In a special report by Barclays’ Michael Cohen, the analyst lays out what he believes are the 13 commodity “black swan threats” for the current year, divided into two “shock” categories: supply and demand, split evenly between bearish and bullish.
Investors, Barclays warns, will have to balance the risks of unforeseen macroeconomic shocks and their effect on demand (bearish price) with potential geopolitical shocks disrupting the supply side of the market (bullish price). A tightening commodity inventory picture, especially in oil, will likely exacerbate how the market prices supply risks even if no physical supply disruption occurs.
The potential threats, which range from a trade war with China, to a default in Venezuela, to riots in Chile, all have a common denominator: politics: “we assess several black swan threats to the supply, demand, and transit of commodities that could potentially move markets in 2017. Our analysis illustrates an important point: politics are likely to matter just as much as economics” and not just any politics: “in particular, the new politics of populism and protectionist trade policies have the potential to disrupt global supply and demand assumptions for various commodities.”
Those who have been following Trump’s twitter feed are all too aware of this.
While we realize the futility of “identifying” black swans in advance, something which is by definition impossible, nonetheless here is what Cohen warns:
In 2016, few people predicted a Trump election or Brexit, not to mention that the Chicago Cubs would win the World Series or that Leicester City would take the Premier League title. And commodities markets were not without their own set of surprises as well. OPEC cut production with non-OPEC countries for the first time in 10 years. Weather whipsawed natural gas, and Trump’s election inspired a late metals complex rally on the basis of hopes for new infrastructure spending. In fact, when all was said and done, 2016 was a pretty good year for commodities, with the asset class posting its first annual advance since 2010.
Commodity market black swan events come in many forms, and the market may take years or an instant to price them in. Technological innovation caused the US shale gas revolution, the Great Recession caused structural demand destruction, while geopolitical strife has disrupted commodity supplies overnight. We all know that markets will surprise in some fashion in 2017, so we attempt this review to shine a spotlight on the specific commodity market risks that clients should watch.
Where could the surprises come from: “Watch these spaces: China, Russia, the Middle East and Turkey are likely to surprise the commodity complex in 2017.”
Below is the summary list of the proposed “black swans”
Breaking down the list, Barclays says that generally “it sees risks skewed to the upside in 2017, based on several supply-side risks.”
Given the scenarios laid out below we view supply driven disruptions in 2017 as being more likely than demand side Black Swan events. Although commodity price disruptions may mean higher prices in the short-term there is a risk they result in lower medium-long-term prices. A supply disruption that results in a higher futures curve could result in the sanctioning of new projects or increased producer hedging activity, eventually putting downward pressure on prices in the long-dated contracts. There are, of course, supply-side risks that would be bearish for the market as well, such as higher production from Libya or the Neutral Zone.”
Demand events less likely but more structurally impactful. Given the relative liquidity in global commodity markets we see supply related outages being shorter in duration compared to potential demand side risks. We see demand side events, such as those driven by economic weakness, as less likely but events that would have a longer term structural impact on commodity prices to the downside.
As noted above, the two big categories laid out by Barclays are as follows: