By Clyde Russell, Reuters
It’s always tempting for commodity analysts to issue forecasts for the coming year, even though we intrinsically know that the future is inherently uncertain and even the most reasoned expectations can be easily confounded by events.
With that in mind, and with a nod to my fellow Australians’ love of a punt, I’ve decided rather to do a list of bets I may be tempted take in commodity markets in 2016, assuming I was allowed to wager.
1. Crude oil will trade both below $30 a barrel and above $60 in 2016.
Logic and momentum suggest the first part of this bet is a no-brainer, with both Brent and WTI crude already having tested below $35 a barrel. The second part relies on history repeating itself insofar as when the bottom is reached, the rebound tends to be rapid.
2. Thermal coal will snap five years of losses in 2016.
Coal has been unloved for so long, but it is also further down the path of supply rationalization than other commodities. Using Australia’s Newcastle spot index as the benchmark, there may just be room for optimism on the view that demand for higher-grade coal in Asia will remain solid, even in China, and supplies certainly won't be growing much, if at all.
3. Iron ore won’t drop below $30 a tonne in 2016.
This is a bet which may seem risky, given iron ore remains vastly over-supplied and demand growth in China is likely to remain muted, given the surplus of steel. However, the point of maximum pain for several producers outside the big three of Vale, Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton, is likely to be reached before the Asian spot price can fall below $30 a tonne.
4. Rio Tinto and/or BHP Billiton will have new chief executives in 2016.
This bet is premised on the view that iron ore prices won’t rise much, even if they do hold above $30 a tonne. Weak prices will slam the profits at the two Anglo-Australian miners, and if they are forced to cut dividends, the combination of angry shareholders and still no sign of rebounding commodity prices will probably be enough to claim some scalps.
5. Asian spot LNG prices will drop below $6 per mmBtu in 2016.
It’s been one-way traffic for spot LNG prices in Asia, which fell as low as $6.60 per million British thermal units in October. The knife may have further to fall, given the increasing amounts of new LNG hitting the market from Australia and the United States.
6. China will be able to export more steel and aluminum in 2016 despite rising protectionism.
While the trend towards slapping duties on Chinese exports of steel and aluminum is likely to accelerate in 2016, it's also likely that the Chinese will be able to still ship more as anti-dumping measures tend to work with a lag. It's also possible that even with increased tariffs, Chinese products will still be competitive in some markets.
7. There will be a major resource bankruptcy in 2016.
So many commodity producers have been holding on for so long waiting for a turn in the market that it would seem inevitable that somebody’s fingernails will eventually break. Even if everybody manages to cling on for another year, a side bet could be that if there isn't a bankruptcy, there will be some forced mergers and acquisitions.
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