A slump in oil prices to the lowest in almost six months rattled commodity markets on Friday and triggered a rally in safe-haven bonds, the yen and gold. Stocks also flinched both in Asia and Europe, catching investors that had been expecting to spend the day mostly looking ahead to US jobs data and Sunday’s French elections, on the back foot. They had to duck for cover overnight as both Brent and U.S. crude prices fell more than 3 percent to below $47 a barrel at one stage on mounting concerns about global oversupply.
Things only began to stabilise when Saudi Arabia’s OPEC chief hit the wires in European hours, saying there was a growing consensus among oil pumping countries that they needed to continue to “rebalance” the market. “The whole commodity complex has been affected by this and it could have some pretty big implications if it continues for much longer,” said Saxo bank’s head of FX strategy John Hardy. “If you look at global risk appetite, equities have been pretty quiet and that feeds into FX as well if carries on and there is a risk switch.”
Oil wasn’t the only commodity that suffered. Chinese iron ore futures fell almost 7 percent in Shanghai after tumbling 8 percent on Thursday. and The Canadian dollar, the Australian dollar and Russia’s rouble – some of the world’s most commodity- sensitive currencies – were all sent spinning, falling respectively to 14-month, four-month and seven-week lows.
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They all fought back, though, after the Saudi OPEC governor’s comments that: “A six-month extension (to production cuts) may be needed to rebalance the market, but the length of the extension is not firm yet.” The euro meanwhile touched six-months highs of almost $1.10 ahead of France’s weekend election, in which polls now expect centrist Emmanuel Macron to convincingly beat right-wing and anti-euro rival Marine Le Pen.
The gap between French and German 10-year government borrowing costs also hit a six-month low and despite the dip on the day, European shares were heading for a healthy 1.2 percent rise for the week. “I think now this election is no longer an issue and the market is already starting to focus on new issues: inflation, the (euro zone) economy, and the U.S. data,” said DZ Bank strategist Daniel Lenz.
He was referring to U.S. jobs numbers due out later which are expected to show 185,000 jobs were created in April following March’s underwhelming 98,000 figure. The dollar and U.S. government bond yields had both been nudged lower by the commodity market worries. It is set to be the fourth weekly fall on the trot for the greenback which is now at its lowest since November.
The yen and gold rose in tandem as investors took refuge in safe havens, though the latter remained on track for its biggest weekly decline in nearly six months on bets that U.S. interest rates will rise again in the coming months. “I think the payrolls will be under consensus,” said fund manager Hermes chief economist Neil Williams.
“It fits with my view that the U.S. is going to peak out at a far lower interest rate than markets expect. The Fed’s dot plots says 3 percent, but I’m going closer to 1.5 percent.”
(Addition Reporting by Abhinav Ramnarayan in London; Editing by Hugh Lawson)