CIO Commodity Commentary

Post the oil-price inflection

Oil is again trading near its five-week high, with a West Texas Intermediate (WTI) price of around 29.5 dollars per barrel – a bit higher half its end-February level. After April's rollercoaster, however, when for the first time in history oil prices fell below zero, this represents an important recovery. With demand for oil plunging because of Covid-19 and storage capacity short, market participants had to pay to have oil taken off their hands. At the worst point the price of WTI fell below minus 40 dollars per barrel. This fragility about the WTI market was surprising. Only the few with spare crude storage capacity or those in the business of providing temporary storage profited. In an effort to increase storage capacity, traders and producers alike are chartering tankers to hold their oil. Earnings in the tanker industry are flourishing. According to analysts 10% to 15% of the world's largest tankers are now used for storage and this number is increasing.[1]

We do not believe, however, that negative oil prices will become a common occurrence. Many producers in the Bakken basin have reacted quickly by halting operations, which is evident by decreasing rig counts and that certainly helped prices. "Tank tops," in other words, storage running out, however, remains an issue for WTI contracts, but the interplay between collaborative efforts to decrease crude oil production globally and a likely recovery in demand as coronavirus lockdowns are eased, should provide a reasonable level of support for prices. This does not preclude further volatility in the future, especially as we move closer to the expiry date for the June WTI contract.

Once oil demand eventually begins to recover from the unprecedented collapse due to lockdown measures caused by coronavirus pandemic, high inventories are likely to keep oil prices low as supply outweighs demand. Although OPEC and Russia began to realize production cuts and other non-OPEC countries announced cuts, we forecast an oil price of 37 dollars per barrel for WTI by March 2021 [DWS CIO Flash as of 4/29/20]. Norway, for example, has announced a cut of 250,000 barrels per day. In addition, many oil exploration and production companies have said they are cutting both capital spending and production.

While oil suffers, gold continues to be supported by the uncertain environment. After some beleaguered investors, hurt by falling equities, had to sell gold to satisfy their margin requirements, putting downward pressure on gold prices, the focus is now shifting to the improving fundamental picture for gold. Currently, we expect the risk-off environment to support prices throughout the year and expect a gold price of 1.800 dollars per ounce by March 2021. In contrast to gold, palladium prices fluctuated wildly in April. In quarterly reports some miners noted that demand for palladium from automotive applications seems set to rebound strongly post Covid-19.

We continue to view the base-metals recovery cautiously and have a preference for metals with the most robust near-term fundamentals, such as nickel. China's stockpiling program for base metals should be supportive for prices in the near term, but the stockpiled inventory could overhang the market if the pick-up in demand is not as robust as hoped. As we move closer to activity restarting across many economies, we continue to look for signs from the physical market that balances are tightening in order to gauge the sustainability of the recent rally.

In agriculture, April's World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates (WASDE) report recognized some Covid-19 demand destruction, with changes in line with market expectations. Ethanol and cotton demand estimates decreased, but those of feed and food demand actually increased in some instances.

China has recently stepped up agricultural purchases, a move toward fulfillment of the "phase-one" agreement. If the steady purchases continue, we expect China to fulfill its "Phase One" commitments for agriculture around late 2020 or early 2021, which is likely to support agricultural prices.

A panic-driven surge in grocery sales excited some coffee speculators, but with exchange inventories once again climbing, we maintain the view that coffee demand – and thus prices – should tend to move lower in a global recession.

President Trump’s executive order to force a reopening of meat plants gave a significant lift to livestock prices. The supply chain for livestock continues to show signs of distress. Mass culling of animals (and the dumping of carcasses) is likely to occur as farmers are forced to kill animals they can no longer sell for processing. Though enforcing President Trump's order looks challenging, we do expect enough progress to help stabilize meat markets. We believe livestock should endure the impact of Covid-19 better than energy and metals, but we remain cautious until there is clarity on how much demand has been destroyed rather than being deferred.

Past 30-day and year-to-date performance of major commodity classes

202005 DWS CIO Commodity Commentary.png

Past performance is not indicative of future returns.
Sources: Bloomberg Finance L.P., DWS Investment Management Americas Inc. as of 5/11/20

1Bloomberg Commodity Index, 2Bloomberg Natural Gas Subindex, 3Bloomberg Brent Crude Subindex, 4Bloomberg WTI Crude Oil Subindex, 5Bloomberg Platinum Subindex, 6Bloomberg Silver Subindex, 7Bloomberg Zinc Subindex, 8Bloomberg Copper Subindex, 9Bloomberg Aluminum Subindex, 10Bloomberg Gold Subindex, 11Bloomberg Live Cattle Subindex, 12Bloomberg Cotton Subindex, 13Bloomberg Sugar Subindex, 14Bloomberg Soybeans Subindex, 15Bloomberg Corn Subindex, 16Bloomberg Wheat Subindex

Appendix: Performance over the past 5 years (12-month periods)


04/15 - 04/16

04/16 - 04/17

04/17 - 04/18

04/18 - 04/19

04/19 - 04/20

Bloomberg Commodity Index






Bloomberg WTI Crude Oil Subindex






Bloomberg Brent Crude Subindex






Bloomberg Natural Gas Subindex






Bloomberg Gold Subindex






Bloomberg Silver Subindex






Bloomberg Platinum Subindex






Bloomberg Copper Subindex






Bloomberg Aluminum Subindex






Bloomberg Zinc Subindex






Bloomberg Corn Subindex






Bloomberg Wheat Subindex






Bloomberg Soybeans Subindex






Bloomberg Sugar Subindex






Bloomberg Cotton Subindex






Bloomberg Live Cattle Subindex






Past performance is not indicative of future returns.
Sources: Bloomberg Finance L.P., DWS Investment GmbH as of 5/12/20



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