Same old, same old, day after day, week after week; Brent and WTI prices always seem to go up then they go down, usually ending up hovering around $40/ Bbl. Unfortunately, the only spikes appear to be in coronavirus numbers in Europe and the U.S., and by Friday night the mid-week gains in crude oil prices, mainly on the back of bullish EIA and API crude oil inventories, had been squeezed out of the market by yet more news of lockdowns in Europe’s major economies.
The sun might rise each day everywhere in Asia, but it appears to be shining far greater over China than anywhere else, and it looks like this could well continue into 2021. The LPG market simply can’t ignore the impact of world economic growth, whether it’s individual countries, regions or continents, and when there’s a growing gap between the U.S. and Asia, then the writing’s going to be clearly on the wall!
I know you must be thinking this has something to do with President Trump’s, or for that matter Prime Minister Johnson’s, current poll ratings, but I can assure you it’s not. What’s “Up” at the moment is the amount of propane being held in inventory across the U.S., and it’s already pushed above 100 million Bbls. So while the Trump vs Biden reality show was hitting the screens States side of the pond on Wednesday night, it would have been easy to say that the EIA stock report milestone, released a few hours earlier, might easily get overlooked.
If you are one of those players in the LPG market who still believes in changing seasons, and the belief that Winter demand in the northern hemisphere is part of a yearly pilgrimage, one that should have already begun, and ultimately becomes the knight in shining armour for all of those who have loaded-up with cargoes, then please read on. It will certainly make a lot more sense for you than it did for me.
It’s often said that markets take on certain characteristics one week, only to depart from their course the next, as if the factors determining the way the market is behaving disconnect, and go off in their separate ways. The line “Ships that pass in the night” comes from The Theologian’s Tale by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and it might be pertinent in more ways than one this week, looking at both the physical movement of VLGCs in Asia, and the driving force behind the direction of the LPG market, again you guessed it, the price of crude oil!
You’ve heard and seen the banner headlines, “Six months on, coronavirus victories remain fragile”, “immunity to COVID-19 is fragile and short-lived”, “Global economic growth outlook: Fragile, handle with care”, there’s even a web site called the “Fragile States Index”, check that out @ https://fragilestatesindex.org, they reckon Chile is the “most-worsened” country in this year’s index. By the way that is probably the first time I’ve used that particular hyphened word in my 59 years!
One thing is for sure, you can never take things for granted these days, and you can see it in the growing number of “U-turns” being performed by governments, organisations and certainly the Mums and Dads of the world. Every time it looks as if normality is returning, albeit in its newest form, something appears to disturb the equilibrium. At the centre of this, without doubt, is the coronavirus pandemic itself, and until we know more certainty, find a vaccine or just live to cope with it, the need to change course will continue.
As we reach the end of yet another month in this exceptional, and yet very worrying year, I feel that we are also approaching an important watershed. There appears to be this growing dilemma, a divergence of opinion, between those looking back, and those trying to look forward. This is not just being found in the scientific and political ramblings associated with the coronavirus pandemic, but even more so in the economic opinion being voiced globally.
I’ve always been fascinated by the power, control - call it what you like – that a relatively few number of companies have been able to apply in the crude oil and LPG world, especially when it comes to pricing. The most prominent of course is a grouping of countries who gather under the banner of OPEC, there were thirteen at last count back in April, but the leader of the pack has clearly been Saudi Arabia. The oil shock of 1973 swung the pricing control pendulum away from the U.S. and into the hands of OPEC, who look to control prices through its “pricing-over-volume” strategy.
My mind has been playing a few games with me this week, maybe it’s been the tropical weather we’ve been enjoying, or perhaps it’s just my age. My head’s been telling me there’s a major swing in influence taking place in the world right now, and LPG might just be linked to it. You see, I’ve got this theory that the most important words spoken in recent history by President Trump was on Wednesday 8th January 2020, when he said, “We are independent, and we do not need Middle East oil”. Yes, the U.S. is now the world’s leading oil producer, ahead of Saudi Arabia and Russia, with U.S.