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Metals price forecast: Lower Before Higher



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Lower before higher

SEB - Prognoser på råvaror - Commodity

The world is slowing down along with fiscal and monetary tightening. The rapid rise in interest rates this year will work with a lag so the slowdown in the real economy is likely to continue. We expect metals prices to ease along with that. The continued deterioration in the Chinese property market is likely structural with growth shifting towards higher value sectors including green energy and EVs. Chinese credit expansion has started. Stronger demand for metals like copper, nickel and aluminium is likely to emerge in H2-23. Strong prices for metals over the coming decade due to sub-par capex spending over the past decade is likely.

Bjarne Schieldrop, Chief analyst commodities at SEB
Bjarne Schieldrop, Chief analyst commodities, SEB

Weakening macro and weakening demand. The world is now in the grip of a tightening craze amid inflation panic which was the result of the stimulus boom ignited by Covid-19 panic. The US expanded its M2 monetary base by 30% of GDP during the stimulus boom. Donald Trump earlier clamped down on immigration from Mexico/Latin America. Rampant consumer spending on capital goods together with an ultra-tight labor market then led to intense inflation pressure in the US. But also, in many other countries which also stimulated too much. The US is ahead of the curve with respect to interest rate hikes. The USD has rallied, forcing many central banks around the world to lift rates to defend their currencies as well as fighting their own inflationary pressures. The Japanese central bank has refrained from doing so and has instead intervened in the yen currency market for the first time since 1998. The year 2022 will likely be the worst selloff in global government bonds since 1949 as interest rates rise rapidly from very low levels. This is taking place following a decade where the world has been gorging on ultra-cheap debt. There is clearly a risk that something will break apart somewhere in the financial system as the world gallops through this extreme roller coaster ride of stimulus and tightening. On top of this we have and energy crisis in Europe where natural gas prices for year 2023 currently is priced at 700% of normal levels. War in Ukraine, risk for the use of nuclear weapons, an enduring cool-down of the Chinese property market and continued lock-downs in China due to Covid-19 is adding plenty of uncertain elements.

Downside price risks for metals over the coming 6-9 months. The significant rise in rates around the world will work with a lag. There can be up to a 12-month lag from rates starts to rise to when they take real effect. Continued economic cool-down in the economy is thus likely. Chinese politicians seem unlikely to run yet another round of property market-based stimulus. As such there are clearly downside risks to global economic growth and industrial metals prices over the coming 6 months.

China may be a “White Swan Event” in H2-23 onward. LME’s China seminar in London on Monday 24 October this year was very interesting. The brightest spot in our view was Jinny Yang, the Chief China economist at ICBC Standard Bank. She stated that China may turn out to be a “white swan event” in H2-2023. Further that the Chinese economy now is on a decade long type of transition period. Away from property focused growth. With a shift instead to technology and innovation, telecoms and energy transition, consumer demand side economy and higher value and more advanced sectors. The property market will be a fading sector with respect to growth. Chinese politicians are fully committed to the energy transition. No slowdown in there. Credit expansion has already started. The real effect of that will emerge in H2-23. The new growth focus will be different from before. But it will still imply lots of metals like aluminium, copper, nickel, zinc, cobalt, manganese, and other special metals. There will be less copper for pipes and wiring for housing but there will be more copper for EVs, Solar power, Wind power and power networks etc.

Copper: Struggling supply from Chile, rising supply from Africa while Russian exports keeps flowing to market. The Chinese housing market normally accounts for 20% of global copper demand. So, slowing Chinese housing market is bad for copper. Russian exports keep flowing to SE Asia where it is re-exported. Good supply growth is expected from Africa in 2023. Supply from Chile is struggling with falling ore grades, political headwinds, and mining strikes. Demand is projected to boom over the coming decades while investments in new mines have been sub-par over the past decade. So strong prices in the medium to longer term. But in the short-term the negative demand forces will likely have the upper hand.

Nickel: Tight high-quality nickel market but surplus for low-quality nickel. There is currently a plentiful supply of low-grade nickel with weak stainless-steel demand and strong demand for high quality nickel for EV batteries. The result is a current USD 5-6000/ton price premium for high-quality vs. low-quality nickel. High-quality LME grade nickel now only accounts for 25% of the global nickel market. Over the coming decade there will be strong demand growth for high-quality nickel for EV batteries, but high-quality NiSO4 will take center stage. The price of high-quality nickel over the coming decade will depend on how quickly the world can ramp up low-grade to high-grade conversion capacity.

Aluminium: Russian production and exports keeps flowing at normal pace to the market through different routes. Supply from the western world set to expand by 1.3 m ton pa in 2023, the biggest expansion in a decade. Demand is projected to grow strongly over the decade to come with energy transition and EVs being strong sources of demand. Western premiums likely to stay elevated versus Asian premiums to attract metal. Increasing focus on low carbon aluminium. But weakness before strength.

SEB commodities price forecast:

SEB commodities price forecast

Chinese credit cycle vs industrial metals. Chinese credit expansion has already started.

Chinese credit cycle vs industrial metals
Source: SEB calculations, data from Blberg

This report has been compiled by SEB´s Commodity Research, a division within Skandinaviska Enskilda Banken AB (publ) (”SEB”), to provide background information only.


SEB Metals price forecast update



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Softer economic growth in 2024 calls for somewhat softer metals prices in 2024. Industrial metals prices as well as other commodity prices exploded during Covid-19 as governments around the world unleashed stimuli in the magnitude of 10x of what was done during the global financial crisis in 2008/09. Consumers shifting spending from services to consumer goods added to the boom. Bloomberg’s industrial metals price index was up 91% in March 2022 versus January 2020 because of this. Global manufacturing PMI peaked in May 2021 and has been fading since and below the 50-line from September 2022 with latest reading at 48.8. Industrial metals prices have faded since their peak in March 2022 but are still 30% higher than they were in January 2020. Even zinc, the worst performing metal, is still 9% above where it was in January 2020. As such one could possibly argue that industrial metals have not yet fully faded from their Covid-19 stimulus boom. One possible explanation could be inflation where US inflation is up 19% over the period. But this still leaves industrial metals up 11% in real terms. Another possible explanation is the big jump in energy prices over the period. While coal and gas prices have fallen back a lot, they are still quite high. The coal price in western Europe is 110% above where it was at the start 2020 and 50% above its 2010-2019 average. Most industrial metals are highly energy intensive to produce with digging and crushing of rocks, smelting, and refining of ore. The current aluminium price of USD 2215/ton is for example well aligned with coal prices. In addition to this there has also been significant closures of zinc and aluminium smelting capacity in Europe which probably have supported prices for these metals.

Global economic growth is forecasted to slow from 3.5% in 2022, to 3.0% in 2023 and then again to 2.9% in 2024 as the big jump in interest rates induce economic pain with a lag. Aligned with this we expect lower industrial metals prices in 2024 than in 2023 though only marginally lower for most of the metals. But the field of metals is wide, and the price action is thus adverse. Copper is likely the metal with the most strained supply and with huge needs in the global energy transition. 

Aluminium: Prices will likely be depressed versus marginal costs in 2024. Aluminium from Russia is flowing unhindered to the market. Most is going to China for reprocessing and potentially re-exported while some is going to Turkey and Italy. It is all flowing into the global pool of aluminium and as such impacting the global market balance. The LME 3mth aluminium price is currently well aligned with coal prices and both have traded mostly sideways since June this year. Aluminium premiums in the EU have however fallen 30-40% since mid-June in a sign of weakness there. The global market will likely run a surplus in 2024 with depressed prices versus the marginal cost of production.

Copper: Softer fundamentals in 2024 but with accelerating tightness on the horizon. Copper is currently trading at USD 8470/ton and close to 37% above its early Jan 2020 level. The market is expected to run a slight surplus in 2024 followed by accelerating tightness the following years. Downside price risk for 2024 is thus warranted along with softer global growth. The power of Unions is however getting stronger in Latin America with demands for higher salaries. Strikes have broken out in Peru with production at the Las Bambas copper mine at only 20%. Further strikes and disruptions could quickly put the market into deficit also in 2024.

Nickel: Indonesia pursuing market share over price pushing the price down the cost curve. Indonesia’s nickel production is growing rapidly. Its production reached 1.6 million ton in 2022 (+54% YoY) and accounted for close to 50% of total global supply in 2022. Its share looks set to reach 70% by 2030. Lower prices will stimulate demand and will also force higher cost producers to shut down thus making room for the wave of new supply from Indonesia. Prices will be sluggis the nearest years as Indonesia aims for market share over price.

Zinc: Price has stabilized around USD 2500/t. Weakness in global construction will drive prices lower at times in 2024. The 3mth LME zinc price has fallen from a peak of USD 4499/ton in April 2022 to only USD 2248/ton in May 2023. Since then, it has recovered steadily to USD 2500/ton.  Demand could struggle in 2024 as construction globally will likely struggle with high interest rates. But mine closures is a natural counter effect of low prices and will put a floor under prices.

Price outlook

SEB Commodities price outlook
Source: Historical values from Bloomberg, Price forecast by SEB

Bjarne Schieldrop
Cheif Commodities Analyst
SEB Commodity Research

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Now it’s up to OPEC+



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All eyes are now back at OPEC+ after the recent fall in oil prices along with weakening crude curve structures and weakening economic statistics. OPEC+ will have to step up the game and give solid guidance of what it intends to do in 2024. If Saudi Arabia is to carry the burden alone (with only a little help from Russia) it will likely need to keep its production at around 9.0 m b/d on average for 2024 and drop it down towards 8.5 m b/d in Q1-24. This may be too much to ask from Saudi Arabia and it may demand some of the other OPEC members to step up and join in on the task to regulate the market in 2024. More specifically this means Iraq, Kuwait and UAE. The oil market will likely be quite nervous until a firm message from Saudi/Russia/OPEC+ is delivered to the market some time in December.

Bjarne Schieldrop, Chief analyst commodities at SEB
Bjarne Schieldrop, Chief analyst commodities, SEB

Saudi Arabia may get some help from President Joe Biden though as his energy secretary adviser, Amos Hochstein, has stated that the US will enforce sanctions on Iran on more than 1 m b/d. 

Brent crude fell 4.6% ydy to USD 77.4/b and over the last three trading sessions it has lost USD 5.1/b. This morning it is trading only marginally higher at USD 77.6/b which is no vote of confidence. A good dose of rebound this morning would have been a signal that the sell-off yesterday possibly was exaggerated and solely driven by investors with long positions flocking to the exit. So there’s likely more downside to come.

In general there is a quite good relationship between net long speculative positions in Brent crude and WTI versus the global manufacturing cycle. Oil investors overall typically have an aversion of holding long positions in oil when the global economy is slowing down. As of yet there are few signs that the global economic cycle is about to turn. Rather the opposite seems to be the case. Global manufacturing fell in October and yesterday we saw US industrial production fall 0.6% MoM while continued jobless claims rose more than expected and to the highest level in two years. This matches well with the logic that the strong rise in interest rates since March 2022 is inflicting pain on the economy with more pain ahead as the effect comes with a lag.

Most estimates are that the global oil market is running a solid deficit in Q4-23. The IEA has an implied deficit in the global oil market of 1 m b/d in Q4-23 if we assume that OPEC will produce 28 m b/d vs. a call-on-OPEC at 29 m b/d. But prices in the oil market is telling a different story with weakening crude curves, weakening refining margins and a sharp sell-off in oil prices.

For 2024 the general forecasts are that global economic growth will slow, global oil demand growth will slow and also that the need for oil from OPEC will fall from 28.7 m b/d to 28.4 m b/d (IEA). This is a bearish environment for oil. The average Brent crude oil price so far this year is about USD 83/b. It should essentially be expected to deliver lower in 2024 with the negatives mentioned above.

Two things however will likely counter this and they are interconnected. US shale oil activity has been slowing with falling drilling rig count since early December 2022 and that has been happening at an average WTI price of USD 78/b. The result is that total US liquids production is set to grow by only 0.3 m b/d YoY in Q4-24. This allows OPEC+ to support the oil price at USD 80-90/b through 2024 without fear of loosing a significant market share to US oil production. Thus slowing US liquids production and active price management by OPEC+ goes hand in hand. As such we do expect OPEC+ to step up to the task.

So far it has predominantly been Saudi Arabia with a little help from Russia which together proactively have managed the oil market and the oil price through significant cuts. Saudi Arabia produced 10.5 m b/d in April but then cut production rapidly to only 9.0 m b/d which is what it still produces. Its normal production is about 10 m b/d.

What has made the situation more difficult for Saudi Arabia is the combination of solid growth in non-OPEC supply in 2023 (+2.1 m b/d YoY; IEA) but also a substantial revival in production by Venezuela and Iran. The two produced 660 k b/d more in October than they on average did in 2022. So the need for oil from Saudi Arabia is squeezed from both sides.

All eyes are now back at OPEC+ after the recent fall in oil prices along with weakening crude curve structures and weakening economic statistics.

OPEC+ will have to step up the game and give solid guidance of what it intends to do in 2024. If Saudi Arabia is to carry the burden alone (with only a little help from Russia) then it will likely need to keep its production at around 9.0 m b/d on average for 2024 and drop it down towards 8.5 m b/d in Q1-24. This may be too much to ask from Saudi Arabia and it may demand some of the other OPEC members to step up and join in on the task to regulate the market in 2024. More specifically this means Iraq, Kuwait and UAE.

The oil market will likely be quite nervous until a firm message from Saudi/Russia/OPEC+ is delivered to the market some time in December.

Saudi Arabia may get some help from President Joe Biden though as his energy secretary adviser, Amos Hochstein, has stated that the US will enforce sanctions on Iran on more than 1 m b/d.

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More from Venezuela and Iran means smaller pie for Saudi



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Production in Venezuela and Iran is on the rise and is set to rise further in the coming months and in 2024. Combined their production could grow by 0.8 m b/d YoY to 2024 (average year to average year). The IEA projected in its latest OMR (Oct-2023) that call-on-OPEC will fall to 28.3 m b/d in 2024, a decline of 0.5 m b/d. This combination would drive implied call-on-Saudi from 10.4 m b/d in 2023 to only 9.1 m b/d in 2024 and as low as 8.6 m b/d in Q1-24 if Saudi Arabia has to do all the heavy lifting alone. Wider core OPEC cooperation may be required.

Bjarne Schieldrop, Chief analyst commodities at SEB
Bjarne Schieldrop, Chief analyst commodities, SEB

The IEA is out in the news today projecting peak oil demand this decade with global demand standing at no more than 102 m b/d towards the end of this decade. If so it would imply a call-on-Non-OPEC of only 66.4 m b/d in 2028 assuming that OPEC in general will demand a market share of 30 m b/d + NGL of 5.6 m b/d. The IEA (Oct-23) projects non-OPEC production to average 68.8 m b/d in 2024. That’s already 2.4 m b/d more than what would be sustainable over time if global oil demand is set to peak later this decade. Oil producers in general cannot have a production growth strategy in a peak oil demand world.

The US has decided to lift sanctions towards Venezuela for six months (18 April) as a measure to tempt it to move towards more democratic processes. And if it does, then the lifting of sanctions could continue after the 6 months. A primary opposition election took place this weekend with lawmaker Maria Corina Machado currently holding 93% of the vote count. Venezuela will next year hold a presidential election but fair play seems unlikely with Maduro in charge. The lifting of sanctions allows Venezuela’s PdV to resume exports to all destinations. Bans on new, foreign investments in the oil and gas sector are also lifted though Russian entities and JV’s are still barred.

Venezuela produced 0.8 m b/d in September and indicates that it can lift production by 0.2 m b/d by year and with more rigs and wells by 0.5 m b/d to 1.3 m b/d in the medium term.

Oil production in Iran has been on a steady rise since its low-point of 2.0 m b/d in 2020. Last year it produced 2.5 m b/d. In September it produced 3.1 m b/d, but Iran’s oil minister says production now is at 3.3 m b/d. Iran’s rising production and exports is not about the US being more lenient in its enforcement of sanctions towards Iran. It is more about Iran finding better ways to circumvent them but even more importantly that China is importing more and more oil from Iran.

Production by Iran and Venezuela is recovering. YoY production from the two could rise by close to 0.8 m b/d in 2024. This will lead to a decline in call-on-Saudi oil. 

Oil production by Iran and Venezuela
Source: SEB graph and asessments, Blbrg data and news

The IEA estimated in its latest OMR report that call-on-OPEC will fall from 28.8 m b/d in 2023 to 28.3 m b/d in 2024. If all OPEC members except Saudi Arabia produces the same amount in 2024 as in 2023, then the need for Saudi Arabia’s oil (call-on-Saudi) will fall from a healthy 10.4 m b/d in 2023 to a still acceptable 9.9 m b/d in 2024. Its normal production is roughly 10 m b/d.

If however production by Iran and Venezuela rise by a combined 0.5 m b/d YoY in 2024, then call-on-Saudi will fall to 9.4 m b/d which is not so good but still manageable. But if Iran’s oil minister is correct when he says that its current production now is at 3.3 m b/d, then it is not far fetched to assume that Iran’s oil production may average maybe 3.4-3.5 m b/d in 2024. That would yield a YoY rise of 0.6 m b/d just for Iran. If we also assume that Venezuela manages to lift its production from 0.8 m b/d this year to 1.0 m b/d in 2024, then the combined growth from the two is closer to 0.8 m b/d. That would push call-on-Saudi down to only 9.1 m b/d which is not good at all. It would require Saudi Arabia to produce at its current production of 9.0 m b/d all through 2024.

The IEA further estimates that call-on-OPEC will average 27.7 m b/d in Q1-24. If we assume Iran @ 3.4 m b/d and Venezuela @ 1.0 m b/d then call-on-Saudi in Q1-24 will only be 8.6 m b/d. I.e. Saudi Arabia will have to cut production further to 8.6 m b/d in Q1-24. At that point Saudi Arabia will likely need or like other core OPEC members like Iraq, Kuwait and UAE as well as Russia to join in.

Implied call-on-Saudi. Call-on-OPEC is set to decline from 28.8 m b/d to 28.3 m b/d to 2024. If all OPEC members produced the same in 2024 as in 2023 then call-on-Saudi would fall by 0.5 m b/d to 9.9 m b/d. But if Venezuela and Iran increases their combined production by 0.8 m b/d YoY in 2024 then call-on-Saudi falls to 9.1 m b/d.

Implied call-on-Saudi.
Source: SEB graph and calculations, IEA data

If we look a little broader on this topic and also include Libya, Nigeria and Angola we see that this group of OPEC members produced 11.4 m b/d in 2010, 10.1 m b/d in 2017 and only 5.1 m b/d at the low-point in August 2020. The decline by these OPEC members has of course the other OPEC and OPEC+ members to stem the rising flood of US shale oil production. The production from this unfortunate group of OPEC-laggards is however now on the rise reaching 7.5 m b/d in September. With more from Iran and Venezuela it could rise to 8.0 m b/d in 2024. Production from Nigeria and Angola though still looks to be in gradual decline while Libya looks more sideways. So for the time being it is all about the revival of Iran and Venezuela.

The unfortunate OPEC-laggards had a production of 11.4 m b/d in 2010. But production then fell to only 5.1 m b/d in August 2020. It helped the rest of OPEC’s members to manage the huge increase in US shale oil production. Production from these countries are now on the rebound. Though Nigeria and Angola still seems to be in gradual decline.

Oil production of some OPEC countries
Source: SEB graph, Blbrg data

What everyone needs to be attentive to is that call-on-OPEC and even more importantly call-on-Saudi can only erode to a limit before Saudi/OPEC/Russia will have to take action. Especially if the forecast for needed oil from OPEC/Saudi for the nearest 2-3 years is in significant decline. Then they will have to take action in the sense that they stop defending the price and allows the price to fall sharply along with higher production. And yet again it is US shale oil producers who will have to take the brunt of the pain. They are the only oil producers in the world who can naturally and significantly reduce their production rather quickly. I.e. the US shale oil players will have to be punished into obedience, if possible, yet one more time.

We don’t think that it is any immediate risk for this to happen as US shale oil activity is slowing while global oil demand has rebounded following Covid-lockdowns. But one needs to keep a watch on projections for call-on-OPEC and call-on-Saudi stretching 1-2-3 years forward on a continuous basis. 

In its medium term oil market outlook, Oil2023, the IEA projected a fairly healthy development for call-on-OPEC to 2028. First bottoming out at 29.4 m b/d in 2024 before rising gradually to 30.6 m b/d in 2028. The basis for this was a slowing though steady rise in global oil demand to 105.7 m b/d in 2028 together with stagnant non-OPEC production due to muted capex spending over the past decade. But this projection has already been significantly dented and reduced in IEA’s latest OMR from October where call-on-OPEC for 2024 is projected at only 28.3 m b/d.

In a statement today the IEA projects that global oil demand will peak this decade and consume no more than 102 m b/d in the late 2020ies due to (in large part) rapid growth in EV sales. This would imply a call-on-OPEC of only 26.9 m b/d in 2028. It is not a viable path for OPEC to produce only 26.9 m b/d in 2028. Especially if production by Iran and Venezuela is set to revive. I.e. OPEC’s pie is shrinking while at the same time Iran and Venezuela is producing more. In this outlook something will have to give and it is not OPEC. 

One should here turn this on its head and assume that OPEC will produce 30 m b/d in 2028. Add OPEC NGLs of 5.6 m b/d and we get 35.6 m b/d. If global oil demand in 2028 stands at only 102 m b/d then call-on-Non-OPEC equates to 66.4 m b/d. That is 3.1 m b/d less than IEA’s non-OPEC production projection for 2028 of 69.5 m b/d but also higher than non-OPEC production projection of 68.8 m b/d (IEA, Oct-23) is already 2.4 m b/d too high versus what is a sustainable level.

What this of course naturally means is that oil producers in general cannot have production growth as a strategy in a peak-oil-demand-world with non-OPEC in 2024 already at 2.4 m b/d above its sustainable level.

The US is set to growth its hydrocarbon liquids by 0.5 m b/d YoY in 2024. But in a zero oil demand growth world that is way, way too much.

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