TS: Right. Which is quite incredible because the Chinese have always decided to be apolitical. Right. And they don’t recognize Unilateral sanctions and they have stressed that. So whatever sanctions that the west has, China says we don’t care about that. We saw that with Iran as well.

TN: Right.

TS: But it’s pretty incredible to see this particular auction go at zero bid. Right. In regards to looking at West Africa, I’ve been talking about this since 2020. Niama is a very interesting place. There’s been a lot of offshore activity there. And so I think that is a place to be looking for. The problem is that looking at offshore projects, they take it’s a seven to ten year timeline, as opposed to something like Shell, which is six months to 18 months. But yes, there’s definitely opportunity.

TN: So is West African crew substitutional with Russian crude?

TS: No, it is not.

TN: Okay. So is it lighter, that sort of thing?

TS: It’s lighter. It’s lighter crude oil, what we’re looking at right now. And this is exactly why the US went to Venezuela and said, we’ll be willing to lift sanctions with you as long as you only sell us oil.

TN: Right.

TS: And the funny thing is that they have a very good relationship with Russia. The problem with this sort of relationship is that we could inadvertently be buying from Venezuela that is actually Russian oil.

TN: Sure. Exactly. So it’s an interesting point on Venezuela. Albert, what are the politics around that we just pick up the phone. Does Lincoln just have a conversation with Venezuela? We send a deputy sect down there, do a deal. How does that work? And is that palatable?

AM: No, it’s not palatable. It’s an absolute joke. Like Tracy said, the Russians have their tentacles all over Venezuelan oil, that you would be self sanctioning yourself from Russian oil globally, but then buying from Venezuela, which is going to be mixed because everybody in the industry knows that if you want to mix oil, you do it in the Caribbean, especially from sanctioned oil from overseas. So it’s not palatable. It’s a joke. I don’t understand what they’re trying to do. It’s just a Wally world at this point.

TN: I guess the thing that I’m continually astounded by is the diplomatic actions of the US administration from Anchorage through this week with Venezuela. They just seem to be tripping all over themselves. What am I missing? Like they just seem to be eroding credibility by the day. Is that fair to say?

AM: It’s more than fair. They’re throwing spaghetti at the wall and seeing what sticks based only upon their little echo chamber of ideology. And it’s extremely naive ideology when it comes to geopolitics or what they’re doing right now.

You can try to erase Russia and go play and then think that you can go to Iran and cut a deal with Iran, not understanding that Russia is going to sabotage that deal. Right. Like they did just today.

TN: Tight diplomatically. While we’re on this this week, the headline said that the UAE and Saudi declined having talks with Joe Biden this week. Is that true? Is the headline the reality of it? And from the time Biden came into office, he was not friendly to Saudi Arabia. So is this payback from that?

TS: No, I don’t think so. Sorry.

AM: Actually, I think it is that it is payback because you have the Saudis and the UAE that have security concerns with the Houthis and the Iranians. And if you’re sitting there approaching the Iranians playing all nice with them, what do you think MBS is going to do?

TS: I agree with Albert on that respect. I just want to interject that the OPEC + Alliance has mainly tried to stay apolitical. Right. So just because the United States says OPEC produce this much more, Saudi Arabia and UAE, which are both the producers that can produce more than the rest, had come out this week and said no, we’re in this alliance and this is how it is, which is totally understandable.

AM: Yeah, but Tracy, but the problem is OPEC saying that is one thing but not taking his call.

TS: No, I agree with you. I agree with you that we have burned bridges. I’m not disagreeing with you here whatsoever. I’m just taking a different kind of look at this.

TN: Sam, what’s your view on that? I’m not hearing you.

SR: Can you hear me now?

TN: Yes, sir.

SR: I would say the naivety of believing that you’re going to have a JCPOA deal or you’re going to be able to have some sort of comeback in terms of Venezuela. So you add the two of those together and who cares relative to what you need to replace Richmond Oil? I mean, it would be great and fine, whatever, but it’s nowhere near enough simply. Right. But it’s also a political naivety to believe that you’re going to have that type of dialogue and you’re going to have it quickly.

TN: Right.

SR: On the front of Saudi and UAE, I would say it is both an OPEC Plus. We’re not going to blow this up before it blows up on its own from the call it the allies of OPEC. Plus.

It’s also the UAE and Saudi is saying, remember, you want to be friends with us, US.

TN: Yeah.

SR: Don’t pretend you don’t want to be.

TN: Right.

SR: So I would say it’s politics in the best possible way on that front. And on Iran, JCPOA, and Venezuela, it was wishful thinking to think that the Russians were going to say no on both fronts.

TN: Well, and the Chinese. Right. I think there are a number of Venezuela has relationships with both Russia and China.

TS: That’s all I was saying is that OPEC is not going to give up that plus alliance. They’re going to try to stay apolitical. Right. Whatsoever. Do I think that the United States is pushing OPEC to Russia and China? Absolutely. Do you see the huge deal that Saudi Arabia made today? Absolutely. Right.

So they’re looking at investing further into China because they are being pushed away from the United States. So agree on that aspect. But I’m just trying to say that they do try to stay apolitical. If you look at the history of OPEC, Iran and Saudi Arabia have been able to subsist cohesively in the OPEC alliance, regardless of the years of them being enemies and having proxy wars against each other. That’s all I’m saying.

TN: Okay. Let’s move on to the next thing. There are a couple of questions about commodities, Tracy, and let’s just cover these really quickly. We have a question about uranium from @JSchwarz91. Will the US ban or will Russia restrict its uranium and could the US actually start producing uranium on its own? Is that a possibility?

TS: The US won’t restrict uranium. It hasn’t restricted uranium because we actually buy a significant amount of uranium from them. It’s easy to say we can skip 600 barrels per day of oil, but not as easy to do with uranium. We’ve stayed away from that.

Will Russia decide to not sell to us? Again, it’s about money, so probably not unless we really push a button in there. Can we produce that amount of uranium in the United States? Absolutely not.

TN: Interesting. Okay. Let’s also move on to rare Earth. So we have a question from @snyderkr0822. He’s asking about the impact of Russia and Ukraine on the availability of rare earths. Is that a factor or is rare Earth more of a China thing?

TS: That’s more of a China thing. We all have to watch to see if China sides with Russia and see how that market ends up. But really, they’re the largest producer in the world, and that’s who we are largely dependent on for rare earths.

TN: Okay, great. Thanks for that.

Now let’s move on to kind of this war driven inflation narrative that we’ve seen over the past a couple of weeks. We had February inflation come out today, and I feel almost as if we’re being tested as a trial balloon for an inflation narrative that inflation is kind of Russia’s fault.

So, Sam, can you talk us through some of the economics of this? Is inflation a new thing like did it just happened two weeks ago?

SR: No. So the inflation narrative going forward, there’s some validity to Russia being the reasoning behind an increase over a base case. Whatever you want to decide that base case is. But in February, January. December and November, those are not in any way related to Russia generally.

What’s interesting to me is how many people are kind of forgetting that, we kind of had a little bit of a log jam breakup in supply chains beginning to occur. It looks like we were going to get a little bit of respite from that narrative. But now if you looked at what’s going on in the neon market, if you look kind of six to twelve to 18 months down the road, it looks a lot less like we’re going to have that log jam broken up and a lot more like we’re going to have somewhat persistent inflation that there is no way for the Fed to solve. There’s no way for the ECB to solve BOJ, et cetera. You’re just going to have to continue to have this hawkish language to try to tamp down those longer term expectations.

TN: Demand destruction.

SR: Demand destruction. But it’s really hard to destroy demand for semiconductors when they’re in everything from my daughter’s doll to my laptop. It is very difficult to destroy that much demand and create an inflationary environment that is less toxic to the Fed or to the ECB without breaking something.

So if the Fed isn’t willing to break something in the next call it six months. They’re not going to break inflation. And if you print out six months from now, you’re breaking something into a midterm election.

TN: Right.

SR: So I’m so much skeptical on the Fed’s ability to do anything at this point.

TN: Right. That’s a great transition to Albert. So how is inflation playing with voters?

AM: Oh, it’s absolutely nuclear football. Allowing inflation to go this high is just going to be devastating to the Democratic Party and Joe Biden. But I want to go back because I have a couple of contentious things to say. Right.

TN: Please do.

SR: Oh, God! Right.

AM: So everyone is pricing in five, six, seven hikes at the moment. Right. But inflation at the moment has probably taken three of them out of the equation because the money’s gone. It’s erasing money left and right at the moment, from the federal point of view, it’s like, why really get rid of it all? That why really attack it when it’s doing our job for us where we only now have to hike three times. Right.

And on top of that, something even more contentious is everyone knows that once the VIX gets to a certain price, somebody sells it off. Right. Somebody industry. Right. But everybody knows that. And when everyone knows that, the house casino usually moves to a different area. What about oil? What if somebody with a big account has bought oil futures and every time it gets to the 120s or 130s, they just crush it for $1015 and the market rallies again.

So this artificial inflation that obviously we have real inflation just because of wage inflation and supply chain. But there’s a little bit of artificial, artificial aspect to it that I think the Fed has been using. Politically, it’s going to be extremely damaging. But for their point of view is if they can get over it and then get the rate hikes out of the way and then maybe probably start QE later in the summer, They could suck their voters at the beginning of the economy back on track again. I don’t think it’s going to work.

TN: Let’s say a month or so ago there was suspicion that we would be doing QT in say June, July. That’s off the table now because of the money that inflation is taken out of the market, right?

AM: Absolutely.

TN: But we’ll do rate hikes and have QE potentially?

AM: That’s right. That’s my point.

TN: You’re in an insane phase of economic history.

AM: It’s just look around, Tony. What’s not insane at the moment?

TN: Undoing this.

TS: That’s 100% fact.

TN: Undoing this is going to be insane. Okay, speaking of undoing crazy stuff, the Chinese techs and real estate stocks really have some problems this week.

So Albert, Sam, can you guys talk a little bit about that? And we have a tweet showing some stocks from Tencent, Alibaba, JD, other ones down 50, 60, 80%. So what’s happening with the tech blood bath in China?

SR: I’ll just do a quick start. Did you see the numbers coming out of JD? They were horrible. I mean, they were absolutely atrocious. So, yeah, you’re going to get a sell off in tech broadly across the board in China. When your numbers are horrible, then you’re going to have additional pressure put on the potential for delisting in the US and the general call it risk off move in markets. So you’ve got the trifecta of horrible for Chinese tech in a nutshell.

But the JD numbers were absolutely atrocious on a revenue growth line. And there’s no way to save Chinese tech if you’re going to have numbers like that. If you continue to have numbers like that, guess what? Look out, because the bottom is not in.

On the Chinese real estate front, I think Albert has a much better view on this than I do. But I would say if you’re going to have a risk off in tech, good luck having a risk on in real estate.

TN: Sorry. Let me stop you before I move on to real estate. So the tech story, what I’m pulling away from there is that it’s potentially disposable income story at the retail level, at the consumer level, and tells me that China is way overdue with its stimulus. Is that fair to say?

SR: That’s harder to say.

TN: Okay.

SR: I would be very careful in saying that the Chinese consumer is not there. China is coming with stimulus. If you’re trying to hit 5.5 by the end of this year and you’re going into a plum, guess what? You got to hit the pedal.

TN: Well, they better hurry up.

SR: They’ve got time, but they’re going to hit the pedal. And the question is how do they hit the pedal? And it’s got to be the consumer because they’re not going to hit it on real estate.

TN: No, they’re not. Going through some of the real estate.

AM: Yeah, well, I have a couple of points to make on. I have a couple of points about the tech. China tech. What was interesting is Sam is right. JD numbers were horrible. Right. This SEC Delisting thing pointed out five companies. Right. Just five. And the big ones. Gamble is a big one. And whatnot. But why only five? It happened to be the only five that actually did their accounting and submitted their accounting numbers. Right. And would that actually let a snowball effect out to say, Holy crap, they will take down every single Chinese number, Chinese company in the market. That’s why a lot of this actually sold off harder than you think it would sell off.

Going to the real estate market. I mean, 75% of China’s fault is real estate. So unless Xi wants pitchforks and torches coming after him, he’s going to have to stimulate the economy, something to support the real estate market.

TN: Yeah. It seems like it’s going to have to come hard and fast. I could be wrong. But, you know, with.

AM: I think by June. I think by June he’s got to do something. He has to.

SR: Hit through the middle.

AM: Absolutely.

TN: Good. And do you guys have any ideas on what exact forms that’s going to take? I mean, of course they’re new triple R, of course, taking a new infrastructure spending. They do the stuff. They announce it every other year. Are there other forms that you have in mind that will take that?

AM: I don’t, to be honest with you, that is $64 million question. To be honest. That’s a big question. That’s very complex.

SR: Yeah. And if I had the answer to that question, I probably wouldn’t be on this call.

TN: Come on, Sam. We know you would.

SR: I would be on a yacht somewhere.

TN: Yeah, that’s right.

TS: It’s interesting about that. If you look at the energy perspective, they just had a meeting and they totally decided that they’re going back to coal other than anything else. So that to me that signifies we have stress in other markets. Right. We cannot spend the money in other places. So we’re going to go back to what we do best, what we know best. And they also offered, if you look at internal documents that are offering huge discounts for going back into the coal industry or whatever. I just like to.

TN: So there’s still 73% coal for their power generation, something like that?

TS: Yes. So for them, they backtracked on COP. They need the money right now, in other words.

TN: Right. So the whole Paris agreement is a convenient agreement, is that what you’re saying?

TS: Correct.

TN: Okay, very good. It’s good to know that we’re all committed to the future. Okay. So guys, speaking of the future, finally, what do you view for the week ahead? Albert, let’s start with you. Maybe with China. Do you think there’s more to come with the blood bath in China?

AM: I think there’s another week or two to come with China blood bath. And I think that’s going to obviously lean on our equities going into Fed week.

TN: Right.

AM: So yeah, I think we’ll be another down week.

TN: Okay. And guys, what about US equities? Are we on a steady decline down to some number 4300 whatever it is, or are we kind of about there? What do you feel is going to happen over the next week?

AM: I think we’ll be sub 4000 by the end of the week at some point.

TN: Okay.

SR: Yeah. I wouldn’t be anything other than market neutral until immediately following the Fed meeting and then you just rip it to the upside.

TN: Okay.

AM: Yeah. The only thing that I have a concern about is we still have this Ukraine war going on which is giving outrageous headlines and then if the Fed hikes 25 basis points and then extremely hawkish tones while Putin is shelling Kiev.

TN: Right.

AM: It’s hard to rip until after that’s all settled.

TN: So sorry, Sam, in your scenario, are you saying the first half up until say Wednesday we have a pretty quiet market, then Thursday and Friday, things are pretty active to the?

SR: Oh no, I am not saying that you have a quiet market until the Fed. I’m saying you don’t want to take a position period until the Fed and then you either want to grip it or rip it one or the other.

AM: I agree with that one wholeheartedly.

TS: These markets will continue to be volatile until we have some resolution with this Ukraine Russia situation just because of all every day we’re seeing new sanctions against Russia and against commodities within Russia, at least for the commodity sector. I think we’ll continue to see volatility, but over the long term I’m still very bullish commodity.

TN: Okay. So Tracy, Sunday night, futures open, crude traded very high. Do you think there’s a possibility of us seeing another dramatic spike like that in the next week or two?

TS: I think that mostly been priced out of the market. I think that was priced in right. We saw a lot of that risk premium come out of the market, which I was very glad to see. I would personally be happy if we saw it traded in the 90s again before going into high demand season because I do think that we will trade higher on fundamentals. But it scares me when we have these big kick ups due to headlines and geopolitical risk.

So for me right now I would like to see this market come down a little bit. I’d like to see it pull back some and hopefully things will resolve quicker than sooner with this situation. But still going forward, I’m still very bullish this market.

TN: Okay. We didn’t talk at all about nickel and metal’s markets, but we saw the LME close today because of a nickel trade supposedly. Will we see those markets reopen and will we see nickel trade? Is it scheduled to trade again on Monday and is there the potential for commodity specific disruption and markets closing over the next week or two because of the volatility.

TS: There’s been a very high contention discussion right now, especially within the commodities industry. I would just say that it was kind of unprecedented what we saw there and the fact that they canceled all the trades. I would say that hedge funds are kind of backing away from that market right now because they’re skeptical of that market right now. But again, it’s not like I don’t want to say this is going to be the norm or anything like that.

TN: Okay.

TS: I think this was a one off crazy thing. It happened in the aluminum market years ago and you can even look it up on Wikipedia, right.

TN: Okay. Last thing week ahead with bonds. Sam, what are you thinking about bonds? We’ve seen the ten year go back up to about two. Are we going to see that continue to take up?

SR: I don’t know. I think the ten year is a little less interesting than the five year and the seven year.

TN: Okay.

SR: The five year and the seven year are really what you want to watch because if the fed goes 25 and goes really hawkish, it’s the five and the seven that you’re going to get the juice from and the ten and the 30 you’re going to get a little less so watch the five and seven. I think the five and seven are really interesting here. If you want to take a bet on a really hawkish Fed.

TN: Fantastic. Okay, guys. Thanks very much. Really appreciated. Have a great week ahead. Thank you very much.

AM: Okay. Bye.

SR: Thank you. Bye.

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