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Oil crashes more than US$10 as new COVID variant roils markets – BNN

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Oil prices suffered one of the largest ever one-day plunges, crashing more than 11 per cent on Black Friday as a new coronavirus strain sparked fears that renewed lockdowns will hurt global demand.

The crash, the 7th largest ever for Brent crude, the global oil benchmark, may prompt the OPEC+ cartel to re-consider its policy when it meets next week, with the group increasingly leaning toward pausing its output hikes.

The sell-off was amplified by low liquidity on a festive day in the U.S., the breach of several technical supports and Wall Street banks rushing to dump oil futures to protect themselves against positions in the options market.

The development apparently wrong-footed many in the oil market who had been comforted by low inventory levels and demand that had rebounded to 2019 levels, said Rebecca Babin, senior energy trader at CIBC Private Wealth Management.

“It was a lack of downside that had us continuing to think nothing bad could happen,” she said. “No one was thinking we could get a variant that we’re not familiar with and it could have meaningful impact.”

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The price drop capped a dramatic week for the oil market, which started when U.S. President Joe Biden challenged OPEC+ by tapping the country’s strategic petroleum reserve in an effort to bring gasoline prices down. China, India, Japan and South Korea all joined the American effort.

Oil traders and analysts were divided about whether the flash crash was an excessive reaction to the COVID news. Damien Courvalin, oil analyst at Goldman Sachs in New York, called the drop an “excessive repricing” and ventured OPEC+ will respond pausing its production increases by three months.

High gasoline retail prices prompted U.S. President Joe Biden to seek ways to ease the pressure on consumers, leading to Tuesday’s announcement that the U.S. will release 50 million barrels of crude from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, with China, Japan, India, South Korea and the U.K. also set to tap inventories. Still, oil rose on the day that the move was confirmed, suggesting traders had already priced in the new supply, or that they were underwhelmed by the supply response.

OPEC+ had warned previously it would reconsider a potential output increase if other nations went ahead with a reserve release. UBS Group AG said Friday that OPEC+ could choose to pause its current planned output hike of 400,000 barrels a day, or even cut production.

Prices

  • West Texas Intermediate for January fell US$10.24, or 13.1 per cent, from Wednesday’s close to settle at US$68.15 a barrel in New York. The decline was the largest since April 2020.
  • There was no settlement Thursday due to the Thanksgiving holiday and all transactions will be booked Friday
  • Brent for January settlement tumbled US$9.50 to settle at US$72.72 a barrel on the ICE Futures Europe exchange

Friday’s oil selloff was likely exacerbated by a lack of trading activity during the U.S. holiday period, coming a day after Thanksgiving, and as the New York market closed early. 

“It’s a sign the market got carried away from itself and that we still remain very vulnerable to COVID-19,” said John Kilduff, founding partner at Again Capital LLC. 

Aside from the headline prices, crude traders also watched several other notable shifts in the market. WTI crude futures closed below its 200-day and 100-day moving averages, signs of technical weakness. The extreme pressure on the U.S. benchmark meant its discount to Brent expanded, reaching the widest since May 2020. 

The picture wasn’t much brighter in oil-product markets, the part of the oil complex most directly affected by end-user demand. Diesel plunged, particularly in Asia, as the market began to price in a potential renewed hit to economic growth.

“This is a huge overreaction in terms of the market,” Amrita Sen, chief oil analyst at consultant Energy Aspects Ltd. said in a Bloomberg Television interview. “This is the market pricing in the worst possible scenarios.”

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Despite record high inflation, Bank of Canada holds interest rate steady — for now – CBC News

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The Bank of Canada has decided not to raise its benchmark interest rate just yet.

Like many other central banks around the world, the bank slashed its core lending rate — known as the target for the overnight rate — at the onset of the pandemic in March 2020, to ensure that consumers and businesses had access to cheap lending in order to keep the economy afloat.

But two years of rock-bottom lending rates have been a major contributor to inflation, which rose to almost five per cent in Canada last month — its highest level in more than 30 years.

That prompted expectations that the bank would need to start raising its rate soon. But the bank decided not to do that yet, although it makes it clear that it could be leaning that way in the very near future.

While the rate stayed the same, the bank did decide to do away with what it calls its “exceptional forward guidance” to keep rates where they are for as long as is needed, until the slack in the economy gets absorbed.

“This is a significant shift in monetary policy,” governor Tiff Macklem said at a press conference following the announcement. “[It] signals that interest rates will now be on a rising path.”

But the bank said the ongoing uncertainty around the Omicron variant means it’s not ready to take its first steps along that path yet.

Why not now?

At least one bank watcher says standing pat was a mistake.

“The decision, in our view, is a policy misstep,” foreign exchange analyst Simon Harvey with Monex Canada said, “and is one that could prove costly later down the line.”

By waiting to raise its rate, Harvey said, the bank risks “emboldening near-term inflation expectations and flaming the fire underneath the housing market.”

Canada’s housing market has been on fire during the pandemic, with cheap lending acting like rocket fuel and sending prices higher. 

The central bank’s rate impacts the rates that Canadians get from their banks on things such as variable-rate mortgages, so keeping the rate low will extend that.

Investors expect as many as half a dozen rate hikes this year, which means the door was open for the bank to raise the rate.

“The question is why didn’t they take it?” Harvey said. “Governor Macklem will have a lot of explaining to do.”

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Microsoft offers strong forecast, lifting shares

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Microsoft Corp on Tuesday forecast revenue for the current quarter broadly ahead of Wall Street targets, driven in part by its Intelligent Cloud unit.

The outlook soothed concerns about growth sparked by results for the December quarter, which initially dragged on Microsoft’s shares in after-hours trade. But the shares reversed course following the outlook, trading 3% above the closing price.

Investors were seeking assurances that the enterprise cloud business is still growing strongly and got it from Microsoft.

“So the quarter itself was, ho hum. Good, but not as great as we’ve seen past quarters,” said Brent Thill, an analyst at Jefferies. “But then the guidance for the third quarter really turned the tape around and saved the Nasdaq, if you will.”

Thill said Microsoft’s guidance that Azure revenue would be up sequentially was strong assurance that cloud demand was solid.

Microsoft forecast Intelligent Cloud revenue of $18.75 billion-$19 billion for its fiscal third quarter, driven by “strong growth” in its Azure platform. That compared with a Wall Street consensus of $18.15 billion, according to Refinitiv data.

Thill said the strong momentum for cloud computing benefiting Microsoft will likely also be reflected in upcoming results for rivals Amazon.com Inc and Alphabet Inc’s Google.

Microsoft delivered strong outlooks in other areas, too.

The More Computing unit expects revenue of $14.15 billion-$14.45 billion for the third quarter, ahead of the Wall Street target of $13.88 billion, and Productivity and Business Processes of $15.6 billion-$15.85 billion compared with the consensus target of $15.72 billion.

Full-year operating margins are forecast to be up slightly from the previous year.

Microsoft’s total second-quarter revenue beat expectations but Azure revenue growth of 46% was only in line with analyst expectations as compiled by Visible Alpha. The Azure growth showed a steady drop from fiscal 2020 when growth was in the 60% range.

Microsoft has become one of the most valuable companies in the world https://www.reuters.com/technology/apple-set-hand-crown-worlds-most-valuable-company-microsoft-2021-10-29 by betting heavily on corporate software and services, especially its cloud services and the movement to the web of its Outlook email and calendar software, known as Office 365, which benefited from the switch to working and learning from home during the pandemic. Demand for cloud services from Microsoft and rivals Amazon.com and Alphabet also benefited from the pandemic-fueled shift online.

Revenue from Microsoft’s biggest segment, which offers cloud services and includes Azure, its flagship cloud offering, rose 26%, while the business that houses its Office 365 services increased 19% in the quarter.

Net income rose to $18.77 billion, or $2.48 per share, from $15.46 billion, or $2.03 per share, a year earlier.

The company said revenue rose to $51.73 billion in the three months ended Dec. 31, from $43.08 billion a year earlier. Analysts on average had expected revenue of $50.88 billion, according to Refinitiv data.

Investors are also focused on Microsoft’s proposed $69 billion acquisition of Activision Blizzard Inc https://www.reuters.com/technology/microsoft-buy-activision-blizzard-deal-687-billion-2022-01-18, announced on Jan. 18, a huge expansion for its gaming division. It also broadens the company’s efforts in the so-called metaverse, or the merging of online and offline worlds, which will have corporate and consumer applications.

Microsoft said the Activision Blizzard deal would help boost Xbox content and services revenue. Growth has fallen sharply from a high in the fourth quarter of fiscal 2020 when Xbox content and services grew 65%. In the past quarter, revenue rose 10%, while in the year-ago quarter it rose 40%.

“They have a ton of great content and franchises. And that’s where that revenue would eventually come in when the deal lands, for sure,” said Brett Iversen, general manager, investor relations at Microsoft, referring to the Activision deal.

(Reporting by Nivedita Balu in Bengaluru, Jane Lanhee Lee in Oakland, California, and Danielle Kaye in New YorkEditing by Sriraj Kalluvila, Peter Henderson, Matthew Lewis and Leslie Adler)

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Cybertrucks, new factories in focus as Tesla set to report record earnings

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Tesla Inc is expected to post record revenue on Wednesday, but analysts and investors are focusing on how fast Tesla can scale up production at two new factories this year with technology changes as well as battery and other supply chain constraints clouding the outlook.

Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk promises an updated product roadmap on Wednesday, with eyes on the time frames for the launch of Cybertruck and a hoped-for $25,000 electric car.

“I would not be surprised if Tesla has some significant manufacturing challenges, producing the new vehicle structures and new batteries in high volumes,” Guidehouse Insights analyst Sam Abuelsamid, said.

Tesla has weathered the global supply chain crisis better than other automakers, producing a record number of vehicles and revenue is expected to rise 52% in the fourth quarter to $16.4 billion, according to Refinitiv data.

Automotive gross margin excluding regulatory credits are expected to be flat or up slightly from the previous quarter, despite an inflationary environment which has a negative impact on component costs, said Gene Munster, managing partner at venture capital firm Loup Ventures.

NEW FACTORIES

Analysts said Tesla’s two new factories in Texas and Berlin eventually could double Tesla’s production capacity, but it is not clear whether Tesla started production.

Musk said new factories will use manufacturing technology such as casting the body in only two or more pieces and integrating next-generation batteries into the vehicle body.

While the new technologies would help cut the number of vehicle parts, thus reducing manufacturing complexity and bringing down costs, they could be “significant production risk,” Musk said in 2020.

In addition, investors will want to hear about the outlook for the supply chain, with automakers straining to meet demand for electric vehicles.

4680 BATTERIES

Tesla expected the first vehicles equipped with its own 4680 battery which could give cars more range and bring down their costs, to be delivered early this year, but it is not clear when it would be able to mass produce the batteries.

Tesla’s major battery supplier Panasonic will begin producing its new batteries for Tesla from as early as 2023 in Japan, the Nikkei reported on Monday. LG Energy Solution also aimed for 2023 production of the 4680 cells, Reuters reported last year.

CYBERTRUCK

In 2019, Musk unveiled Tesla’s futuristic electric pickup trucks, aiming to gain a foothold in the popular and profitable segment in the U.S. market.

Musk, who has often missed his self-imposed launch targets, has already delayed Cybertruck production from late 2021 to late 2022. A source told Reuters that Tesla aims to start initial production of the much-anticipated model in early 2023, saying they are making changes to features and functionalities from its original version.

“This is the first time that Tesla has brought a vehicle out with serious competition,” said Sam Fiorani, vice president at AutoForecast Solutions, referring to Ford and Rivian, which are planning to ramp up production.

As it is very hard to crack into the U.S. truck market – the home turf of American “Big Three” automakers, Tesla is likely to go after “weekend warriors or lifestyle buyers” rather than traditional commercial buyers, he said.

$25,000 ELECTRIC CARS

Musk in 2020 promised that in three years Tesla would offer a $25,000 electric car that can drive itself.

Tesla vice president Lars Moravy said in October that the company would not add new vehicles while battery cells were constrained, and that production of its existing models would take priority.

“Longer term investors care about Model 2,” Munster said with the current vehicle pricing, Tesla would not be able to grow volume by 50% every year.

 

(Reporting by Hyunjoo Jin in San Francisco, additional reporting by Akash Sriram in Bangalore; editing by Peter Henderson and Bernard Orr)

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